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Dexter Filkins offers breathtaking reporting on Maliki and the thugocracy that is Iraq

The New Yorker sent him back to Iraq to describe (and this is the title of the piece) “What We Left Behind.”

As portrayed by Filkins, Maliki has led his country into the Iranian orbit, which seems kinda ungrateful of him, since he owes his job to the United States.
REUTERS/Handout/Iraqi government office

Saddam Hussein was a monster. But, as portrayed in a breathtaking achievement of reporting, the new post-American Iraq, the one the United States created under the slogan of “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” is a thugocracy and kleptocracy in a state of perpetual sectarian conflict and violence.

This cruel joke against the benefits of democracy is led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who was elevated and installed by the United States.

Dexter Filkins covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the New York Times, shared a Pulitzer, and now writes for the New Yorker, which sent him back to Iraq to describe (and this is the title of the piece) “What We Left Behind.

Maliki has held office eight years now, although his re-election was blemished by the fact that another candidate got more votes. As a member of the Shiitte majority that was oppressed horribly by Saddam, Maliki had a hard early life, much of it lived in exile in Iran. As portrayed by Filkins, Maliki has led his country into the Iranian orbit, which seems kinda ungrateful of him, since he owes his job to the United States. But Maliki is no grateful American stooge. As Filkins writes:

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By the time Maliki returned to Baghdad, in April, 2003, he had come to regard the United States with profound animosity, friends and associates say. Over the years, the U.S. government had supported nearly all of his enemies — most notably Saddam — and opposed his friends, especially the revolutionary regime in Iran. “Maliki was known as an anti-American,” Dia al-Shakarchi, a Dawa activist in the eighties, said. “Even after 2003, his stance was very aggressive toward Americans.”

One thing about being an American is that we get used to the idea of our special role as the one superpower in a one-superpower world and lose sight of the obvious fact that we are constantly doing things to other countries that we could never imagine any other country doing in ours. Like overthrowing their governments and putting in governments we like better.

As Filkins tells it, in early 2006, with Iraq still in the midst of a bloody civil war, a new election had been held and a coalition of Shiite parties, led by the incumbent Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, had won the most votes. But “Jaafari had infuriated {President George W.] Bush with his indecisiveness, amiably presiding over the sectarian bloodbath that had followed the recent bombing of a major Shiite shrine.”

The U.S. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, was “summoned to a videoconference with … Bush and [British] Prime Minister Tony Blair. … During the videoconference, Bush asked Khalilzad, ‘Can you get rid of Jaafari?’ ‘Yes,’ Khalilzad replied, ‘but it will be difficult.’ ”

Filkins got this straight from Khalilzad. Khalilzad got Jaafari to withdraw on condition that the Americans allow someone from his party to take over. The best candidate who fit that description had to be vetoed because his father was an Iranian.

Frustrated, Khalilzad turned to the C.I.A. analyst assigned to his office, a fluent Arabic speaker whose job was to know Iraq’s leaders. “Can it be that, in this country of thirty million people, the choice of Prime Minister is either Jaafari, who is incompetent, or Ali Adeeb, who is Iranian? Isn’t there anyone else?”

“I have a name for you,” the C.I.A. officer said. “Maliki.”

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… Khalilzad emphasized that he did not choose Maliki; he had merely exerted American leverage to maximum effect. “We were trying to bring Iraqis together,” he said. Maliki has said repeatedly, and often angrily, that he did not need American support to get what he wanted from Iraqis. For him, the Americans were just one more overweening foreign power.

You gotta love the modesty. He didn’t choose Maliki, he said; he exerted American leverage to maximum effect.

Most of the story is not about how Maliki came to power but about what he has done with it. It isn’t pretty. It’s a long, sad, authoritative piece, but once I started it, I couldn’t stop and I urge you to read it.