Prime Minister Maliki is meeting with President Obama today, the PM’s first visit to the White House since the regime change in Washington in January. One of the most surprising developments in Iraq, at least in my view, is how Maliki has become what could be described as Iraq’s unsung hero. Certainly, if we’re going to view the efforts of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker as heroic, perhaps it’s fair to put Maliki in that category as well.
It’s easy to forget that Maliki wasn’t given great odds to survive. Literally and poltically. In 2007, the CIA gave him a 50 percent chance to last six to twelve months in office. He had been, at various times, attacked and questioned by the American political establishment, including then SecState Condoleeza Rice (who said he could soon be “hanging from a lampost”) then Senator Hillary Clinton, and former Bush advisor Stephen J. Hadley, whose leaked memo three years ago described the PM in rather unfavorable terms. And then-candidate Obama didn’t exactly give Maliki a rousing endorsement: “We could have one, two, three, four replacements for Maliki…but if the underlying political dynamic hasn’t changed, then we’re not going to see progress.”
But Maliki hung tough through the worst violence in the civil war, dodging mortars and shoes along the way. As the violence dropped, he managed to withstand a political assault, making it through a few attempts at votes of no-confidence in the Iraqi Parliament late last year. His party ended up doing quite well in the provincial elections, too. Maliki, once criticized for being weak and ineffective, is now being criticized by his opponents for being too powerful. He’s been called Iraq’s strongest leader since Saddam Hussein–and nowadays that’s considered a big compliment.