Iraq and Gulf Analysis

The Baghdad Gamble: Maliki Brings the Arab League to Town

Posted by Reidar Visser on Monday, 26 March 2012 11:33

Last Tuesday, a week before the scheduled Arab League summit in Baghdad, a wave of terror attacks killed more than 50 people across central Iraq. Security forces had been put on high alert in the run-up to the summit, yet terrorists were still able to strike key cities such as Baghdad, Karbala, and Kirkuk with impunity. The al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq claimed responsibility, a deliberate attempt to derail the Arab League summit and undermine the fledgling Iraqi government.

Successfully bringing the Arab League together in Baghdad – the first such gathering in the Iraqi capital since 1990 and only the second in the country’s history – would signal the return of a modicum of normalcy to a state still emerging from years of intervention and civil war… Full story here. Discussion/comments section open as usual below

24 Responses to “The Baghdad Gamble: Maliki Brings the Arab League to Town”

  1. Mohammed said

    Hi Reidar:

    As always, thought-provoking analysis.

    My comments:

    1)With respect to the goals of the summit, does Maliki really want to achieve anything substantive asides from photo-ops with major arabs foreign dignitaries? If I was Maliki, I would probably not want much coming out of the summit in terms of major policy changes with respect to Syria. If the AL summit ends with a declaration that is more confrontational, it would put Maliki in a bind. The ideal outcome for Maliki would be: a respectable number of heads of state and minister-level officials show up, no big disputes occur with respect to Iraq’s politics, no major changes in strategy for Syria, and of course, no major security failures with massive casualties.

    2)With respect to Saudi Arabia and Qatar and their positions on Syria, do you really think that they could independently push towards a more confrontational policy? Aren’t the real keys (USA, Russia, Turkey, and Iran)? The Qataris talk a good game, but they are about as defenseless as a toddler. They may have advanced weapons, and are loaded with money, but buying weapons for the FSA doesn’t mean much without Turkish cooperation. I think the non-Arabs really hold the keys to Syrian policy. The AL summit can at most issue a declaration to lobby the big boys to help them do something beyond talk.


  2. Reidar Visser said

    Mohammed, thanks, my thinking was that if Maliki is really creative, he could use the Arab-Russian idea abt international monitoring as a point of departure for at least getting some kind of process going. Just talking about the composition of the force etc. and getting more specific.

    I totally agree Maliki may well have an even more pragmatic approach in mind.

  3. JWing said

    I very much doubt that Maliki will change his Syria policy. It’s not even really driven by concerns about Iran from my reading. Both Baghdad and Damascus are worried that Sunni militants could come to power should Assad fall, so they are working against the opposition. Many Shiite politicians and even clerics have talked about this view openly in the press. I think they would take that position even if Iran didn’t exist. Syria use to be a main base for insurgents, but now that the U.S. troops are out of Iraq, they have begun to change their policies, be more vigilant along the border, and worked to improve economic ties with Iraq. The two countries therefore have mutual concerns to make sure that the status quo is maintained.

  4. Reidar Visser said

    Perfectly possible that Maliki just wants the AL summit to happen. Still, he could have got away with mumbling some kind of unspecific “change” rhetoric re Syria. Instead he came up with elections, powersharing and constitutional review. That was more specific than he needed to be.

  5. Mohammed said

    Dear JWiNG:

    I agree with you that Maliki’s Syria policy is not driven primarily by Iran. However, my guess is that Maliki is concerned that the status quo in Syria IS NOT a stabilizing force for Iraq, and is not sustainable. Namely, massacres of Sunni civilians by hard core Allawite troops in Syria (with Iranian backing) will lead to a seething hatred of Shiites by both Syrian Sunnis and their Iraqi brethren in Anbar. The worst outcome for Iraq would be a chaotic, lawless Syria with Sunni militants who will undoubtedly wreak havoc in Iraq as well. My guess is that Assad cannot simply extinguish the popular revolution against Baathist rule in Syria. A peaceful political solution with Assad stepping down, and an agreement to have some form of power-sharing with the Allawites and Christians still retaining important influence in whatever government that emerges is probably the best that Iraq can hope for. Hence, Maliki has made some specific statements as Reidar described that may point to where Maliki would like to see Syrian politics to move towards. However, the Saudi/Qatari approach of igniting the region with weapons to the FSA is clearly something Maliki would oppose (and as you describe, not because of Iran, but because it would harm Iraq).


  6. Santana said

    McGurk is confirmed…..Congratulations to Maliki and Tehran !

  7. faisalkadri said

    I think the idea of elections in Syria is not really Maliki’s, its Assad’s. The elections under the supervision of Assad has a predetermined outcome.

  8. Mohammed said


    The Iraqiya letter to congress condemning the McGurk nomination and threat of non-cooperation is an interesting tactic. I would not be surprised if the Kurds did also not object. Does the US really care though?

    Perhaps you guys should consider changing your name to American-Iraqiya Political Action Committee (AIPAC)


  9. Santana said


    I tried but AIPAC has the registered rights to it….LOL

  10. Mohammed said


    I was most intrigued by the label of McGurk being close to the “Islamist Block” in the Iraqiya memo.

    In all seriousness, I frankly just don’t understand Iraqiya tactics anymore.

    If you think Maliki is some fanatic islamist, my guess is you are way off track. Perhaps Iraqiya doesn’t internally really believe Maliki is an bonafide pro-iran islamist, but wants outsiders to think that so America/Turkey/etc are more sympathetic to Iraqiya.

    I always assume people who want power, or are in power, are mostly rational actors. Maliki up till now has been mostly rational, but I think he seems overly suspicious of some policitians more than he should be (I would tell him that he needs to strike major deals with a faction/politician in Iraqiya (like Nujayfi) and break it up). I am sorry if I sound heartless or cruel, but it is the right strategic move to make for Maliki. If I was advising sunni policians, I would tell them fighting to your last breath against Maliki is getting you no where. In the end, Maliki/Dawa cannot and will not ever rule all of Iraq. Politicians in the sunni-majority provinces should strike deals to get benefits for their constituents in the forms of jobs, electricity, infrastructure, security, etc….In his wildest dreams, Maliki knows he cannot secure leadership over all over Iraq without a reliable/cooperative sunni partners representative of those provinces.

    The plain truth is that the Da3wa party is not a national party like the Baath party. The Baath party could rule every city from Mosul to Basra. But, the day I see Muslawis joining in a lutmiya on Ashura, is the day I will check myself into a psych ward.

    The tactic I see Iraqiya using today is to align with Barzani and create a polical storm and scare the rest of the world that Iraq is about to fall into the abyss to put more pressure on Maliki—while there may be some rational thinking behind it, so far Iraqiya is on the losing end of that strategy.


  11. Santana said


    I agree with half of what you say but for the record the Iraqiya comment about McGurk being close to the Islamist parties is innaccurate and off the mark in my opinion………..and I had nothing to do with it. Our problem with McGurk is that (besides worshipping Maliki)- he is too young, too inexperienced and this is not the wisest choice for the largest embassy in the world and especially at a time when so many dark clouds hovering over Iraq and the region.

    I think McCain will drill him pretty good then hold the nomination….then Obama will either pick someone else OR appoint McGurk as a recess Amb for one year. We are hoping he picks someone else.

    It is EXTREMELY difficult to get any USG support in helping Iraq solve it’s political crises during an election year……no one listens nor wants to lift a finger against Maliki’s dictatorial ways………. thinking it will stir the pot and Obama wants everything nice and smooth till he gets re-elected…..where the stupidity comes in is that things are NOT going in Maliki’s favor…he is losing Kurdish and Sadrist support fast,violence is on the rise, services in Iraq is a big joke, Syria’s Asad will be dogmeat soon , Iran is feeling the effects of the sanctions and cash is drying up there … now Iran will ask Maliki to fork over cash…and the dumb SOB will get caught just like he got caught helping that terrorist Asad.

    I think the U.S is betting on a losing horse and things will be at it’s worst later this year when all comes to a head…and JUST when the U.S needs a stable Iraq ahead of the polls.

  12. Salah said

    although Maliki bringing Arab league to town but he is not keen to bring iraqi to his town “GZ”
    بارزاني يغادر اربيل متوجها الى بلغاريا والولايات المتحدة الامريكية للقاء اوباما وبايدن

  13. I wonder if anybody knows whether Maliki’s national security advisor, Falih Fayyad, did visit Saudi Arabia before the Arab League summit and who he actually met? I read around 2 weeks ago that Crown Prince Naif had invited him (but he has actually been out of the country all of this month and will be for at least part of April it seems). It seemed as if the invitation was an interesting part of the supposed Saudi-Iraqi “rapprochement”. It would be fascinating to know what level of person received Fayyad (one of Naif’s sons?) if he came (or perhaps when he comes). The Saudis seem (though lack of choice) to be accepting the need for a degree of Arab consensus on Syria that might provide an international consensus too (although their dislike of Russia over Syria has been getting visceral!)

  14. Bateekh said

    Santana – didn’t you predict the AL would take place at the airport before everyone made a quick getaway.

    Iraqiya and their supporters seem to only understand zero-sum politics. In their eyes, any progress in Iraq is not progress under Maliki. They’ll point to everything that’s wrong and fail to acknowledge what’s right. Every Shia politician who disagrees with them is either Iranian or an Iranian stooge.

  15. Santana said


    I heard he met with Prince Ahmed Bin Abdulaziz the Deputy Minister of Interior….


    the AL meeting at the airport was in the cards but when even that failed to get better representation they held it at Saddam’s Palace like originally planned.

    So- can you please highlight for me all the wonderful stuff Maliki is doing?? ….maybe I can then take your solid facts and go convince Iraqiya leadership to change their ways and that they should agree to everything Maliki and Iran want…..and yes- whether you like it or not-in my opinion -Maliki is an Iranian stooge heading a group of the most corrupt criminals in the history of Iraq.

  16. JWing said

    I agree with Faisal. Maliki has talked about Syrians not protesting violently and waiting for the government to reform itself. Thinking that Assad will do that is a pipedream, and just a way to maintain the status quo. Afterall, it’s seems like Assad is the one that started the indiscriminate violence in the first place.

    Mohammed, I appears to me that elements of Iraqiya are already making their own deals with Maliki. Speaker Nujafi didn’t follow the parliamentary boycott and hasn’t joined in the rhetorical battle between the two. Jamal Karbuli also did not have his ministers follow the cabinet boycott, and has followed a similar stance to Nujafi.

  17. Many thanks Santana. Meeting Ahmed (and not Naif’s son at interior) would be following protocol of course and Ahmed is important. Interesting to find out that not only was there an invite but that the meeting actually happened. On other hand KSA apparently represented at Arab League summit in Baghdad by their ambassador to the Arab League

  18. Mohammed said


    Let me ask you this question…let’s say that right after the AL summit, Maliki and his men started to focus on infrastructure and services for Iraq like a laser (I know, I know, you don’t believe it will ever happen (hell will freeze over first), but just work with me here for a second, and just imagine he does that (after all, he was able to pull off the AL summit, and many people thought that wouldnt happen either))…

    So. let’s say that by this time next year, Iraq is up to 18 hours of electricity per day, sewage and trash problems are fixed, oil production hits 4-5 million BPD, salaries for all govt workers go up, and unemployment goes down by some tangible amount, and violence subsides a bit….all this while Maliki is still the PM…

    is that a good thing or bad thing for Iraqiya?


  19. Salah said

    To Santana & Neil

    I did written about this before but RV did not published in one of my previous comments.

    To follow up with your info you miss on man who was Udday right hand during tyrant regime his name Assel Tabrah.

    Let read this:

    المشهد الثالث استقبال الأمير مكرن بن عبد العزيز وزير الداخليه السعودي للوفد الأمني العراقي والذي كان برئاسة مستشار الأمن الوطني وعضوية الوكيل الأقدم لوزير الداخلية وبصحبة المسمى ( أصيل طبرة ) من اجل التنسيق الأمني بين البلدين الشقيقين !!

  20. JWing said


    It doesn’t matter whether Maliki focuses upon those issues or not. The lack of trained staff, emphasis upon large projects that many times run into problems, corruption, and other structural issues within the Iraqi government will prevent any quick fix to Iraq’s services.

    Electricity Minister Aftan for example promised that electricity supply would be up this summer and the shortages would largely be solved by 2014. An independent study found that none of the power projects promised would be on line until 2013, and even then output would be around 18,000 megawatts, not the promised 27,000. And remember Aftan is from Iraqiya as well, so this is not about party politics.

    Comparing pulling off the Arab League summit and developing the country are comparing apples and oranges.

  21. Santana said


    Prince Muqrin Bin Abdul Aziz is not the Interior Minister….he is head of Intelligence.
    Prince Naif is Crown Prince and Interior Minister.

    Neil- actually the proper protocol would have been Faleh Al-Fayyadh meeting with Prince Bandar Bin Sultan Bin Abdulaziz cuz they both have the same title which is Head of National Security.

    Mohamed – your dreamful scenario would be great for Iraq but you truly are dreaming- the added income will not be shared with Iraqis ….any added income will just put more Daawa guys on Forbes’ list of Billionaires and some will go to support regional subversive activities that Iran used to finance before…. but can’t anymore….

  22. Many thanks Mohammed. I am fascinated by this. I am also surprised at this report. By the way, the “Saudi interior minister” the story refers to, is actually the head of General Intelligence (i.e. foreign intelligence), Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, who is very close to the King.

  23. Salah said

    thank you for your correction, however this not my attention in this regards, but what its more in focus is Assil Tabrah, is the old guy use to be touring Saudi prices in old days when they visiting the desert (southern – western) Iraq for hunting. He also as reported doing or giving some Iraqi oil’s coupon during sanction when tyrant regime trying to work around UN embargo of Iraq oil exports.

    Now he is the man who looks facilitating for close relations with Saudis due to his old friendship relations so Maliki use his despite he is one most close aide to Udday.

  24. Thanks Salah (sorry I said Mohammed earlier) for both of your informative comments re Aseel Tabrah. Fascinating stuff re him previously playing desert host…..

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