Senator Carl Levin of Michigan came back from a trip to Iraq emboldened by a few new ideas. Significantly, he and Senator Hillary Clinton began calling for the Iraqi parliament to replace Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki.
The purpose of Levin’s trip was to get a better sense of the impact of the “surge” in American forces. He also wanted to gauge whether any progress was being made politically in order to reduce the civil strife tearing Iraq apart.
|Senator Carl Levin|
During his trip, Levin found an Iraqi army nearly sufficient to replace American forces after a withdrawal, but an Iraq deeper in political crisis.
There is a growing call on the Bush administration to set a plan for removing American forces from the country.
Given the senator’s previous statements, his push for a timetable is no surprise. In a 2005 opinion piece published in the Washington Post, he talked about the lack of a “military solution” and the need for a “political settlement.” He urged the Bush administration to devise a plan for withdrawal to pressure Iraqi leaders to come to a political agreement.
Since his visit, he has refreshed his call for an end to the use of American troops to fight the Iraqi insurgency. He wrote a letter to his supporters stating, “it’s time to start bringing our troops home.”
He found that the “surge,” along with an increasingly capable Iraqi army, “has resulted in some reduced violence in some places in Iraq.”
He estimated that the Iraqi army’s gains in strength and confidence puts them at “more than 90% of the way to their training and readiness goals.” Senator Levin said American commanders are more confident about the Iraqi army’s abilities. He noticed a stark change in their views compared to just 10 months ago.
One Republican Senator’s much publicized change of heart on the timetable issue has intensified the debate on Iraq. Senator John Warner said last weekend he might back Democratic legislation requiring troop withdrawal if President George W. Bush refuses to establish a timetable. Warner previously opposed the timetable.
Senator Levin also wrote in 2005 that taking American troops out of Iraq would send Iraq’s political leaders a clear message that an agreement must happen. He argued that a unified Iraq is the only way to prevent the insurgency’s success. With U.S. soldiers fighting the insurgency, Iraqi leaders had little incentive to reach a political settlement.
Senator Levin pins blame for this on Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. The current Iraqi government, the senator claims, is “nonfunctional.” Its failure to bring Iraqi factions together is the result of the government’s divisive loyalties to different religious and sectarian leaders.
This is why he believes Iraqi leaders are yet to meet “their own political benchmarks to share power and resources, to modify the de-Baathification laws, to schedule provincial elections, and to amend their constitution.”
More recent political setbacks include the refusal of the main Sunni bloc to join a new alliance of Shi’a and Kurdish parties to break the current political stalemate. Last month, the Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front quit the al-Maliki government, setting off the political crisis.
Senator Levin joined Senator Hillary Clinton’s call on the Iraqi Assembly to vote the al-Maliki government out of office. They hope the elected body will “have the wisdom” to elect a more unifying and less divisive prime minister and government.
Prime Minister al-Maliki responded critically to Senators Clinton and Levin. “There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin. They should come to their senses,” al-Maliki told a news conference.
In an interview, the prime minister blamed the United States and its early policies in Iraq for the problem of sectarianism. He is against the American government’s support of Sunni Muslim insurgent groups fighting against al-Qaida in Iraq because it fires up sectarian divisions.
He believes an American withdrawal is still premature. Al-Maliki argues Iraq will need American forces until “the security situation becomes stable.”
Al-Maliki found it politically unlikely that Iraq’s parliament could ever agree on his government’s fate.
Next month, General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker will report to Congress about the state of Iraq since the deployment of 30,000 more American troops. Al-Maliki is confident it will bolster his cause. This report will have important political ramifications for both the Iraqi government and the increasingly intense debate in Washington, DC.