Iraq’s political crisis is worsening as Sunni ministers have completely abandoned the government. Allegations have long persisted about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s connections to Shiite militias, and regime is quickly crumbling from a lack of political effectiveness.
But Maliki continues to remain in power, largely propped up with the “confidence” and support of President Bush:
Bush reaffirmed confidence in al-Maliki and said there were some signs of progress toward a unified government. “Yeah, I’ve got confidence in him, but I also understand how difficult it is.” [Bloomberg, 7/12/07]
Tony Snow: “What we’ll say on the record is, the President has confidence in Prime Minister Maliki.” [White House briefing, 11/29/06]
Megan O’Sullivan: “Both leaders talked about the Maliki government, with the President saying that he really has a lot of confidence in Maliki and he’s very pleased with how Maliki has performed over the last hundred days.” [White House briefing, 9/19/06]
Now it appears the Bush administration is allowing its confidence in Maliki to slip. At the State Department briefing this afternoon, spokesman Sean McCormack repeatedly refused to assert that the administration now has “confidence” in Maliki:
QUESTION: Do you still think that al-Maliki is the right guy to lead this…
MCCORMACK: He is the person that was elected by the Iraqi people. And it was decided upon among the leadership of the various political factions he would be the prime minister. [...]
QUESTION: But do you think — you’re not as vested in most places like you are in Iraq. So are you still confident in al- Maliki’s leadership?
MCCORMACK: Look, there’s a lot at stake, absolutely, for the Iraqi people, for the future of the Middle East. And Prime Minister Maliki is the person that was elected by the Iraqi people to lead Iraq. And we’re working closely with him. [...]
QUESTION: It’s kind of conspicuous that you’re not willing to say that you’re confident in him, even if you’re standing by his side.
MCCORMACK: You know, again, it’s not a matter of getting the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval from the United States government or any other government. Ultimately, this government has to act on behalf of the Iraqi people.
The fact that the administration is backing away from Maliki is a concession that the premise of its “surge” strategy is failing. Back in January, when he first announced the escalation, Bush explained that purpose of increasing U.S. forces was to help advance Iraqi political transition and national reconciliation.