Leading Iraqi opposition lawmakers yesterday cast doubts of the results of the U.S. military surge and said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has to make fundamental security and political shifts if his embattled government is to survive.
The lawmakers, who included leading Sunni politicians and secular Shi’ites, challenged the congressional testimony this week of U.S. Iraq commander Gen. David H. Petraeus that the U.S. escalation had improved security and provided a window for political reconciliation among the country’s warring sects and ethnic groups.
“When I was listening to what [General Petraeus] was saying, I thought he must be talking about a country other than Iraq,” said Nadim Jaber, secretary-general of the Shi’ite Islamic Virtue Party, whose 15-member bloc left Mr. al-Maliki’s coalition government. “It’s quite far off from the reality Iraq is living right now.”
Mr. Jaber, speaking to a Capitol Hill briefing by phone from Iraq, said the surge had improved conditions in Baghdad but that sectarian militias and insurgents had simply relocated out of the capital.
“It is difficult to ask people to lay down their weapons when we still have a very factional government, supported by the United States, in power,” he said.
In Baghdad, however, Mr. al-Maliki whistled a more positive tune.
Al Qaeda militants in Iraq are weakened and no longer have the strongholds they need to plan and execute attacks, he asserted yesterday in an interview with Canadian television. He said there has been “huge progress” in improving security.
“What drives me to believe that there will be further progress is that al Qaeda does not command any more strongholds in which it can live, organize, plan and execute terrorist attacks,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Saleh al-Mutlaq heads the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, the country’s second largest Sunni party. He criticized the Shi’ite parties that have propped up the al-Maliki government, parties that he said were heavily influence by Iran‘s Shi’ite regime.
“We have to get rid of religious-based parties running the government who are given such support from Iran,” he said, also speaking by telephone from Baghdad. “If the United States is going to support a government supported by Iran, the situation can only get worse and worse.”
He said one sign of the worsening situation was the continuing flow of mostly Sunni refugees out of the country.
The Capitol Hill briefing was organized by National Coalition of Pro-Democracy Advocates, a U.S.-based activist group with ties to the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran.
The group, dedicated to the overthrow of the Islamic regime in Tehran, has had a tangled relationship with Washington.
The Clinton administration declared it a terrorist organization, but it has proved a major source for intelligence on Iran’s secret nuclear programs and military capabilities. Its fighters have been disarmed, but the resistance openly operates a major base of operations inside Iraq.
The Sunni and secular Iraqi politicians yesterday condemned Iran’s influence inside Iraq, echoing complaints from the Bush administration. But their sharp criticism of the al-Maliki government underscored the difficulties of forging a broad political settlement in Baghdad.
Iyad Jamal al-Deen, a Shi’ite cleric and deputy chairman of the Iraqi parliament’s foreign relations committee, said it may be necessary to “resort to force” to curb the influence of Iran and of sectarian parties on Iraq’s political process.