Thursday, January 25, 2007

It’s no exaggeration to say that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has become a veritable human punching bag on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers compete with one another to see who can be the most strident in criticizing his democratically elected government — rather than the real enemy: the Islamist terrorists, Ba’athists and sectarian death squads who want to destroy his country. But Maliki-bashing may be about to get much more difficult, if the prime minister follows through on his speech yesterday declaring his intention to act against all armed groups as part of a plan to bring security to Baghdad. Most significantly, Mr. Maliki said he would target Shi’ite militias as part of the Baghdad crackdown, a longstanding goal of U.S. policy-makers.

Mr. Maliki declared his intention to disarm all armed groups — whether Sunni insurgents, Shi’ite militias or criminal gangs — leaving weapons only in the hands of the Iraqi government forces. His government previously announced that it had arrested 600 members of the Mahdi army, a Shi’ite militia group run by Muqtada Sadr, a political ally of the prime minister. Mr. Maliki, who yesterday received approval from the parliament for the Baghdad operation, said that the headquarters of political parties could be raided “if they are turned into a launchpad for terrorism,” adding that: “There will be no safe haven — no school, no home, no [Sunni] mosque or Shia mosque.”

To be sure, it is impossible to tell at this point whether the prime minister’s remarks will be backed up with action or how sustained any action will be, and Washington must be prepared to remind Mr. Maliki of his responsibility to disarm Shi’ite militia groups. But Mr. Maliki has at least taken one important, necessary step in the right direction: declaring publicly and unmistakably a plan for action.

Unfortunately, one cannot say the same for members of Congress, who seem to be competing with one another to see who can project a more craven, irresponsible image in wartime to our enemies abroad. One of the latest examples was Wednesday’s passage by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of a resolution of disapproval for President Bush’s plan to send additional troops to Iraq. The resolution, rammed through by panel Chairman Joe Biden on a largely party-line 12-9 vote, declares that the president’s proposal is “not in the national interest.” Unfortunately, many Republicans are behaving only a little less foolishly than Mr. Biden, who is running for president next year. Sen. John Warner, a distinguished public servant who usually demonstrates good judgment, introduced a slightly less hostile nonbinding resolution of his own condemning the president’s plan.

The incoherence of congressional behavior on Iraq was driven home by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who has received much-deserved overwhelming, bipartisan support in the Senate for his nomination as America’s top commander in Iraq. In testimony before the committee, Gen. Petraeus, responding to questions from Sens. Joe Lieberman and John McCain, agreed that the resolutions of disapproval would encourage our enemies in Iraq and would not be helpful to American troop morale. Yet many of the same members of Congress who will vote overwhelmingly to confirm Gen. Petraeus are prepared to vote for resolutions that the general believes could damage the war effort.

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