TWAW: Two segments: the 'Replace Maliki' controversy and assessing the strength of the insurgency
TOM FOREMAN: When general David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker deliver their report on Iraq three weeks from now, it is virtually certain that questions will concentrate on one man, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Will he survive? Who could replace him? Or is Iraq's democratic government so completely gridlocked that the only solution is a classic Middle Eastern strongman?
To help me as we continue our preview of the September report, CNN's Michael Ware is in Baghdad. And in New York, TIME magazine's new world editor, Bobby Ghosh, up until this very recent promotion, Bobby spent four years in Baghdad as the magazine's bureau chief.
Bobby, you made it clear you think Maliki needs to go because he has sided too much with the Shia, too much against the Sunni. What kind of person should replace him?
BOBBY GHOSH, WORLD EDITOR, TIME: Well, in an ideal world what Iraq needs now is a statesman. They need somebody who can represent all factions of Iraqi population -- the Shiites, the Sunnis, the Kurds -- and somebody who is seen as being above sectarian politics. Unfortunately, I haven't seen one in the four years that I've been in Baghdad, and I'm willing to bet Michael hasn't either.
FOREMAN: The support for Maliki seems to be very shaky, Michael. Listen to what President Bush said this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fundamental question is, will the government respond to the demands of the people? And if the government doesn't demand -- respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government.
Prime Minister Maliki is a good guy, a good man, with a difficult job, and I support him.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
FOREMAN: A bit of whipsaw from the president there, in one breath saying he may be thrown out, on the second hand we'd like to support him. That's the question that Bobby poses there, Michael. Who would replace him? Do you see a statesman out there?
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. Bobby would be winning his wager. There simply is no, to use the Afghan example, a Hamid Karzai waiting in the wings, one sole political figure who can unite this nation, or even someone who can hold it within the iron grip of a fist. That person at this stage simply doesn't exist or hasn't emerged.
More or less, that person or that faction is going to have to be fashioned. Now that's going to come from one side or the other. You have Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Let's face reality here, folks. He is a lame duck. He is a man with no power.
As one senior U.S. official here in Baghdad said, of his 37 cabinet members -- cabinet ministers, he can only count on three. And political power in this country, within this government, is judged by the number of militiamen and arms that you have. And Maliki has none.
So he doesn't have the authority to deliver which is driving some U.S. generals for the first time ever to say openly on camera that perhaps democracy for now is not the solution.
FOREMAN: You filed a report that said that this week, Michael, let's take a quick listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARE (voice-over): Two years after the euphoria of historic elections, America's plan to bring democracy to Iraq is in crisis. For the first time, exasperated front line U.S. generals talk openly of non-democratic alternatives.
BRIG. GEN. JOHN BEDNAREK, U.S. ARMY: The democratic institutions is not necessarily the way ahead in the long-term future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FOREMAN: Bobby, are you astonished to hear military people from the U.S. government saying something like that on the ground in Iraq? Or do you think they have no other choice?
GHOSH: I am certainly surprised to hear them say it on record. But we have heard them say it off the record for several months now. It reflects the level of frustration that the military feels. They're putting their boys' lives on the line here, and they feel that the Iraqi political class is not delivering on their side of the bargain.
FOREMAN: And yet, Nouri al-Maliki said some astonishing things this week as well. Listen to this. "The American administration is full of contrast and petty politics. The government is legal -- Our government is legal. The Iraqis choose it. And Americans have no right to place timetables on it or any other restrictions."
Michael, how can Maliki, a guy who's teetering on the brink of chaos, say things like that about what has been his largest protector?
WARE: Well, what he's doing is he is taking swipes at phantoms in the dark. I mean, Prime Minister Maliki is in an insidious position. He's between a rock and a hard place. Now, yes, essentially the U.S. mission is underwriting him.
But nonetheless, that's not where the true power in this country lies. It still lies with the fundamental building blocks of the political landscape here, which are the militias. And according to U.S. intelligence, most if not all of these militias have links to or are supported by Iran.
So it's easy to argue that indeed Iran has greater influence in this country with this government than does Washington. Indeed we saw when Prime Minister Maliki, just last week, visited Tehran, he described Tehran's role as most helpful, which immediately prompted a sharp rebuke from President Bush, who said he's going to have to have a heart to heart with Prime Minister Maliki because Iran's role certainly is not helpful. We're really seeing great tectonic plates clashing here in terms of the political framework.
FOREMAN: Very shortly here, Bobby, if the question is that we must have some kind of political progress for all of our military expense -- the lives, the suffering -- to be worth anything, would you stay or go? Is there any sense that that political progress can be made?
GHOSH: Well, political progress can't be made under the system as it exists now. We have to understand that the dynamics that produced Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister would not change if you changed him.
He comes from a political class. He comes from a political coalition. The next prime minister, if that person is picked from the same coalition, will deliver exactly the same thing that Maliki has.
So yes, it's worth remaining. But the political system as it exists now has to be dismantled and then reassembled in a different way. And that would require enormous commitment from the United States. I don't see any sense that the people up in Washington are willing to make that kind of commitment.
FOREMAN: Michael, very quickly as well, you've made it clear that you think the U.S. has to stay for any hope of stability in that country. But what can be done about the government there now?
WARE: Well, Bobby has really touched upon something that's very present at the moment. I mean, you really need to almost destroy this democracy to save it. That's certainly the argument of some people. That really, it's in such ruin, that it's so fatally flawed, that there's no hope of going forward no matter who's in charge of it.
Indeed, we heard from the U.S. embassy and from General Petraeus himself this week in a statement to CNN, that even they have downgraded their vision of what kind of democracy could emerge. So it's clear that real changes need to be made. And America, it can start pulling troops out tomorrow, as long as it's willing to pay the awful price.
FOREMAN: All right. Thanks so much, Bobby Ghosh. Michael, stay just where you are if you would, please. We'll be back to look at what's left of the insurgency with you in just a moment.
TOM FOREMAN: The update of the National Intelligence Estimate that appeared on Thursday said that, "Iraq's security will continue to improve modestly during the next six to 12 months, but levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high." The question is, how high? What's left after Sunni defections and massive coalition operations? To help answer this, Seth Jones, a terrorism analyst at the Rand Corporation. And once again, Michael Ware is in Baghdad.
Seth, what about the enemy in this case, particularly the insurgents, al Qaeda in that country? Are they wounded, are they weak, are they invigorated, what are they?
SETH JONES, RAND CORPORATION: Well, the answer really depends on what insurgents you're talking about. Probably the most interesting case over the last several months has been what has happened in Anbar province where you've had a variety of sheikhs and tribal elements that have targeted, conducted their own counterinsurgency effort against al Qaeda in Iraq, largely without U.S. -- major U.S. assistance.
They've done it with some U.S. protection. But this -- it's -- and what you have is in cities like Ramadi, you have insurgents that are now taking the position of Iraqi police officers. So you've had a very significant change in who even the insurgents are in Anbar.
FOREMAN: So it wasn't a matter of beating them as much as a change in their temperament, in who they wanted to attack because they were tired of al Qaeda.
JONES: That's correct, and al Qaeda tried to overstep its bounds and essentially to co-opt the entire Sunni insurgency and to use very brutal tactics against the population there. It was not well-received by the tribes.
FOREMAN: That's one part of the country. That's one part of the insurgency. Michael, when we look at the militias on the Shia side, what do we see? Are they any closer to saying, let's give up, let's lay down our arms?
MICHAEL WARE: Oh no, you'd have to be joking. Why on earth would they? Everything is going in their favor. They own the government. Tehran is bankrolling them faster and heavier than ever before. Their weapons are improving.
Indeed, according to the second-highest general here in Iraq, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, they're now the ones killing more U.S. troops every month than the Sunni insurgency or al Qaeda.
Now what the Sunnis are doing in Anbar and elsewhere is carrying out a promise, an offer they made four years ago. In 2003, the dismantled apparatus of Saddam's military and intelligence communities approached the Americans and said, "we are your allies, we're opposed to Iran, we're opposed to al Qaeda, we're willing to host U.S. bases, but you've brought in a bunch of Iranian agents. We're willing to work with you."
Their aim from the beginning has been to wear down American will, until America was ready to deal with them. And after four years, America has been battered into a position where they're willing to cut them a deal, put them in power locally, put them in police uniforms, and use them as a counterbalance against the very government America created.
FOREMAN: So Seth, who is our biggest enemy now, and what state are they in?
JONES: Well, I think there are multiple enemies. There is one concern that we haven't talked about, which is a concern up in the north. The Turks are particularly concerned about the PKK and other Kurdish groups operating in northern Iraq.
There has been concern, it has come out in the National Intelligence Estimate, about a Turkish invasion of -- or at least Turkish incursions in the north of Iraq and having actually violence spread.
This is in addition to Shia that we've just talked about. It's in addition to efforts among Sunnis to counterbalance al Qaeda in Iraq. This would then be an expansion of the violence up to the north, in response to Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq.
FOREMAN: For all of the money and all of the weapons, though, Seth, and all of the lives we've spent, has no one over there felt the heat? Are none of our enemies over there saying, these guys are just too tough?
JONES: No. I think to some degree there has been some heat that has been placed on certain organizations, but let's be honest, U.S. soldiers have been on a per capita level very small, very small compared to the U.S. levels in Germany.
There were over 101 soldiers per 1,000 Germans after World War II. There are roughly, depending on how you count it, about six or seven U.S. soldiers for every 1,000 Iraqis. There just aren't enough U.S. soldiers in Iraq to have that kind of impact.
FOREMAN: So, Michael, it seems in some ways like the problem has been that all along, American forces have been fighting for the idea of a unified national Iraq. And our enemies have been fighting for their neighborhoods.
WARE: That's absolutely right. And I mean, one of the major problems here is that America has never really fought this war. They fought it with one arm tied behind their back, as Seth points out. Frankly, no one is really intimidated by the U.S. military, certainly not the regional players.
And the longer this war plays out, the less that America is feared or revered in this region by its rivals or elsewhere. So is there really a national spirit here? Yes. There is a true sense of Iraqi nationalism. But right now that has been wrenched apart. And the preconditions for Iraqi national unity right do not exist. Why? It's because the extremists, both politically and militarily on both sides, have the momentum and America abandoned middle Iraq. America abandoned the secularists, the moderates, the democrats, whilst someone like Iran has capitalized.
Indeed, one of the most senior U.S. officials in this country said to me, the real winner of the past six years has indeed been Iran and al Qaeda.
FOREMAN: Michael, Seth, thank you both very much.