What if US Government Had Not Demanded We “Drop It” on Maliki’s Corruption in 2010?

The other day, Marc Lynch wrote a piece posing these questions about the ISIS advance in Iraq.

The more interesting questions are about Iraq itself. Why are these cities falling virtually without a fight? Why are so many Iraqi Sunnis seemingly pleased to welcome the takeover from the Iraqi government by a truly extremist group with which they have a long, violent history? Why are Iraqi Sunni political factions and armed groups, which previously fought against al-Qaeda in Iraq, now seemingly cooperating with ISIS? Why is the Iraqi military dissolving rather than fighting to hold its territory? How can the United States help the Iraqi government fight ISIS without simply enabling Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s authoritarianism and sectarianism?

The most important answers lie inside Iraqi politics. Maliki lost Sunni Iraq through his sectarian and authoritarian policies. His repeated refusal over long years to strike an urgently needed political accord with the Sunni minority, his construction of corrupt, ineffective and sectarian state institutions, and his heavy-handed military repression in those areas are thekey factors in the long-developing disintegration of Iraq.

President Obama alluded similarly to Maliki’s failures in the comments he just made (will update when the transcript becomes available).

One challenge the US is facing as it tries to prevent the complete disintegration of the Middle East is that Nuri al-Maliki, long our (forced) partner in governing Iraq, has chosen the path of corruption and repression. Maliki largely enabled the assault in Iraq.

On February 28, 2013, Chelsea Manning made a statement before her providence inquiry. As part of that, she explained why she leaked details of the abusive crackdowns by the Iraqi Federal Police.

On 27 February 2010, a report was received from a subordinate battalion. The report described an event in which the FP detained fifteen (15) individuals for printing “anti-Iraqi literature.” By 2 March 2010, I received instructions from an S3 section officer in the 2-10BCT Tactical Operations Center to investigate the matter, and figure out who these “bad guys” were, and how significant this event was for the FP.

Over the course of my research, I found that none of the individuals had previous ties with anti-Iraqi actions or suspected terrorist or militia groups. A few hours later, I received several photos from the scene from the subordinate battalion.

[snip]

I printed a blown up copy of the high-resolution photo, and laminated it for ease of storage and transfer. I then walked to the TOC and delivered the laminated copy to our category 2 interpreter. She reviewed the information and about a half-hour later delivered a rough written transcript in English to the S2 section.

I read the transcript, and followed up with her, asking for her take on its contents. She said it was easy for her to transcribe verbatim since I blew up the photograph and laminated it. She said the general nature of the document was benign. The documentation, as I assessed as well, was merely a scholarly critique of the then-current Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki. It detailed corruption within the cabinet of al-Maliki’s government, and the financial impact of this corruption on the Iraqi people.

After discovering this discrepancy between FP’s report, and the interpreter’s transcript, I forwarded this discovery, in person to the TO OIC and Battle NCOIC.

The TOC OIC and, the overhearing Battlecaptain, informed me they didn’t need or want to know this information any more. They told me to “drop it” and to just assist them and the FP in finding out where more of these print shops creating “anti-Iraqi literature” might be. I couldn’t believe what I heard, (24-25)

Manning, we’ve been told over and over again, was not a whistleblower. Because, I guess, Maliki’s corruption and repression were not a problem in 2010?

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

26 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    “What if US Government Had Not Demanded We “Drop It” on Maliki’s Corruption in 2010?”

    Good question. The answer is, “We might have left earlier, and this civil war would have occurred earlier.”

    As your quoted piece notes, “[Maliki’s] repeated refusal over long years to strike an urgently needed political accord with the Sunni minority, his construction of corrupt, ineffective and sectarian state institutions, and his heavy-handed military repression in those areas are the key factors in the long-developing disintegration of Iraq.”

    Surely the powers-that-be were aware of the government corruption all along, well before 2010. We spent many years trying to “fix it” and we failed. You can’t do that with an occupying military force. All you can do is take out one corrupt government and hope you get a better one in return (ah, yes, regime change! That’s worked so well for us, so many times).

    Check out this post in today’s Guardian from a disillusioned Iraq war vet, arguing that we exited the war too early, and then see how he is absolutely Roasted in the “Comments” section below it.

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/13/mosul-iraq-war-return-isis

    Manning may have been a whistleblower on this, true, but it sure would not have made a dime’s worth of difference in solving the underlying problem. All it might have accomplished is getting us out a bit earlier. Perhaps that’s a worthy result?

  2. Don Bacon says:

    ” Iraq has chosen the path of corruption and repression.”
    .
    Maliki is no more corrupt than the US is. As for repression, under a brutal military occupation the US had an open program of kidnapping, murder, detention and torture.
    .
    Afghanistan has been, and will be, even worse. In Afghanistan the US has a policy of killing members of a former Afghan administration it doesn’t like. The US also has dumped hundreds of mostly innocent people in Gitmo and other prisons. The “crime” of most of these people is that they were associated with previous governments, national and local, in Afghanistan.
    .
    The US supported the watershed event that greatly exacerbated the Sunni-Shia divide, the Samarra mosque bombing of Feb 22, 2006. It is US policy to divide-and-conquer. That applies especially to Iraq particularly now that Iraq is closely allied with Iran. (Thank you so much, Uncle Sam.)

  3. fritter says:

    One challenge the US is facing as it tries to prevent the complete disintegration of the Middle East…

    I’m not convinced that is the goal. I think the incentives, hence the goal, is more likely the “stable”, controlled disintegration of the Middle East. I think the MIC decided that they could get away with genocide if they did it slow and methodically; That the Nazis big mistake was making mass murder too efficient and less profitable. There is no incentive for TPTB to stabilize the region, just like there is no incentive to put limits on the financial sector, prosecute war crimes or many other things that would generally benefit the 99%.

    I see no reason not to “follow the money” in this case. What is better for business than losing “control” of Iraq? What another decade of unparalleled profits stuck in another/same quagmire!??! The only way that would make business sense is if we were paying Blackwater to win the war for us and there were no payment until delivery. If you look at the events from this perspective they actually make some sense. Short term political goals and long term business strategy align.

    • Don Bacon says:

      Yes, exactly, the US policy will be tailored to what shows up best on a profit & loss statement. In Iraq big US oil was getting filthy rich so there was no problem at all.
      .
      Iran (like N. Korea is Asia) has to by hyped as a threat as long as possible as a basis for continued military sales to the rich Arab potentates and for the retention of the 40,000 US troops and their bases and the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf area.
      .
      Now they can also hype the ISIS government-in-process, which the US has been supporting financially and politically with Saudi Arabia, as another dire mortal threat to the US.
      .
      What’s not to like? It’s money in the till.

  4. fritter says:

    If you look at the events from this perspective they actually make some sense. Short term political goals and long term business strategy align.

    By this I mean its not necessary to believe in grand illuminati conspiracy theories for things to work out the way they have with the interested parties getting exactly what they want. That is, the system works as intended.

    Not rooting out corruption served the short term political interest of putting the administration in the best light. If the corruption had hurt the bottom line of our big contractors I think it would have turned out far different. Instead its structured so that the contractors get a percent of money spent which means the more that is spent, the more they get.

  5. orionATL says:

    this is an extremly interesting story about manning – it gets to motivation, both his and his prosecutors.

    it gets to the false picture of manning’s motives, manufactured and widely distributed by u.s. military and political leaders.

    manning’s initial torture twenty miles from the obama whitehouse was intended to provoke a confession; his subsequent long court-martial sentence will keep him from becoming a public critic of the conduct of the iraq war for decades.

    the extreme effort the military and whitehouse made to repress manning and bury the message his documents conveyed, simply illustrates, in the context of the vingette above, the absolute NECESSITY to competent public policy of whistleblowers from all realms, particularly the realm of u.s. national security policy .

    how would the war have ended if critics and whistleblowers like manning and assange been heavily protected instead of being hunted down and silenced?

    how would afghanistan and iraq have ended if obama had not played the fool in protecting bush and cheney from public evaluation of their wmd/al-quaeda lies, their inhumane and pointless torture, and their indefinite jailing and murder of those whose words could lend credence to critics of the bush-cheney folly-wars?

    • Don Bacon says:

      But Obama not playing the fool was never an option, was it.
      Even Black Agenda Report had this faker pegged back in 2008.
      .
      Black Agenda Report, May 7, 2008

      Running to the Right: Barack Obama and the DLC Strategy
      .
      DLC endorsement is the gold standard of political reliability for Wall Street, Big Energy, Big Pharma, insurance, the airlines and more. Though candidates normally undergo extensive questioning and interviews before DLC endorsement, Obama insisted the blessing of these corporate special interests had been bestowed on him without these formalities and without his advance knowledge, and formally disassociated himself from the DLC. But like Hillary Clinton, and every front running Democrat since Michale Dukakis in 1988, Barack Obama’s campaign has adopted the classic right wing DLC strategy. —etc.

      • orionATL says:

        yeah, black agenda report had obama pegged from the beginning.

        and they had the advantage of criticizing obama without every third sentence they wrote being publicly pillaried as “racist” by david axelrod’s race-hunting operatives, e.g., rep james clyburn.

        obama’s problem wasn’t and isn’t his dlc-ness. it’s his profound inexperience, his inability to communicate with ordinary voters, his fondness for vapid promises, his political cowardice with regard to power centers (banks, nsa) and his inability to convey sincere moral indignation or ruling moral imperatives in his presidential communications.

        • P J Evans says:

          I think he communicates fine with voters. His follow-through on what he says he wants to do is the pits, and he’s way too prone to believe what he’s told by his advisers (all of whom seem to be DLC/Turd Way types).

          • orionATL says:

            i don’t know, pj.

            president obama communicates anything articulately – in understandable, orderly language. he is no grand orator, though.

            in my view, he does not communicate well emotionally with a large number of voters. i suspect the prez has only an intellectual sense of ordinary american’s problems, not a visceral one. no one has ever claimed he was a firebrand of a community activist. the guy’s talent seems to lie in calculation and strategy.

            • P J Evans says:

              We don’t need a firebrand, but an activist would be nice to have. ‘Make me do it’ is not what I wanted, especially when tens of thousands of people telling him the way they want him to go isn’t moving him. I suspect part of it is that what people expect from a more-or-less-black President isn’t what he is. He isn’t ‘black enough’ for some people, and not ‘white enough’ for others.

              • orionATL says:

                my view is that race provides no insight whatsoever into president obama’s character or presidency.

                the president is a person born and raised into an upper-middle class life. his high school was prep high school, ritzyest in the islands. he went to expensive and elite colleges. he graduated from harvard law. he associated with chicago’s movers and shakers. his life serms to me to be that of a guy whose life has been blessed/cursed by having all doors open to him with little personal effort. the prez’s life experience is probably closer to that of a wealthy doctor’s or manufacturer’s son.

                added to the money security and social training from the imaginary background i sketched above he added his personal attributes – his intelligence, personal charm, and handsomeness. i’m not so sure, but i suspect from his life with his grandparents he picked up a strong dose of calvinism and rule-following, also middle-class attributes.

                the negative qualities that bedevil his presidency – conflict avoidance, vacuous speeches, a tone-deaf political ear, contempt for sweaty politics, and aversion to providing moral leadership – are probably personality based.

                but, as far as i can tell, not a single significant part of the american black experience ever permeated his life or learning or political values.

                • lew says:

                  What evidence is there for Obama having ‘a strong dose of calvinism’?

                  That person would not have had to hide his entire background the way Obama has had to do.

                  • orionATL says:

                    i was thinking sardonically of those who lost their homes to foreclosure and joblessness in the face of an administration “assistance program” never intended to work,

                    or joblessness lasting years (with benefits and training shrinking by the year).

                    under such circumstances, one better have been elected for salvation, ’cause they weren’t none coming from the powers on this earth.

        • Don Bacon says:

          I get a kick when people talk about what Obama “thinks” about this or that. Obama was ID’d as glib speaker and then put up against Hillary to make it interesting. Either one would have done Job One, which was to put trillions of dollars into bankers’ pockets. Everything else was ‘way down the list.

          So that’s been done and the country, much poorer now, stumbles along without leadership but with an occasional distraction when the pundits consider what Obama “thinks.” And a parting thought — the words Obama and character do not belong in the same sentence.

  6. Hugh says:

    Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Egypt, Libya, Ukraine, Greece, Nigeria, and much of the rest of Africa are examples of a new paradigm, not failed states but permanently failing ones. Civil institutions are riven with corruption and either do not function or barely function. Cronyism and looting are rampant. Over-population in some cases and resource constraints in others, resources do not get down to the people. All these factors exacerbate inter-ethnic, tribal, and sectarian divisions. And indeed the authoritarian cliques which control the by turns ineffective and increasingly repressive central government often seek to exploit these tensions to increase their diminishing power and prolong their longevity.

    The accusations over who lost Iraq have already begun. This forgets that Iraq was never ours to lose. It merely directs attention away from the failure, many of us remarked at the time, of the Bush/Petraeus surge. The surge was PR’ed into some kind of victory, but the truth is its purpose was to create a space for a settlement between Iraq’s three main factions: the Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds. This never occurred. I’m not sure any of the leaders in the three groups even understood the concept let alone endorsed it. Certainly, Maliki a Dawa hardliner didn’t. The surge did bring a short period of relative stability. This was accomplished by Petraeus buying off all but the jihadi Sunnis extremely cheaply for about $400 million a year and presiding over the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad turning a Sunni city into a predominately Shia enclave surrounded by Sunni areas. The civil war the surge was supposed to preempt was merely postponed.

    It is pointless to speculate on what Maliki might have done differently because as a Dawa extremist he was never going to act other than as he has. It’s important to remember that Saddam Hussein was not executed for his myriad crimes against the Iraqi people, but for a specific crime against Dawa supporters. His trial for the Anfal massacres in Kurdistan was short circuited by his execution. He was, in fact, executed for his reprisals following a Dawa led attempt on his life.

    Maliki’s authoritarianism, cronyism, and ill concealed war on the Sunnis have been on display for years. But it was really the war in Syria that provided the catalyst, the combination of jihadi fighters and the petrodollars of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states spilling over into Iraq. The extent and rapidity of the Sunni advances are only surprising because Iraq has been off the American public’s screen for some time, but the warning signs have been there for some time. The depth of Maliki’s weakness and the extremely limited reach of the central government were made clear months ago when Sunni militants seized Fallujah, and more importantly still, were able to hold it for months uncontested. From a strategic point of view the seizure of Mosul was a nobrainer, major metropolis, in the north, near the core of the jihadis strength and furthest from Maliki’s. Taking it secured their left flank. Taking Tikrit was also important because this is the Sunni heartland and it still controls a lot of the electric power going to the capital. So far the Sunni victories have been easy. The army was never going to fight in the north or west. If you were Sunni, you had no reason to back up a government bent on oppressing you. And if you were Shia, you had no reason to fight to hold land that wasn’t yours. This calculus changes though as Sunni forces approach Baghdad and come up against Shia defending their homes. And the Sunnis have real weaknesses of their own. They control none of Iraq’s oil resources which are located in the Kurdish North and Shia South. And while jihadis can be fierce fighters, they are dreadful at governance. They can not get electrical grids up or water flowing and strictly enforcing sharia law simply pisses most of the population off. The longer this civil war drags on the more their base of support will erode. None of the sides can win this conflict or resolve it. Iraq will continue to be a permanently failing state.

  7. Don Bacon says:

    Joblessness: It didn’t just happen.
    .
    The government has colluded with corporations to send jobs overseas, which includes using taxpayer-funded USAID to train foreign workers to take US jobs. It also includes ambassadors and embassy commerce desks working with the Chambers of Commerce to connect corporations with foreign suppliers. It’s whatever goes to the corporate bottom line.
    .
    All the other BS is whitewash to divert attention from their “free trade” job-export schemes. Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary Robert Reich was a key part of it.
    .
    It doesn’t matter who the president is, it’s the same.

    • bmaz1 says:

      Tuttle!!

      Honestly, yes, there is, and yes and no as to whether we understand it all. We had to up our security protocols for some obvious, and some not so obvious, reasons. Unfortunately, some folks, even a few that have been with us since The Next Hurrah, are getting caught up. Usually one of us is around to free up the comments that are caught up, every now and then there is a gap. Our apologies, we are working to improve things, but it is tough sledding in code. Again, bear with us, it is us, not you.

  8. Don Bacon says:

    Back on topic for Marcy–
    .
    United States Department of State
    and the
    Broadcasting Board of Governors
    Office of Inspector General
    .
    Report of Inspection (excerpts)
    August 2006
    Survey of Anticorruption Programs
    Embassy Baghdad, Iraq
    .
    Embassy Baghdad’s front office accords priority attention to anticorruption initiatives, but the delay in forming a new Iraqi government has limited the embassy’s success in getting the concomitant political commitment from Iraqi leaders.
    .
    The institutional framework for Iraqi anticorruption activities is in place, but it is fragile. Judicial prosecutions of corruption cases have been few. Improved collaboration among the three Iraqi public integrity institutions, and between them and the courts, is a priority.
    .
    The institutional framework for Iraqi anticorruption activities is in place, but it is fragile. Judicial prosecutions of corruption cases have been few. Improved collaboration among the three Iraqi public integrity institutions, and between them and the courts, is a priority.
    http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/103469.pdf

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