Adviser to Bush casts doubts on Iraq's PM

In memo, Hadley questions if leader can quell violence

Hadley memo casts doubts on Iraqi PM

November 29, 2006|By Michael R. Gordon | Michael R. Gordon,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- A classified memorandum by President Bush's national security adviser expressed serious doubts about whether Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had the capacity to control the sectarian violence in Iraq and recommended that the United States take new steps to strengthen the Iraqi leader's position.

The Nov. 8 memo was prepared for Bush and his top deputies by National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley and senior aides on the staff of the National Security Council after a trip by Hadley to Baghdad.

The memo suggests that if al-Maliki fails to carry out a series of specified steps, it may ultimately be necessary to press him to reconfigure his parliamentary bloc, a step the United States could support by providing "monetary support to moderate groups" and by sending thousands of additional American troops to Baghdad to make up for what the document suggests is a current shortage of Iraqi forces.

The memo presents an unvarnished portrait of al-Maliki and notes that he relies for some of his political support on leaders of more extreme Shiite groups. The five-page document, classified as secret, is based in part on a one-to-one meeting between Hadley and al-Maliki on Oct. 30.

"His intentions seem good when he talks with Americans, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the Shia hierarchy and force positive change," the memo said of the Iraqi leader. "But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."

An administration official made a copy of the document available to a reporter for The New York Times seeking information on the administration's policy review. The Times read and transcribed the memo.

The White House has sought to avoid public criticism of al-Maliki, who is scheduled to meet with Bush in Jordan today. The latest surge of sectarian violence in Baghdad and the Democratic victories in the midterm elections are prompting calls for sharp changes in U.S. policy. Such changes are among options being debated by the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel whose co-chair is James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state.

A senior administration official discussed the memorandum in general terms after being told The New York Times was preparing an article on the subject. The official described the document as "essentially a trip report" and not the result of the administration's review of its Iraq policy, which is still under way. He said the purpose of the memo "was to provide a snapshot of the challenges facing Prime Minister Maliki and how we can best enhance his capabilities, mindful of the complex political and security environment in which he is operating."

The American delegation that went to Iraq with Hadley included Meghan L. O'Sullivan, the deputy national security adviser, and three other members of the National Security Council staff. The memo prepared after that trip has been circulated to Cabinet-level officials who are participating in the administration's review of Iraq strategy.

There is nothing in the memo that suggests the Bush administration is interested in replacing al-Maliki as prime minister. But while Bush has stated that he has confidence in the Iraqi leader, the memo questions whether al-Maliki has the will and ability to establish a genuine unity government, saying the answer will emerge from actions he takes in the weeks and months ahead.

"We returned from Iraq convinced we need to determine if Prime Minister Maliki is both willing and able to rise above the sectarian agendas being promoted by others," the memo says. "Do we and Prime Minister Maliki share the same vision for Iraq? If so, is he able to curb those who seek Shia hegemony or the reassertion or Sunni power? The answers to these questions are key in determining whether we have the right strategy in Iraq."

In describing the Oct. 30 meeting between Hadley and al-Maliki, it says: "Maliki reiterated a vision of Shia, Sunni and Kurdish partnership, and in my one-on-one meeting with him, he impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so."

It said the Iraqi leader's assurances seemed to have been contradicted by developments on the ground, including the Iraqi government's approach to the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia known in Arabic as Jaish al-Mahdi and headed by Muqtada al-Sadr.

"Reports of nondelivery of services to Sunni areas, intervention by the prime minister's office to stop military action against Shia targets and to encourage them against Sunni ones, removal of Iraq's most effective commanders on a sectarian basis and efforts to ensure Shia majorities in all ministries - when combined with the escalation of Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) killings - all suggest a campaign to consolidate Shia power in Baghdad."

Among the concerns voiced in the memo was that al-Maliki was surrounded by a small group of advisers from the Shiite Dawa Party, a narrow circle that American officials worry may skew the information he receives.

The memo outlines a number of short-term steps al-Maliki could undertake to establish control. The Iraqi leader has recently indicated his intention to take some of these steps, such as announcing his intention to expand the size of the Iraqi army and declaring that Iraq will seek an extension of the U.N. mandate that provides for the deployment of the American-led multinational force in Iraq. The U.N. Security Council voted yesterday to extend that mandate.

The memo also lists steps the United States can take to strengthen al-Maliki's position. These include efforts to persuade Saudi Arabia to use its influence with the Sunnis in Iraq and encourage them to turn away from the insurgency and to seek a political accommodation.

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