Ratification this week of a deal that would put an expiration date on the US deployment in Iraq stands to boost the prestige of PM Nouri al-Maliki, who in recent months has consolidated his power in moves that echo previous authoritarian regimes. As one Western observer tells the Los Angeles Times, Maliki is poised to become “a benevolent Shiite Saddam.”
Maliki’s actions haven’t exactly fit in with the restricted national government envisioned by American architects of Iraq’s new regime. His supporters say strength is necessary to hold the country together; critics point to arrests of US-backed Sunni paramilitary troops and influential leaders from both sects. Whether Maliki is motivated by sectarian goals or merely deeply ingrained suspicions remains unclear.