COMMENT Baghdad's unwelcome
visitor By Ehsan Ahrari
There are numerous explanations for
President George W Bush's surprise trip to Iraq -
such a surprise that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki
didn't know about it until five minutes before
It could be part of
electioneering - an attempt to push upward Bush's
standing in the opinion polls; a bid to secure the
re-election of Republican legislators worried that
the public anger stemming from the war in Iraq
will throw them out of office come November; or it
could be Bush's endeavor to maintain the momentum
stemming from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death.
It is probably a combination of all of the
above, but for the Iraqi prime minister, just
beginning the arduous task of establishing
legitimacy for his national-unity government,
Bush's trip is not
to help at all.
During the European
colonial era, political upheavals in a colony
affected the colonizing power's domestic politics.
Consequently, the leader of the colonial power
maneuvered to improve his domestic standing or
improve his chances of staying in power by
influencing the domestic politics of that colony.
That is what one was reminded of when watching
Bush hop on to Air Force One for the
reason was that he wanted to look Maliki in the
eyes and assure him that the United States stood
with Iraq. One wonders why Maliki would want to be
seen in the company of Bush at a time when he is
desperately trying to build his own legitimacy.
Bush, after all, is as popular as the plague in
In this technological age, Bush
could just as easily have stage-managed a
video-conference session with his and Maliki's
cabinets at which the Iraqis could have outlined
what it was they needed and wanted from the US.
From a public relations angle, it could have been
Instead, the US
president went to Iraq. He spoke of liberty in a
country where even he himself did not have the
liberty to take a sneak peak at the Iraqis
struggling to stay alive.
Bush's trip to
Iraq - his first since 2003 - was a well-kept
secret. Only Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld knew of the surprise.
landed at Baghdad's airport and then took a
helicopter to the Green Zone. If one is looking
for any difference between his last trip and this
visit, there certainly was one. During the
previous jaunt, Bush stayed at the airport. This
time, he flew to the highly fortified Green Zone.
For Iraqis, Bush's trip
must have been a matter of fleeting curiosity.
They would have seen the image of the US president
with their newly elected premier and wondered what
it was all about.
Bush met with Maliki's
entire cabinet, while his own cabinet was back in
Washington. This was another symbolism fully aimed
at capturing the attention of the US public, that
he is doing something in and about Iraq.
During his meeting with Bush, Maliki
announced an intense security sweep in Baghdad,
where he wants to begin establishing the
legitimacy of his government. Even though such
attempts in the past have not borne much fruit,
well-wishers hope that this time things will be
As Bush was meeting with
elected officials and with his own troops, the
insurgents issued a press release, aimed similarly
at boosting the morale of their jihadis. Abu Hamza
al-Muhajir was named as the successor to Zarqawi,
killed in a US air strike last week.
insurgents declared, "Coming battles will reveal
the falseness of your power and the cowardliness
of your soldiers. Do not rejoice that you killed
[Zarqawi], he has left behind lions that ...
trained under him.
"You will see what we
have in store for you because of your betrayal and
apostasy. Our swords are poised above your necks,"
the statement said of Iraqis who cooperate with
The US promptly announced
that Muhajir would be placed on the terrorist list
and would be hunted down and eliminated.
It seems that already the next installment
of terror and counter-terror is being written,
with a few changes in the cast of characters.
Maliki wants to establish a momentum about
creating the legitimacy of his government. So does
Muhajir, except he wants to recapture the momentum
that his side lost with the death of Zarqawi. Bush
is doing his best to maintain the momentum that
his forces gained by killing Zarqawi. It is hard
to believe that even in death, Zarqawi maintains
such a powerful presence.
Bush appears to
be a man eagerly looking for a magic potion for
the solution of the Iraqi malady, where death and
destruction rule. Bush created the Iraqi tragedy
by invading the country, and is trying desperately
to get out with his head held high.
Maliki, on the other hand, is a man on
whose shoulders fate has dumped the awesome
responsibility of governing Iraq, a task that will
take resolve and vision.
Muhajir remains a
dark shadow. Yet he might be the only actor who
has the upper hand over Bush and Maliki. The US
president knows that. That might be why he is
trying all sorts of maneuvers to figure what will
work for him.
Ehsan Ahrari is
the CEO of Strategic Paradigms, an Alexandria,
Virginia-based defense consultancy. He can be
reached at [email protected] or
[email protected] His columns appear
regularly in Asia Times Online. His website: