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Maliki Speaks Out

The Iraqi prime minister challenges Europe to get serious about terrorism.

10:00 AM, Mar 15, 2007 • By JOSEPH LOCONTE
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IRAQI PRIME MINISTER NOURI AL-MALIKI, speaking at last week's international conference in Baghdad, reminded many who needed reminding exactly what is at stake in the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, few people in Europe seem to have heard the message.

The great enemy, Maliki warned, is the ideology of terrorism, which threatens not only Iraq but every decent and peace-loving nation on the planet. "The terrorism that today is trying to kill Iraqis in Baghdad, Hilla, Mosul, and Anbar," he said, "is the same as the terror that intimidated the population of Saudi Arabia, targeted the people of Egypt, attacked the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and hit underground trains in Madrid and London."

In other words, whatever one thinks of the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, Iraq has become another front in the war on radical Islam. This faith-based ideology assumes various shapes--Sunni suicide bombers, al Qaeda operatives--yet all pursue the same overriding objective: to turn Iraq into a haven for international terrorism, guided by a militant and murderous vision of Islam.

This is, of course, exactly the argument made by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair--which probably explains why media outlets such as the BBC downplayed Maliki's blunt assessment.

Maliki was hardly coy about the attempts of Iran and Syria--both conference participants--to foment mayhem in his country. "Confronting terrorism means halting any form of financial support and media or religious incitement," he said, "as well as logistical support and the provision of arms and men that will become explosive tools killing our children, women and elders, and bombing our mosques and churches."

Like Bush and Blair, Maliki insists on connecting the dots: The flow of military support and suicide bombers across the borders of Iran and Syria results directly in the deaths of ordinary Iraqis--children playing soccer, women walking in markets, students studying at universities, pilgrims journeying to mosques. "Iraq does not accept that its territories and cities become a field where regional and international disputes are settled."

It was all but impossible to find more than a few lines from Maliki's speech quoted in the BBC's media expanse. It was relatively easy, however, to hear commentary about America's much-needed "reversal" in meeting with Iranian and Syrian officials, or the Bush administration's "missing link" of diplomacy in the Middle East, or this latest effort "to break the ice" between the United States, Iran, and Syria.

Maliki rejects the moral relativism that drives this kind of talk. "What has obstructed the economic and political building process in Iraq and has threatened civil peace is the terrorism," he insisted. It was time, he said, to stop giving "religious cover" to the terrorist atrocities that are tearing his society apart. That's a bold charge for a Muslim leader in a region drenched in pious rationalizations for terror. It's also a repudiation of the feckless impulse to blame the United States and/or Israel for all the region's woes (as Jordan's King Abdullah did last week).

The Iraqi prime minister can be faulted for his handling of security issues and failure to politically unite the country's religious factions. Yet he seems to understand the nature and difficulty of his task, a difficulty that is hard to overstate and greatly complicated by daily acts of barbarism. For a few moments last week--moments that surely offended the sensibilities of political and media sophisticates--Maliki reminded the world that America is not the problem in Iraq or in the Middle East. Terrorism is the problem. And it is the reason Iraq is fighting for its life.

Joseph Loconte is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and host of the London-based television/internet program "Britain and America."