Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been in Washington this week, selling Iraq as a success story of national reconciliation and democracy and looking for businesses willing to invest there. On Wednesday, he met with President Barack Obama at the White House and claimed he was working hard against sectarian conflict--even as he's been criticized for increasingly playing sectarian politics.
On Thursday morning, Maliki spoke to policy wonks and reporters at the United States Institute of Peace. He didn't make much, if any news. He hailed the "democratic process in Iraq," maintaining that all sects are treated equally by his government. Asked whether US military forces will remain in Iraq after the ongoing withdrawal is completed in 2011, he said that Iraq might request that the United States provide military training. He said nothing significant about Iran and the political upheaval there. He did contend that his government had "achieved a great victory" in fighting the corruption that it had inherited from Saddam Hussein's regime.
With that remark in mind, after Maliki concluded his speech, I headed toward the microphone set up for questions. I had a simple query. How could he claim victory against corruption when his own government had chased out of the country the two leading anti-corruption investigators: Salam Adhoob and Judge Radhi al-Radhi? (I've written about each.) These two men have repeatedly blasted Maliki for heading a government rife with corruption, from top to bottom. And how had Maliki and his aides rewarded Radhi and Adhoob for trying to investigate corruption cases that represented what they claimed to be billions of dollars in fraud? Maliki and his crew accused these two men of being corrupt, and the pair were forced to flee Iraq, out of fear of being murdered.
So I was prepped to press Maliki on all this. But several people elbowed me to reach the mike, and with Maliki giving long-winded answers to questions (as do most politicians), time ran out before I could question him. He then scooted off.
As the crowd left the room, I mentioned to another journalist the question I had composed for Maliki. "Or," he said, "you could have asked him how his son got all that money to buy that luxury hotel in Damascus." (It only cost a reported $35 million.) I suppose I could have, had I been given the chance, but no one else had. And by now, Maliki was long gone.
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