WASHINGTON, July 24, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is due on July 25 to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush with the White House admitting that the Iraqi government's security crackdown has failed.
White House spokesman Tony Snow says a six-week crackdown has not "achieved its objectives," and so Bush and al-Maliki will discuss a new plan aimed at stemming the violence between the country's rival Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim communities.
Snow disclosed no details but said one of the first challenges is to find an effective way to secure Baghdad.
The U.S. military recorded an average of 34 major bombings and shootings each day in the Baghdad area in the week ending July 13 -- a 40 percent increase over previous weeks.
The news agency AP quoted U.S. officials as saying the new security plan will likely involve bringing more U.S. troops into the capital.
Reinforcing The Public Line
Part of the rationale for the meeting is symbolic. Judith Kipper of the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S.-based think tank, says Bush and al-Maliki need to put up a united front in the face of the mounting violence.
Describing the situation in Iraq as "grim," Kipper said al-Maliki "wants to prove that he's making an effort" to end the sectarian violence, while Bush "needs to reassure him that we're not going to leave them stranded."
Leon Fuerth, a former senior member of the National Security Council in the 1990s, says the two leaders may seek to "reinforce each other's public line," which is that there are growing number of areas of the country where security is primarily the responsibility of Iraqi forces.
Al-Maliki is "likely to also say that, 'While we wish the United States would leave eventually, for the time being its presence is necessary,'" Fuerth believes.
However, Fuerth believes the two need to go beyond that. Unless Bush and al-Maliki can announce some new and credible initiative to deal with the violence, the Iraqi leader has little new to tell Bush at their meeting, Fuerth says.
Curbing The Violence
Neither of the veteran observers of the Middle East is optimistic about the prospects for ending the sectarian violence.
The religious leader of Iraq's Shi'a, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has repeatedly urged his followers against joining in the sectarian strife and he repeated that call on July 20.
But the violence persists and Kipper suggests that recent Sunni violence against Shi'as could benefit far less moderate Shi'ite leaders, such as the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
It is also premature, Kipper believes, to think that Iraq's sectarian fighters can be disarmed and pacified.
Doing so will take a long time, she says, and would probably require bringing the combatants into the country's police and military. But, before accepting that possibility, sectarian fighters would probably first need to be convinced that they would be paid and that life in Iraq will get better if they stop fighting among themselves.
Kipper says the key to success probably lies not simply in Iraqis taking over security duties from the Americans and in U.S. troops then leaving the country.
Iraqis need to rediscover the sense of nationalism and national unity that she believes they had before and, to an extent, during the presidency of Saddam Hussein.
"There is Iraqi nationalism, [but] after the war they became very, very divided," Kipper says. "If politically, as the United States is less visible on the streets, [Iraqis] can begin to re-identify with that nationalism, then the people themselves will not tolerate the bad guys."
Both Kipper and Fuerth agree that that time is probably a long way off.