The State Department on Thursday all but showed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki the door, saying he had been particularly hard to work with.
“We had extreme frustrations with the Iraqi government, particularly over the last year,” Brett McGurk, deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Then Mr. McGurk seemed to suggest Mr. al-Maliki’s days as prime minister are numbered.
“They’ve created a new parliament, and through that parliament new leaders will emerge,” he testified. “There are a handful of very capable leaders who may emerge as the next prime minister of Iraq. We’re going to have to see this unfold very rapidly over the coming days.”
Military analysts have deemed Mr. al-Maliki a failure both in bringing Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds into a governing coalition, and in waging the current war against Sunni militants.
Mr. McGurk, who was a diplomat in Iraq during the U.S. troop presence, also disclosed a big gap between how the U.S. and Iraq want to combat the Islamic State group — the Islamist group led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi that has conquered wide areas of Iraq as security forces have mostly fled.
Mr. McGurk said U.S. military officers advised the Iraqi government not to enter the Sunni stronghold of Tikrit, the birthplace of Sunni former dictator Saddam Hussein and now held by the Islamic State.
“We have advised the Iraqis for example not to go into urban areas — lessons that we learned,” he said. “The Iraqis made a decision to go into Tikrit. We didn’t really support that decision.”
Still, he said, the 700-plus U.S. military advisers recently sent to Iraq “have been embraced.”
Mr. McGurk said he told Mr. al-Maliki, a Shiite, that his generals had been lying to him about advances made by the Islamic State. The prime minister ordered a shake-up and fired a number of senior officers.
Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, is now in Iraq talking to the new commanders, Mr. McGurk said.
“Some of the tactics the Iraqis pursued, we totally don’t agree with,” Mr. McGurk said. “In fact, by moving in aggressively as we have over the last six weeks, [we] will increasingly increase our influence over some of those tactics.”
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