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Fri, Sept. 20

Al-Maliki must take charge or go it alone

While the media dither over whether the sectarian violence in Iraq is a civil war or just a question of religious fanatics slaughtering each other, President Bush faces dealing with a reluctant Iraqi prime minister who seems utterly incapable of doing his job in the midst of the chaos that surrounds him.

While many in the defeatist media seem to be enjoying what they see as the president's dilemma in deciding how to force Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to quash the violence in Baghdad and surrounding areas, they seem unaware that the president can deal with al-Maliki from a position of real strength, thanks to the Democrats.

Instead of playing the hard-nosed U.S. commander-in-chief and publicly humiliating the chief of state of a sovereign nation by ordering him to do what he must do to end the violence ­ or else ­ the president needs only to point out the inevitable consequences if he doesn't act decisively.

What will happen, he can tell al-Maliki, will be out of his hands. The consequences, he can say, will come about not because he, President Bush, will take some retaliatory action, but from the Democrats who control Congress and will surely use their new-found power to force a hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops, thus bringing down al-Maliki's government, giving victory to international terrorism, and turning the entire Mideast into a powder keg with the fuse already lit.

That's Bush's real negotiating strength: the Democrats' wimpishness in the face of the worst challenge facing the West since the Muslims stood at the gates of Vienna in 1683.

Unlike the heroic Polish King Jan III Sobieski, who stood at the gates of Vienna and fought and defeated the Islamists and thereby saved Europe, the Democrats appear willing to step back this time and open the gates in this latest episode of the centuries-long, never-ending war to impose Islamist rule upon the entire world.

That's all Mr. Bush needs to say to al-Maliki: get tough or prepare for the Democrats to get out and leave you and Iraq to the tender mercies of Syria and Iran and Osama bin Laden, and heads will roll, including yours.

That's no idle threat. If the violence in Iraq continues to shatter any semblance of stability, drawing the U.S. deeper and deeper into a senseless battle between two Islamic religious factions and costing us more American lives while the Iraqi government allows it to continue, the Democrats will stop paying for U.S. involvement and al-Maliki will be on his own.

If you want to cut through the fog of war and all the media disinformation masquerading as reporting, it's important to understand what is happening in Iraq.

During Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, Iraq's Sunni minority ran the country, and they subjected the Shiite majority to the most brutal repression with great enthusiasm, and at great profit to themselves. They were Saddam's well-paid hit men.

The Shiites have long memories, and they are acting on them now, especially given the fact that the Iran- and al-Qaida-backed insurgency with all its terrors targets them and the U.S. forces trying to enforce peace.

The end result has been the creation of militias on both sides, with the Sunnis getting support from al-Qaida and Syria, and the Shiites getting support from Iran. Al-Maliki, who seems caught in the crossfire, has pretty much come down on the side of Shiites and their principal supporter, Muqtada al Sadr, who enjoys huge popular acclaim in the Shiite community.

The Iraqi government must adopt a neutral stance and go after both sides and disarm their armed militias. The U.S. cannot and should not do the job. This means turning the battle over to the Iraqi army, seeing that it has adequate training and equipment, and setting them free to do what they need to do without political interference from the government.

All this will require patience and forbearance on our part. We'd better be prepared to exercise both. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.

In the meantime, let the president deal from the po-sition of strength the De-mocrats unwittingly have given him.

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