Bush and Maliki

Malikibushbrookskraftfortime_1

I hear reports of a serious rift between the two leaders. The call Bush placed to Maliki yesterday is a sign of serious strain. Money quote:

Snow said Maliki, who he said brought up the timetable question with Bush, was referring to a "rumor" about "attempts to replace him" if certain conditions weren't met by a certain time.

"The president said, 'the rumors are not true; we support you,'" Snow told reporters.

Well, we know what to make of the president's word. The rumors were, apparently, about the Bush administration debating if some kind of military coup might be better able to stabilize Iraq. I cannot substantiate them but Maliki's call to Bush obviously suggests he's worried that the U.S. might try to pull the plug on him. There are also rumors of new contacts between Bush and Allawi. Is something afoot?

The awful truth seems to be: Maliki cannot restrain the militias; the sectarian violence is getting worse, not better; and yet Maliki is resisting partition or a big new infusion of U.S. troops. I have to say that the rumors of a Bush-backed coup actually reassured me a little. Not because I'd support it - but merely because it suggests that finally the White House seems to understand how dire the situation is. I have a sinking feeling, however, that their fundamental concern is not Iraq itself, but the effect it will have on the November elections. God knows what lies beyond that horizon. But if the Democrats control one or both Houses, the Iraq debate will become electric.

(Photo: Brooks Kraft for Time.)