Why has Tony Blair flown to Baghdad? This day of all days he should stay away. Everyone should stay away. Leave the new prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, at least to appear to be his own man and not a coalition puppet the day after he has been sworn in. How would Blair have reacted if, the day after his first election, George Bush had flown to London to "lend him his encouragement"?
London and Washington just don't get it. Americans and Britons are not deeply loved by Iraqis just now. Their presence is resented and their patronage of Maliki will not strengthen but weaken him. It can only undermine his autonomy and authority in the eyes of his supporters (and delight his many foes).
Even opponents of the occupation of Iraq must greet this week as crucial in the evolution of a new Iraq, and pray that some authority can be salvaged from the wreckage. The new government could not be more fragile. It has no command over the army or police and cannot even control the streets immediately outside its green zone fortress. Ethnic cleansing in rampant across swathes of central Iraq. The coalition strategy of "waiting until the Iraqi army and police are ready to take over" is believed only by coalition publicists. Every foreigner in Iraq, other than those growing rich on the mayhem, is yearning to leave as soon as the politicians summon up the courage to give the signal.
The bitter irony is that by far the best hope for Maliki right now is for that to happen. He must forge robust alliances with the new power brokers of Iraq, the militias and provincial councils. These will imply a de facto partition, but even that will be stable only if central politics accepts local realpolitik. To this realpolitik the presence of foreign troops is a running sore. It attracts outside terrorists. It provokes bombings and killings in which innocents die. It prevents a new focus of formal authority from emerging and thus leaves the streets in the hands of an informal one.
For Maliki to succeed he must seem his own man. The thesis that "it will take six months for him to bed down" and that American and British troops are required for that to happen is the opposite of the truth. Most Iraqi ministers and ministries already rely on either tribal or private security guards. The coalition's role in maintaining security in Iraq is confined to roadblocks, occasional patrols (dangerous for patrollers and patrolled) and defending the green zone and airports. Ninety per cent of its time and effort goes on its own protection and logistics. The occupation no longer has anything to do with national building. It is the world's most expensive squat.
Iraq is not "dependent" on anyone, internal or externally. It is anarchy. It must find its own centre of gravity. The occupation is utterly counterproductive. Blair's visit is a macho gesture of self-publicity. All it can do is rain on Maliki's parade.