U.S. officials used to worry that Iraq's prime minister was too weak. That was then.
The circumstances surrounding Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's visit to Washington this week could not be more different from the last time he was in town. In July 2006, Maliki was largely unknown, both in Iraq and in the West, and lacked a constituency. Today, he is the dominant force in Iraqi politics, has consolidated much of the emerging Iraqi state into his own hands, and has won a measure of democratic legitimacy after January's provincial elections. In 2006, with Iraq on the verge of state failure, it was Maliki's indecisiveness that troubled Washington. Today, with his country emerging as a sovereign power, his assertiveness is what's worrying.
Three months before his last visit, Maliki had been chosen as prime minister precisely because he seemed weak. Iraq's first elections under the new constitutional order were held in December 2005, yet the negotiations to form a government stretched on for months. The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the majority coalition of Shiite parties, was unable to agree on a candidate for prime minister.