Thursday, January 18, 2007

Iraqi leader criticizes comments by Bush, Rice

By Leila Fadel
McClatchy Newspapers
January 18, 2007

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki voiced frustration with both President George Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday, saying their recent criticism of the Iraqi government probably helped the "terrorists."

Al-Maliki, whose relationship with the United States is strained, was especially upset about Rice's comment last week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when she said that al-Maliki's government is working on "borrowed time."

"Such statements give moral boosts to the terrorists and push them towards making an extra effort and making them believe that they have defeated the American administration, but I can tell you that they haven't defeated the Iraqi government," he said during a meeting with a handful of reporters.

The interview was al-Maliki's first public comments since Bush announced last week that he's sending 21,500 additional American troops to Iraq. The Times of London posted audio of the interview on its Web site. McClatchy Newspapers didn't take part in the interview.

Al-Maliki also criticized Bush for saying that the chaotic execution of Saddam Hussein looked like a "revenge killing" during an interview Tuesday with PBS' Jim Lehrer.

"I would like to correct President Bush that Saddam, that person, was not subjected to any act of revenge, any physical attack," al-Maliki said. "It was a judicial process that ended with him executed or sentenced to death according to Iraqi law, which sentences such criminals to death."
Al-Maliki said he thought Bush was responding to news media pressure. "I know President Bush and I know him as a strong person who does not get affected by the media pressure, but it seems that the pressure ... led to the president giving this statement."

Al-Maliki's relationship with the United States has been deteriorating for months over various issues, including control of the military forces in Iraq, the strategy for fighting the war and U.S. killings of Iraqi civilians.

On Wednesday, in what may have been a sign of the state of relations between the U.S. and al-Maliki, Rice flew from Kuwait to Europe directly over Baghdad but didn't stop to meet with Iraqi officials.

Al-Maliki has come under increasing pressure to disarm Shiite militias allied with his government, especially the Mahdi Army, which is loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and is believed to be behind the killings of hundreds of Sunnis across the capital. Al-Sadr's supporters hold five seats in al-Maliki's Cabinet and form the largest bloc in the Iraqi parliament.

Al-Maliki's comments came one week after Bush announced that 17,500 of the additional U.S. troops would be committed to a Baghdad security plan intended to target "extremists" in the capital. The plan is supposed to be Iraqi-led, with U.S. forces acting as a support system. But some here fear that the plan will allow Shiite militias to continue their campaign to force Sunni residents out of the capital.

Al-Maliki predicted that the government's need for U.S. troops would decrease in the next three to six months.

Advisers to al-Maliki and legislators have indicated that al-Maliki gave only a tepid welcome to more forces in the capital.

"I believe that if we succeed in implementing the agreement between us to speed up the equipping and providing weapons to our military forces, I think that within three to six months our need for the American troops will dramatically go down," al-Maliki said. "That is on condition that there are real, strong efforts to support our military forces and equipping and arming them."

Al-Maliki blamed high casualties on an ill-equipped Iraqi army.

"I can strongly say that we could have been in a better situation right now regarding the equipment we have and the weapons we have," he said. "If that had happened it would have greatly decreased the level of our losses and the losses of the multinational forces as well."
Audio of Maliki's interview with reporters can be heard at:


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