Aide: Iraqi leader using U.S. angst
By STEVEN R. HURST and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated
Press Writers 13 minutes ago
BAGHDAD, Iraq - After a hastily arranged video
conference with George Bush, Iraq's prime minister
said Saturday that the U.S. president promised to move
swiftly to turn over full control of the Iraqi army to
the Baghdad government. A close aide to Nouri
al-Maliki said later the prime minister was
intentionally playing on U.S. voter displeasure with
the war to strengthen his hand with Washington.
Hassan al-Suneid, a member of al-Maliki's inner
circle, said the video conference was sought because
issues needed airing at a higher level than with U.S.
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad.
Al-Suneid said the prime minister complained to Bush
that Khalilzad, an Afghan-born Sunni Muslim, was
treating the Shiite al-Maliki imperiously.
"The U.S. ambassador is not (L. Paul) Bremer (the
former U.S. administrator in Iraq). He does not have a
free rein to do what he likes. Khalilzad must not
behave like Bremer but rather like an ambassador,"
al-Suneid quoted al-Maliki as saying.
The remarks were the fourth time in a week that
al-Maliki challenged the U.S. handling of the war. The
ripostes flowed from an announcement by Khalilzad on
Tuesday that al-Maliki had agreed to a U.S. plan to
set timelines for progress in quelling violence in
Al-Maliki's anger grew through the week until on
Friday, al-Suneid said, the prime minister told
Khalilzad: "I am a friend of the United States, but I
am not America's man in Iraq."
After Saturday's talks, White House spokesman Tony
Snow said of al-Maliki: "He's not America's man in
Iraq. The United States is there in a role to assist
him. He's the prime minister he's the leader of the
Snow said that reports of a rift between the United
States and Iraq were wrong and that Bush had full
confidence in al-Maliki.
"What you've got in Maliki is a guy who is making
decisions. He's making tough decisions, and he's
showing toughness and he's also showing political
skill in dealing with varying factions within his own
country. And both leaders understand the political
pressures going on."
Snow said Bush told al-Maliki not to worry about U.S.
politics "because we are with you and we are going to
be with you."
Al-Suneid, however, said al-Maliki was intentionally
using the displeasure of American voters over Bush's
handling of the war to strengthen his position.
"It's al-Maliki's chance to get what he wants. It's a
chance for al-Maliki to force a better deal for
himself," he said.
Al-Suneid said Bush accepted Iraq's position that a
renewal of the U.N. mandate for the U.S.-led military
force was conditional on swift action to hand full
control of the Iraqi army to the Baghdad government
and the withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraqi
cities and towns when the army is ready to take
Bush also agreed to set up a joint military operations
room early next year that would give Iraqi authorities
a say in the movement of U.S. and Iraqi troops,
al-Suneid said. That is meant to head off unannounced
raids like one Wednesday in Baghdad that targeted an
alleged Shiite death squad leader.
Al-Maliki, who depends heavily on Shiite politicians
whose parties have heavily armed militias, complained
angrily about the U.S.-backed raid and demanded he be
consulted before such operations in the future.
The United States said the death squad leader was on a
preapproved list and the raid to capture him did not
require specific Iraqi government approval. The man
was not caught.
It was not clear whether al-Maliki's tough stance in
recent days is a matter of conviction or a bid to
bolster support among his domestic constituency or
A joint statement issued after the video conference
between al-Maliki and Bush said both sides "are
committed to the partnership our two countries and two
governments have formed and will work in every way
possible for a stable, democratic Iraq and for victory
in the war on terror."
It said the two sides agreed to form a working group
"to make recommendations on how these goals can be
best achieved." It will consist of the U.S. military
commander, Gen. George Casey, Khalilzad and Iraq's
national security adviser and ministers of defense and
Al-Maliki has grown increasingly prickly as the
Americans have pressed him to rein in Shiite militias
and crush death squads that have sprung up since a
Shiite shrine was bombed by Sunni insurgents in
February. Thousands of Sunnis have died in revenge
attacks, many under brutal torture.
The Sunnis, particularly disaffected insurgents, have
fought back vigorously in a sectarian bloodbath
verging on civil war.
The U.S. military on Saturday reported the combat
death of a U.S. Marine in Anbar province, raising to
98 the number of U.S. personnel killed in October
the fourth deadliest month for American forces since
the war began in March 2003.
Violence also returned to the capital after a relative
five-day calm following the end of the holy month of
One person was killed and 35 wounded when a rocket
slammed into an outdoor market in Baghdad's turbulent
southern neighborhood of Dora, while a bomb in a
minibus killed a second person and wounded nine in an
eastern district, police said.
Police also found 10 bodies of victims of apparent
sectarian violence seven in several parts of Baghdad
and three in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of the
Eleven other people were reported killed in shootings
and bomb attacks nationwide.