Iraq PM: Country can manage without U.S.
By BUSHRA JUHI, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 56
BAGHDAD - Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday
that the Iraqi army and police are capable of keeping
security in the country when American troops leave
"any time they want," though he acknowledged the
forces need further weapons and training.
The embattled prime minister sought to show confidence
at a time when congressional pressure is growing for a
withdrawal and the Bush administration reported little
progress had been made on the most vital of a series
of political benchmarks it wants al-Maliki to carry
Al-Maliki said difficulty in enacting the measures was
"natural" given Iraq's turmoil.
But one of his top aides, Hassan al-Suneid, rankled at
the assessment, saying the U.S. was treating Iraq like
"an experiment in an American laboratory." He sharply
criticised the U.S. military, saying it was committing
human rights violations, embarassing the Iraqi
government with its tactics and cooperating with
"gangs of killers" in its campaign against al-Qaida in
Al-Suneid's comments were a rare show of frustration
toward the Americans from within al-Maliki's inner
circle as the prime minister struggles to overcome
deep divisions between Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish
members of his coalition and enact the American-drawn
list of benchmarks.
In new violence in Baghdad on Saturday, a car bomb
leveled a two-story apartment building, and a suicide
bomber plowed his explosives-packed vehicle into a
line of cars at a gas station. The two attacks killed
at least eight people, police officials said on
condition of anonymity because they were not authorize
to release details of the attacks.
Thursday's White House assessment of progress on the
benchmarks fueled calls among congressional critics of
the Iraqi policy for a change in strategy, including a
withdrawal of American forces.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari warned earlier
this week of civil war and the government's collapse
if the Americans leave. But al-Maliki told reporters
Saturday, "We say in full confidence that we are able,
God willing, to take the responsibility completely in
running the security file if the international forces
withdraw at any time they want."
But he added that Iraqi forces are "still in need of
more weapons and rehabilitation" to be ready in the
case of a withdrawal.
On Friday, the Pentagon conceded that the Iraqi army
has become more reliant on the U.S. military. The
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter
Pace, said the number of Iraqi batallions able to
operate on their own without U.S. support has dropped
in recent months from 10 to six, though he said the
fall was in part due to attrition from stepped-up
Al-Maliki told a Baghdad press conference that his
government needs "time and effort" to enact the
political reforms that Washington seeks
"particularly since the political process is facing
security, economic and services pressures, as well as
regional and international interference."
"These difficulties can be read as a big success, not
negative points, when they are viewed under the shadow
of the big challenges," he said.
In the White House strategy, beefed-up American forces
have been waging intensified security crackdowns in
Baghdad and areas to the north and south for nearly a
month. The goal is to bring quiet to the capital while
al-Maliki gives Sunni Arabs a greater role in the
goverment and political process, lessening support for
But the benchmarks have been blocked by divisions
among Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders. In August,
the parliament is taking a one month vacation a
shorter break than the usual two months, but still
enough to anger some in Congress who say lawmakers
should push through the measures.
Al-Suneid, a Shiite lawmaker close to al-Maliki,
bristled at the pressure. He called Thursday's report
"objective," but added, "this bothers us a lot that
the situation looks as if it is an experiment in an
American laboratory (judging) whether we succeed or
He also told The Associated Press that al-Maliki has
problems with the top U.S. commander Gen. David
Petraeus, who works along a "purely American vision."
He criticized U.S. overtures to Sunni groups in Anbar
and Diyala, encouraging former insurgents to join the
fight against al-Qaida in Iraq. "These are gangs of
killers," he said.
"There are disagreements that the strategy that
Petraeus is following might succeed in confronting
al-Qaida in the early period but it will leave Iraq an
armed nation, an armed society and militias," said
He said that the U.S. authorities have embarrassed
al-Maliki' government through acts such as
constructing a wall around Baghdad's Sunni
neighborhood of Azamiyah and repeated raids on
suspected Shiite militiamen in the capital's eastern
slum of Sadr City. He said the U.S. use of airstrikes
to hit suspected insurgent positions also kills
"This embarrasses the government in front of its
people," he said, calling the civilian deaths a "human