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2433Iraq PM: Country can manage without U.S.

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  • Greg Cannon
    Jul 14, 2007

      Iraq PM: Country can manage without U.S.

      By BUSHRA JUHI, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 56
      minutes ago

      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
      the insurgency.

      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
      rights violation."