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Bush visit may have downside for al-Maliki

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060613/ap_on_re_mi_ea/bush_in_baghdad;_ylt=Apuk02hkpJvIIV0RdKY4G7ZbbBAF;_ylu=X3oDMTA4NTMzazIyBHNlYwMxNjk2 Bush visit may have
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 13, 2006
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      Bush visit may have downside for al-Maliki

      By PATRICK QUINN, Associated Press Writer Tue Jun 13,
      3:26 PM ET

      BAGHDAD, Iraq -
      President Bush's trip to Baghdad comes at a pivotal
      time for the new prime minister, as he tries to
      convince Iraqis the country can stand on its own and
      end violence — if they unite behind him.

      But instead of bolstering that effort, Bush's trip
      could push away the very Sunni Arabs Prime Minister
      Nouri al-Maliki is trying to court.

      Bush and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad have made
      much of the fact that al-Maliki and his national unity
      government are the result of three years of democratic
      progress. But it is an experiment in Middle Eastern
      civics that has cost thousands of American and Iraqi
      lives and arguably has been outpaced by the Sunni

      "I appreciate you recognizing that the future of the
      country is in your hands," Bush told al-Maliki as he
      came to Baghdad to congratulate the prime minister for
      finally assembling a Cabinet six months after
      parliamentary elections.

      He lauded al-Maliki for bringing together Shiites,
      Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Christians in a government he
      hopes will convince insurgents of its impartiality.

      "You've assembled people from all parts of your
      country, representing different religions, different
      histories and traditions. And yet the Cabinet here
      represents the entire Iraqi people," Bush said.

      But many Iraqis are already wary of the Cabinet —
      assembled from second and third choices to overcome
      sectarian objections and bearing fingerprints of the
      Bush administration.

      Khalilzad has often commented about the active role he
      played in the negotiations to form the government;
      many of those talks took place inside his residence.

      "Bush does need to reinforce Khalilzad's efforts to
      produce stable political compromises, include the
      Sunnis, talk to the 'moderate' insurgents and prepare
      to appoint an inclusive body to review the
      constitution. U.S. pressure to reach a stable
      compromise between factions is critical," said Anthony
      Cordesman, an analyst at the Washington-based Center
      for Strategic and International Studies.

      Al-Maliki's political future may be bleak if he fails
      to convince Sunni Arabs he is not a Washington puppet
      and truly wants to disarm Shiite militias and death
      squads blamed for hundreds of killings.

      Many Sunni Arab and even some Shiite political parties
      dismissed the visit as an attempt by Bush to associate
      himself with positive developments in
      Iraq — formation of the new government and last week's
      killing of al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Musab
      al-Zarqawi. Bush's political standing portends a
      difficult election for fellow Republicans in
      November's congressional elections.

      "This visit carries a lot of meanings, but this visit
      means nothing to the Iraqi street. There will never be
      any benefits from such a visit and the only one to
      benefit from this visit is Bush himself and his troops
      here, not the Iraqi people," said Hassan al-Robaie, a
      lawmaker loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada

      Baghdad University political science professor Nabil
      Mohammed Selim said Bush's trip also was a bid to show
      the world that he has achieved something in Iraq.

      "In fact, nothing has been achieved in Iraq, hundreds
      of innocent Iraqis are being killed daily because of
      the chaos," Selim said.

      On June 28, Iraq celebrates two years since the
      restoration of its sovereignty. In that time it has
      seen some success: three governments, two elections
      and a referendum on a constitution.

      It has also seen a catastrophic failure to restore
      security and, more importantly, move the country away
      from sectarian killing and forced relocations that
      threaten to divide Iraq.

      In Baghdad, dozens of people are blown up, shot or
      beheaded by sectarian gangs every day. Islamic
      extremists attack liquor stores, order women not to
      drive and shoot men for wearing shorts.

      The city of 6 million has become so dangerous that
      al-Maliki plans to restore security by flooding its
      streets with 75,000 Iraqi and American troops.

      Some Sunnis think the success of the Bush visit can
      only be gauged on al-Maliki's ability to persuade the
      U.S. president to start pulling some of the 130,000
      American troops from the country.

      "We hope that al-Maliki persuades Bush to announce a
      timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, otherwise
      the visit is of no relevance to Iraqis," said Zafer
      al-Ani, spokesman for the Iraqi Accordance Front — the
      main Sunni Arab partner in al-Maliki's government.


      Patrick Quinn is Chief of Southeast Europe News for
      The Associated Press and has reported frequently from
      Iraq since 2003.
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