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Aide: Iraqi leader using U.S. angst

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061029/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq Aide: Iraqi leader using U.S. angst By STEVEN R. HURST and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated Press Writers
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 28, 2006
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061029/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq

      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
      Iraq.

      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
      Iraqi people."

      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
      control.

      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
      both.

      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
      interior.

      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
      Ramadan.

      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
      capital.

      Eleven other people were reported killed in shootings
      and bomb attacks nationwide.
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