Heat rises between Iraq PM and Petraeus
By STEVEN R. HURST and QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, Associated
Press Writers 2 hours, 34 minutes ago
BAGHDAD - A key aide says Prime Minister Nouri
al-Maliki's relations with Gen. David Petraeus are so
poor the Iraqi leader may ask Washington to withdraw
the overall U.S. commander from his Baghdad post.
Iraq's foreign minister calls the relationship
"difficult." Petraeus, who says their ties are "very
good," acknowledges expressing his "full range of
emotions" at times with al-Maliki. U.S. Ambassador
Ryan Crocker, who meets with both at least weekly,
concedes "sometimes there are sporty exchanges."
It seems less a clash of personality than of policy.
The Shiite Muslim prime minister has reacted most
sharply to the American general's tactic of enlisting
Sunni militants, presumably including past killers of
Iraqi Shiites, as allies in the fight against al-Qaida
An associate said al-Maliki once, in discussion with
President Bush, even threatened to counter this by
arming Shiite militias.
History shows that the strain of war often turns
allies into uneasy partners. The reality of how these
allies get along may lie somewhere between the worst
and best reports about the relationship, one central
to the future of Iraq and perhaps to the larger Middle
A tangle of issues confronts them, none with easy
Al-Maliki, a Shiite activist who spent the Saddam
Hussein years in exile, hotly objects to the recent
U.S. practice of recruiting tribal groups tied to the
Sunni insurgency for the fight against the Sunni
extremists of al-Qaida, deemed "Enemy No. 1" by the
Americans. His loud complaints have won little but a
U.S. pledge to let al-Maliki's security apparatus
screen the recruits.
Aides say the Iraqi leader also has spoken bitterly
about delivery delays of promised U.S. weapons and
equipment for his forces.
Petraeus, meanwhile, must deal with an Iraqi
military and police force, nominally under al-Maliki's
control, that often acts out of sectarian, namely
Shiite, interests, and not national Iraqi interests.
He faces a significant challenge in persuading
al-Maliki to shed his ties to radical Shiite cleric
Muqtada al-Sadr, who runs the Mahdi Army militia.
On the political front, Crocker is grappling with
the prime minister's seeming foot-dragging or
ineffectiveness in pushing through an oil-industry law
and other legislation seen as critical benchmarks by
the U.S. government. Reporting to Congress in
September, Crocker may have to explain such Iraqi
inaction while U.S. troops are fighting and dying to
give al-Maliki political breathing space.
First word of strained relations began leaking out
with consistency earlier this month.
Sami al-Askari, a key aide to al-Maliki and a member
of the prime minister's Dawa Party, said the policy of
incorporating one-time Sunni insurgents into the
security forces shows Petraeus has a "real bias and it
bothers the Shiites," whose communities have been
targeted by Sunnis in Iraq's sectarian conflict.
"It is possible that we may demand his removal,"
A lawmaker from the al-Sadr bloc, who wouldn't allow
use of his name because of the political sensitivity
of the matter, said al-Maliki once told Petraeus: "I
can't deal with you anymore. I will ask for someone
else to replace you."
Such a request isn't likely to get much of a hearing
in Washington, where the Bush administration presents
Petraeus as one general who can improve the Iraq
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Newsweek magazine
the Petraeus-al-Maliki relationship is "difficult."
For one thing, the Americans retain control of the
Iraqi military. "The prime minister cannot just pick
up the phone and have Iraqi army units do what he
says. Maliki needs more leverage," Zebari said.
The prime minister has complained to President Bush
about the policy of arming Sunnis, said the Sadrist
"He told Bush that if Petraeus continues doing that,
he would arm Shiite militias. Bush told al-Maliki to
calm down," according to this parliament member, who
said he was told of the exchange by al-Maliki.
In Washington, White House officials who have sat in
on Bush's video conferences with al-Maliki denied that
exchange took place.
In a public outburst earlier this month, al-Maliki
said American forces should leave Iraq and turn over
security to Iraqi troops. He quickly backpedaled, but
the damage was done.
"There is no leader in the world that is under more
pressure than Nouri al-Maliki, without question.
Sometimes he reflects that frustration. I don't blame
him," Crocker told The Associated Press.
"We are dealing with existential issues. There are no
second-tier problems," said the veteran Middle East
diplomat. "And we all feel very deeply about what
we're trying to get done. So, yeah, sometimes there
are sporty exchanges. And believe me, I've had my
share of them.
"That in no way means, in my view, strained
relations," Crocker said. "Wrestling with the things
we're all wrestling with here, it would almost be
strange if you didn't get a little passionate from
time to time."
Petraeus called his relations with al-Maliki "very
good ... and that's the truth." But he acknowledged,
"We have not pulled punches with each other."
In an interview with the AP, the U.S. commander noted
that more than 3,600 U.S. military personnel have
given their lives in Iraq, "and where we see something
that could unhinge the progress that our soldiers and
their soldiers are fighting to make ... or jeopardize
some of the very hard-fought gains that we have made,
I'm going to speak up. And I have on occasion. And on
a couple of occasions have demonstrated the full range
Associated Press Military Writer Robert Burns
contributed to this report.