Sun, Oct 29, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Maliki defiant over US pressure

HIS OWN MAN As Baghdad and Washington attempt to mend cracks in the alliance, the Iraqi prime minister has made it clear that Iraq would operate by its own agenda


Neighbors check a house damaged in a US air strike in Baghdad's Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Oct. 25. Four men were killed during a raid launched by US and Iraqi forces to capture death squad leader Ismail al-Lami, better known as ''Abu Diraa.''


Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told the US ambassador to his country "I consider myself a friend of the United States, but I'm not America's man in Iraq," a close aide said yesterday.

Hassen Sunaid, a senior Maliki adviser who talked to Maliki immediately after meeting on Friday with US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, said Maliki was scheduled to hold a talk by video link with US President George W. Bush yesterday.

Maliki fell out publicly with his main ally this week after US officials appeared to try to bump him into accepting a timetable of political reforms designed to placate Iraq's warring parties and end a sectarian war.

The furious Iraqi leader insisted that no outside power could determine the agenda of his government, despite the two countries' agreeing over the broad outlines of a plan to disarm illegal militias and kickstart a peace process.

The prime minister met Khalilzad on Friday and the pair later released a rare joint statement which tried to paper over the cracks in their alliance, but not before Maliki had spoken firmly to the US envoy.

Sunaid quoted the prime minister as telling Khalilzad: "I am elected by a people and a parliament. Security should be coordinated with me. Decisions should not be unilateral."

It was believed that Maliki would tell Bush the same thing and call on the US to live up to its commitments to rebuild the Iraqi military and equip it to fight the insurgency against his rule, the aide said.

Maliki and the US do not see eye-to-eye on the peace process, with the Iraqi leader more keen than Washington to draw Shiite militia leaders such as cleric Muqtada al-Sadr into a peace initiative.

Bush and Maliki were "also [set to] talk about the extension of the US forces in Iraq. This should be done with the approval of the Iraqi parliament," the adviser said.

Meanwhile, US officials were struggling to explain their exit strategy from Iraq after Maliki denied he was working to a schedule and sharply criticised US security policy, saying he could do better if given more leeway.

Washington is anxious for Maliki, a Shiiite Muslim, to crack down on Shiiite militias and death squads blamed for much of the killing.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said yesterday that hundreds of people every month were abducted, tortured and killed by death squads believed to include security forcers.

"Evidence suggests that Iraqi security forces are involved in these horrific crimes, and thus far the government has not held them accountable," said Sarah Leah Whitson, director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East division.

US troops made a foray into a Baghdad militia stronghold on Friday, hunting for a kidnapped US soldier of Iraqi origin two days after a raid there drew a sharp rebuke from Maliki.

Iraqi and US troops also raided an office of al-Sadr in eastern Baghdad, arresting three suspects during a separate search operation for the soldier.

Maliki's Shiite-led coalition government depends on the support of Sadr's movement, and for many months he has struggled to balance the competing demands of the various members of the government.

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