Monday, August 07, 2006


Hey...Those Aren't Terrorists...They're My Constituents

ABC News - Iraq's prime minister sharply criticized a U.S.-Iraqi attack Monday on a Shiite militia stronghold in Baghdad, breaking with his American partners on security tactics as the United States launches a major operation to secure the capital.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's criticism followed a pre-dawn air and ground attack on an area of Sadr City, stronghold of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia.

Police said three people, including a woman and a child, were killed in the raid, which the U.S. command said was aimed at "individuals involved in punishment and torture cell activities."

One U.S. soldier was wounded, the U.S. said.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, said he was "very angered and pained" by the operation, warning that it could undermine his efforts toward national reconciliation.

"Reconciliation cannot go hand in hand with operations that violate the rights of citizens this way," al-Maliki said in a statement on government television. "This operation used weapons that are unreasonable to detain someone like using planes."

He apologized to the Iraqi people for the operation and said "this won't happen again."

Friction between the U.S. military and the Iraqi government emerged as the U.S. military kicks off a military operation to secure Baghdad streets after a surge in Sunni-Shiite violence much of it blamed on al-Sadr's militia.

Al-Sadr has emerged as a major figure in the majority Shiite community and a pillar of support for al-Maliki. The prime minister's remarks underscore the difficulties facing the Americans in bringing order to Baghdad at a time when Iraqis are increasingly resentful of the presence of foreign troops.

U.S. officials are equally frustrated by the slow pace of reconciliation and what they feel is the reluctance of politicians to reach consensus among Iraq's religious and ethnic groups on the future of the nation.

After the Sadr City attack, President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, met with the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., to discuss security operations in Baghdad. Talabani said he told Casey "it is in no one's interest to have a confrontation" with al-Sadr's movement.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Casey made no mention of al-Sadr but said he had discussed plans with Talabani to bring "fundamental change to the security situation in Baghdad."

Casey said he hoped the new operation would "change the situation significantly prior to Ramadan," which begins in late September.

"To do that, it will take the cooperation not only between the Iraqi security forces and the coalition but with all of the people in Baghdad working together to combat terrorism," Casey said. "All the security operations are designed to protect the population. And if the people of Baghdad can cooperate with the security forces, that can happen very quickly."

But the public position taken by al-Maliki and Talabani signaled serious differences between Iraqi politicians and both U.S. and Iraqi military officials on how to restore order and deal with armed groups, many of which have links to political parties.

U.S. officials have spoken of morale problems in senior ranks of the Iraqi security services because of what they believe is insufficient political support by the country's divided civilian leadership.