U.S., Iraq affirm partnership
Bush and the Iraqi prime minister agreed to create a committee to speed up Iraq's rebuilding.
By Washington Post
Published October 29, 2006
BAGHDAD - President Bush coaxed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki back into a common front with the U.S. administration Saturday, soothing the Iraqi leader in a 50-minute video linkup after a week of missteps and sharp words exposed tensions between the two allies.
Both leaders declared themselves "committed to the partnership" and prepared to work "in every way possible for a stable, democratic Iraq and for victory in the war on terror," the White House said in a statement after the Baghdad-Washington teleconference.
Bush and Maliki also agreed to create a top-level committee to come up with recommendations for speeding up the training of Iraq's security forces, moving ahead efforts to put Iraq in control of those forces, and making the Iraqi government responsible for the country's security. Maliki's spokesman, Ali Dabbagh, said the recommendations would include time lines.
The proposed commission - which is to include Iraqi government ministers, U.S. Army Gen. George Casey and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad - will be at least the second high-level U.S.-Iraqi commission established here since the summer of 2005 to try to speed up Iraq's takeover of security and withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Since formation of the first panel, sectarian warfare between Sunnis and Shiites has exploded, taking Iraqi civilian casualties to the highest level of the war this summer and helping push American combat deaths in October to 98 - the fourth deadliest month for American forces since the war began in March 2003, according to the Associated Press.
For the Bush administration, Saturday's accord gave hope of closing an embarrassing rift that broke open just as Bush was trying to show that his much-criticized Iraq policy was adapting to the increasing violence. The congressional elections on Nov. 7 are focused heavily on the unpopular war.
Maliki had sought Saturday's talk, aides said, because he was unhappy over what he took as Washington's dictating of terms to his government.
The falling-out between the two administrations had its roots in growing U.S. frustration - expressed privately by American officials - over what is seen as the slowness of Maliki's roughly 150-day government to quell both a Sunni Arab insurgency and an even bloodier Shiite-Sunni sectarian struggle.
Feathers were ruffled on Tuesday when Khalilzad held a news conference with Casey to announce what he said were new commitments from Iraq's government on time lines and reforms meant to speed the day when U.S. troops could leave.
Maliki angrily denied any such commitment in a news conference the next day, and he followed up with interviews stressing that he and his government were independent of the United States.
Point made, White House spokesman Tony Snow said after Saturday's videoconference. "He's not America's man in Iraq," Snow told reporters. "The United States is there in a role to assist him. He's the prime minister - he's the leader of the Iraqi people. He is, in fact, the sovereign leader of Iraq."
[Last modified October 29, 2006, 01:19:52]
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