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Top Iraqi’s White House Visit Shows Gaps With U.S

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... in Washington, administration officials said they viewed Mr. Maliki’s public breaks with American policy positions as proof that he was his own man leading his own government, and was not a prop of the Americans. “We hope he comes with his own plan,” said a senior administration official, who requested anonymity because of a general policy limiting public comments in advance of presidential meetings.
Source:  NY TImes

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BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 24 — When Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki visits the White House on Tuesday for the first time, he is expected to make requests that clash sharply with President Bush’s foreign policy, Iraqi officials say, signaling a widening gap between the Iraqis and the Americans on crucial issues.

The requests will include asking President Bush to allow American-led troops in Iraq to be tried under Iraqi law, and to call for a halt to Israeli attacks on Lebanon, according to several Iraqi politicians, and to a senior member of Mr. Maliki’s party who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak for the prime minister.

Mr. Maliki is also expected to demand more autonomy for Iraqi forces, though he will not ask for a quick withdrawal of the 134,000 American troops here, the officials say.

The growing differences between Iraqi and American policies reflect an increasing disenchantment with American power among politicians and ordinary Iraqis, according to several politicians, academics and clerics. Sectarian violence has soared despite the presence of the Americans, and recent cases where American troops have been accused of killing civilians or raping Iraqi women have infuriated the public.

Mr. Maliki and other top Shiite leaders also want to maintain strong ties to Iran, whose influence is rising across the Middle East, officials say.

Mr. Maliki, who was installed in May, presides over a relatively weak government, divided among Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish blocs that oppose one another on important issues. There are even deep splits within the leading Shiite bloc and Mr. Maliki’s political party, Dawa.

To forge unity and win the confidence of the Iraqis, officials say, he has to take some stands that conflict with those of the White House, while relying on the American military to ward off the Sunni-led insurgency.

But in Washington, administration officials said they viewed Mr. Maliki’s public breaks with American policy positions as proof that he was his own man leading his own government, and was not a prop of the Americans.

“We hope he comes with his own plan,” said a senior administration official, who requested anonymity because of a general policy limiting public comments in advance of presidential meetings.

Mr. Maliki also depends heavily on the American government for financial aid; he will almost certainly express appreciation to President Bush and Congress. Even many Sunni Arab leaders now say they need American troops to remain here to prevent the country from sliding into full-scale civil war.

But one issue on which Iraqis agree is that American troops should no longer receive legal immunity. Pressure for Mr. Maliki to negotiate an end to that immunity has been growing, especially in light of an inquiry into the killings of 24 civilians in Haditha and the prosecution of a rape-murder case in Mahmudiya. The Bush administration, though, has strongly resisted allowing American troops to be tried under international or foreign laws.

“He will talk to the American side about immunity,” said Mahmoud Othman, a senior Kurdish legislator. “The Iraqi people are really complaining about it.”

Alaa Makki, a legislator from the main Sunni Arab bloc, said: “There is a lot of pressure on the prime minister on that issue. It will make people feel the Iraqi government is doing something for them.”

Several American officials said Monday that they also expected Mr. Maliki to raise the issue of immunity, but added that there was little prospect the administration would agree.

Another thorny subject is amnesty for Iraqi insurgents, an idea that Mr. Maliki has made the centerpiece of his political program. He has to balance demands by some Iraqi leaders to give amnesty to insurgents who have attacked American troops, with fervent opposition from American politicians to any such policy.

“I personally think whoever kills an American soldier in defense of his country would have a statue built for him in that country,” the speaker of Parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a conservative Sunni Arab, said at a news conference on Saturday. “The parties that we cannot conciliate with are those who deliberately killed an Iraqi citizen.”

Tensions have also risen over Mr. Maliki’s break with President Bush on the Israeli assault in Lebanon. Iraq, a predominantly Shiite nation, has denounced Israel’s retaliation against Hezbollah, a militant Shiite group supported by Iran. By contrast, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, predominantly Sunni Arab nations, have been restrained.

By siding with Hezbollah, Mr. Maliki stands to gain popular support here. On Monday he delivered his strongest condemnation yet of Israel in a radio interview with BBC in London, where he was meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“I can’t find enough justification for what is happening,” Mr. Maliki said. “The destruction of the infrastructure is not even consistent with the rules of war, even if we can say there is a war. I will talk about the issue in a way that we try to reach a cease-fire and start negotiations.”

Barham Salih, a deputy prime minister of Iraq, called Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of Lebanon on Monday to pledge $35 million for relief efforts, an aide to Mr. Salih said.

Here in Iraq, scores of civilians are dying every day, many in Baghdad, despite a security plan promoted by Mr. Maliki for the last six weeks that has put 7,200 American and 50,000 Iraqi troops in the capital.

“It has not achieved its objectives,” Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said of the plan. American commanders have said more troops will be moved from other parts of Iraq to Baghdad as part of a new strategy President Bush might announce during Mr. Maliki’s visit.

“There’s chaos, terror and bad services, especially electricity,” said Khamis al-Badri, a former professor of political science at Baghdad University. “But you can’t just blame Maliki. You have to blame all the political forces that are participating in the government.”

With Iraq needing American troops more than ever, Mr. Maliki may have to water down the demands he makes, Iraqi officials said. On the immunity issue, for example, Mr. Maliki could end up asking for an Iraqi presence at American-run trials involving Iraqi victims, rather than a complete end to immunity, Mr. Othman said.

Yet the anti-American forces pulling on Mr. Maliki are formidable. His political group, the Islamic Dawa Party, relies on support from the organization of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who led two rebellions against the Americans in 2004. American and British forces have been cracking down on Mr. Sadr’s militia in recent weeks, and Mr. Sadr called on Mr. Maliki last week to cancel his trip to Washington.

Mr. Sadr controls important ministries and at least 30 seats in Parliament. One word from him can send thousands of armed men into the streets. Because of that, and because of Mr. Maliki’s close ties to Sadr politicians, he could ask President Bush to roll back the American military’s recent offensive against the Sadr militia, Iraqi officials said.

As for amnesty, many Iraqi leaders, especially Sunni Arabs, say the violence will continue unless pardons are given to those who say they took part in legitimate resistance against foreign occupiers.

To appease American politicians, Mr. Maliki has said he does not endorse amnesty for insurgents with American blood on their hands. But when meeting with President Bush, some Iraq officials say, Mr. Maliki may have to broach the subject.

“There should be less limitations on amnesty,” Mr. Othman said. “If you say anybody who has killed Americans or anybody who has killed Iraqis cannot get amnesty, then who should get amnesty?”

David S. Cloud and Jim Rutenberg contributed reporting from Washington for this article, and Mona Mahmoud and Qais Mizher from Baghdad.

Created by keza
Last modified 2006-07-25 04:19 AM

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