Monday, August 27, 2007

Maliki tells Clinton to come to her senses

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday said the biggest Sunni Arab political party in Iraq has agreed to join a new alliance of moderate Shi'ite and Kurdish parties that aims to end the political paralysis. The Iraqi Islamic Party of Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi had initially rebuffed overtures by the four leading parties in Maliki's government of national unity to join them, saying such alliances were not the answer to Iraq's political crisis.
"Today there will be a joint statement, not from only the four parties but also the Islamic Party. There will be five parties, not four. This final statement will include a summary of all points of agreement," Maliki told a news conference.

An employee in the Iraqi Islamic Party's media office, however, denied the party had joined the alliance or had any plans to do so.

Nearly half of Maliki's cabinet has walked out, accusing the Shi'ite prime minister of sectarianism.

Maliki is under growing pressure from the United States to show political progress towards national reconciliation, but none of the benchmarks set by Washington have been met -- laws on sharing Iraq's oil revenues, a date for provincial elections and easing restrictions on former Baath party members have not yet gone to parliament.

Maliki tells Clinton
Also on Sunday, Maliki angrily rebuked the U.S. politicians who have called for him to be replaced, and demanded an apology from France for pushing for him to be turfed out of office.

"There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin. They should come to their senses," Maliki said at a news conference.

Maliki's response came after the two U.S. opposition senators urged Iraqi lawmakers to choose someone else to lead Iraq's ruling coalition and seek national reconciliation.

"Leaders like Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin have not experienced in their political lives the kind of differences we have in Iraq. When they give their judgment they have no knowledge of what reconciliation means," he said in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.

Maliki also lashed out at France, following a visit to Iraq last week by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner which was initially hailed as a success.

"Recently we received the French minister…We were optimistic that his visit would start a new relationship," Maliki said. "Suddenly we were surprised that the minister made a statement which can't be called in any way diplomacy, when he called for replacing the government."

Maliki accused the French government of siding with former supporters of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

"In the past you backed the former regime. Today we were happy with you and then you decided to support the former regime's loyalists. We demand an apology from the French government," he said.

Maliki's anger appeared to have been inspired by comments attributed to Kouchner by the U.S. magazine Newsweek, which published an interview with the French minister on its Web site on August 24.

Kouchner is quoted as saying: "Many people believe the prime minister ought to be changed. I don't know if that will go through, though, because it seems (U.S.) President (George W.) Bush is attached to Mr Maliki. But the government is not functioning."

Asked if there was a sentiment in Iraq that Maliki should go, Kouchner said there was and he had told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this.

"Yes. I just had Condoleezza on the phone 10 or 15 minutes ago, and I told her, 'Listen, he's got to be replaced'," he reportedly said.

In the interview, Kouchner is quoted as saying that there was a lot of support among Iraqis he met for Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi to replace Maliki, and he described him as "an impressive fellow."


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