Top Iraqi’s White House Visit Shows Gaps With U.S.
By EDWARD WONG
Published: July 25, 2006
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
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
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
“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
“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?”