Iraq's Premier Maliki Says He Plans to Thank U.S. for Sacrifices
MIDDLE EAST NEWSJULY 10, 2009
BAGHDAD -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki struck a conciliatory tone ahead of his trip to Washington, talking about his gratitude for U.S. sacrifices in Iraq, and offering to negotiate a settlement between Iraq's federal government and the country's Kurdish enclave as tensions heighten between the two.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal as he prepared for a visit to the U.S. on July 21, Mr. Maliki said he planned to thank America for its shared sacrifice with the Iraqi people in the tumultuous post-Saddam Hussein years since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
"We have [achieved] a combined victory against terrorism, and there have been sacrifices from both sides that brought fruitful results and democracy to Iraq," Mr. Maliki said.
During the June drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities, Mr. Maliki praised the Iraqi security services' ability to take over from American forces. But he shied away from offering praise or thanks to U.S. soldiers.
Some American commanders have said they understood that Mr. Maliki's seeming slight was driven by domestic politics. Still, a gesture by Mr. Maliki acknowledging U.S. sacrifice could help to placate some rankled American commanders on the ground.
Meanwhile, the rising tension between Baghdad and the Kurdish government is emerging as one of the biggest concerns among local and U.S. officials and military commanders this summer.
In the interview, Mr. Maliki accused the Kurdish Regional Government of "provocations," including a controversial draft Kurdish constitution and alleged territorial incursions by the Kurds' armed militia. But he also said he was convinced the two sides could settle their problems through dialogue.
"The facts on the ground show that self-discipline is something we need at this stage. Yes, they are crossing the green line and other things they are doing are unconstitutional. There are a lot of other differences, like circumventing the central government authority."
-- More from Mr. Maliki's interview
"Self-discipline is something we need at this stage," Mr. Maliki said in his office at the prime minister's palace here. "I am struggling for the unity of Iraq, and Iraq cannot be divided into two."
Some American commanders worry that political squabbles centered on Kurdistan -- a semiautonomous region governed by the KRG -- could erupt into fresh violence. For years, Iraqi officials in the federal government in Baghdad and in the KRG have sparred over issues such as oil-revenue distribution, the right to award oil-exploration contracts, and the Kurds' armed militia.
Last month, tensions rose after Kurdish politicians approved a draft constitution for their region. The document, among other things, claims for the KRG territory long fought over by both sides, including the oil-rich area around Kirkuk.
Kurds are to vote for a new parliament and president on July 25. Kurdish parliamentarians had hoped to subject the draft constitution to a referendum the same day, but Iraq's federal electoral commission ruled that out.
Senior U.S. military commanders are closely watching several areas of northern Iraq where Iraqi Army soldiers and Kurdish militia are across from each other. A senior U.S. officer who served in Iraq last year said the two sides came close to outright combat in 2008.
Mr. Maliki's key challenge for the rest of the year will be maintaining security amid the U.S. pullback, while flexing Baghdad's growing sovereignty in security matters. In the latest sign Washington is eager to turn over more security responsibility to Iraqis, the U.S. on Thursday released five Iranian diplomats to Iraqi authorities. The Iranians were detained in northern Iraq in 2006, suspected of aiding Shiite extremists. It is unclear whether Baghdad intends to press charges or turn the Iranians over to Tehran.http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124715626161518571.html