- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 26, 2006

2:07 p.m.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki insisted today that his country is a front line in the war on terrorism and said those behind the rampant violence there are perverting the Islamic faith.

“I know some of you question whether Iraq is part of the war on terror,” Mr. al-Maliki told a joint meeting of Congress, where some lawmakers have been critical of the new Iraqi leader’s position on the current conflict between Israel and Hezbollah militants.

“Let me be very clear,” said Mr. al-Maliki, speaking through a translator. “This is a battle between true Islam, for which a person’s liberty and rights constitute essential cornerstones, and terrorism, which wraps itself in a fake Islamic cloak.”

Some Democrats shunned the speech, while others later sharply criticized the prime minister for painting a “rosy” picture of Iraq, they said, and not condemning Hezbollah specifically.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said not naming Hezbollah as a terrorist organization “adds ambivalence to his comments.” Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., who did not applaud the prime minister’s remarks, called Mr. al-Maliki’s speech “disingenuous” because it did not acknowledge the violence in Iraq.

Among those who did not intend the speech were Democrats Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Gary Ackerman of New York and Nita Lowey of New York.

Mr. Al-Maliki shook hands with several members on his way out of the chamber, including Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who had sharply criticized the Iraqi leader yesterday for not condemning Hezbollah.

Despite tough rhetoric against terrorism in the Middle East, Mr. al-Maliki did not mention the Hezbollah conflict. Mr. al-Maliki’s difference of opinion with his hosts over the two-week-old fighting had threatened to sour his visit.

The Bush administration and its ally Israel insist that Hezbollah, which they consider a terror group, must be disarmed and defeated in southern Lebanon. European and Arab allies want a quick cease-fire to stop mounting civilian deaths in Lebanon.

Mr. al-Maliki heads Iraq’s first permanent democratic government, and the Bush administration has much riding on his success.

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