- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2006

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told a joint session of Congress yesterday that the raging conflict in Iraq was at the forefront of the global war on terror and called on the United States to stay and fight or risk losing the larger battle.

“I know that some of you here question whether Iraq is part of the war on terror. Let me be very clear — 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,” he said to applause.

Having outlined the political progress in Iraq, Mr. al-Maliki also asked for more aid to help rebuild the country, which is reeling from corruption, sectarian killings, widespread electricity shortages and steep unemployment.

“Iraq is the front line in this struggle, and history will prove that the sacrifices of Iraqis for freedom will not be in vain. Iraqis are your allies in the war on terror,” said Mr. al-Maliki, whose presence and speech were greeted by several standing ovations by lawmakers.

He also thanked the American people for ousting dictator Saddam Hussein and for standing by his country during the current upheaval.

In Baghdad yesterday, militants dressed in police uniforms kidnapped 17 persons, including women and children from an apartment building, Reuters news agency quoted an Interior Ministry source as saying. In another incident, gunmen abducted police brigadier Abdullah Hmood.

Across the country, gunmen attacked a wedding ceremony and a police convoy, and killed a policeman and at least two civilians. Eight insurgency suspects were detained in the northwest area of Tal Afar, and another was killed in a raid in Balad, north of Baghdad, Reuters quoted Iraqi military officials as saying.

President Bush, with Mr. al-Maliki at his side, later told soldiers and their families at a lunch at Fort Belvoir that it was in the United States’ interest for Iraq to succeed and suggested he would not bend to political pressure to withdraw U.S. troops before Iraq was ready.

“I’ve told the Iraqi people we stand with you, and that no matter how tough it gets, we will complete this mission. We owe it to those who have served in combat. We owe it to those who have lost a limb. We owe it to those who have lost a life,” Mr. Bush said.

Several House Democrats made good on threats to boycott the speech because of Mr. al-Maliki’s criticism of Israel’s actions in Lebanon, while others noted that he pointedly avoided talking of the high level of violence lacerating Iraq.

On the Republican side, it was standing room only.

“You cannot ignore the fact that what is going on in Iraq today is, if not a civil war, very close to it,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat.

“The fact that we now have to increase the number of American soldiers in Baghdad, the area where we have focused more force than any other part of Iraq, is an indication of instability in that country that continues,” he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Mr. al-Maliki’s speech “missed the point.”

“Although I applaud Prime Minister Maliki’s personal courage and obvious commitment to improving the lives of his people, the fact remains: The situation in Iraq is deteriorating,” she said, adding that Mr. al-Maliki had missed an opportunity to speak out on Hezbollah when he condemned terrorist groups falsely claiming to represent Islam.

Mr. al-Maliki was interrupted halfway through his address by a young woman in a pink T-shirt and skirt who began shouting from the public gallery overlooking the House floor.

“The Iraqis want the troops to leave. Bring them home now,” she yelled before being escorted out of the room by security.

Democratic Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Harry Reid of Nevada, Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, Carl Levin of Michigan and Jack Reed of Rhode Island yesterday asked Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte for an updated assessment of the political, economic and security situation in Iraq. The last such assessment was in 2004.

• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.


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