- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

BAGHDAD — A defiant Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki yesterday slammed the top U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Iraq for saying his government needed to set a timetable to curb violence ravaging the country.

“I affirm that this government represents the will of the people, and no one has the right to impose a timetable on it,” Mr. al-Maliki said at a press conference.

On Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Mr. al-Maliki had agreed to a timeline.

Mr. al-Maliki also disavowed a joint raid by U.S. and Iraqi forces at the Baghdad stronghold of a Shi’ite militia led by radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in search of a death-squad leader.

Mr. al-Maliki, who relies on political support from the cleric, said the strike against a figure in Sheik al-Sadr’s Mahdi’s Army militia in Sadr City “will not be repeated.”

The prime minister dismissed U.S. talk of timelines as driven by the upcoming midterm elections in the United States.

“I am positive that this is not the official policy of the American government, but rather a result of the ongoing election campaign. And that does not concern us much,” he said.

Mr. al-Maliki’s comments followed remarks Tuesday by Gen. George Casey, the top American commander in Iraq, and Mr. Khalilzad, who said Iraqi leaders had agreed to a timeline for achieving key political and security goals, including reining in such groups.

Mr. Khalilzad revealed neither specific deadlines for achieving those goals nor penalties for their failure to do so, and Mr. al-Maliki said no deadlines had been put to his government.

“I would like to assert that everyone knows my government is a government that came to power through the will of the people. And it is no one’s business to give it timelines,” he said.

Mr. Khalilzad said Mr. al-Maliki had agreed to the timeline concept, which calls for specific deadlines to be set by year’s end. Gen Casey said the Iraqi forces could be in a position to take over operations in all the country’s provinces within 18 months “with some level of support” from coalition forces.

In Washington, President Bush sought to delineate a middle ground in terms of pressing the Iraqis to accept more of the responsibility for their own fate.

“We are making it clear that America’s patience is not unlimited,” he said at a press conference yesterday. “We will not put more pressure on the Iraqi government than it can bear.”

Tank cannons boomed out over the city five times in rapid succession yesterday afternoon, and U.S. F-16 jet fighters screamed low overhead as the conflict in Sadr City continued into the day.

Four persons were killed and 18 wounded in overnight fighting in the overwhelmingly Shi’ite eastern district, according to police and hospital officials.

The U.S. military said Iraqi army special forces, backed up by U.S. advisers, carried out a raid to capture a “top illegal armed group commander directing widespread death-squad activity throughout eastern Baghdad,” the military said.

Mr. al-Maliki, who is commander in chief of Iraq’s army, firmly denied that he knew anything about the raid.

“We will ask for clarification about what has happened in Sadr City. We will review this issue with the multinational forces so that it will not be repeated,” he said. “The Iraqi government should be aware and part of any military operation. Coordination is needed between Iraqi government and multinational forces.”

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