- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

12:53 p.m.

BAGHDAD — A defiant Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki today 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. Yesterday, 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 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 yesterday 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.

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 this morning. “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 this 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 Col. Khazim Abbas, a local police commander, and Qassim al-Suwaidi, director of the area’s Imam Ali Hospital.

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 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.”

U.S. and Iraqi forces have largely avoided the densely populated Sadr City slum, a grid of rutted streets and tumble-down housing that is home to 2.5 million Shi’ites and under the control of Mahdi Army.

Reining in the Mahdi Army is one of the thorniest problems facing Mr. al-Maliki because his fragile Shi’ite-dominated government derives much of its power from Sheik al-Sadr and a second political power with a powerful militia, the Supreme Council for the Revolution in Iraq.

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