- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Shi’ite prime minister, hoping to show those outside the capital that the government is working to tame rising violence everywhere, traveled to the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi yesterday and met with tribal leaders and the provincial governor.

The visit by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — his first as leader to volatile Anbar province west of Baghdad — came a day after he warned that extremists would flee to other parts of Iraq during a security crackdown in Baghdad and promised government help in fighting them.

The meetings took place on the U.S. base in a Saddam Hussein-era palace on the western outskirts of Ramadi, the provincial capital, and Mr. al-Maliki did not venture into the center of the city, said Maj. Jeff Pool, a U.S. military spokesman.

Close associates of the Iraqi prime minister yesterday pointed out several factors underlying the visit to Sunni territory. They told Associated Press Mr. al-Maliki fears the Americans will torpedo his government if parliament does not pass a law to fairly divvy up the country’s oil wealth among Iraqis by the end of June.

The draft measure, which is only one of several U.S. benchmarks that are seen by Mr. al-Maliki as key to continued U.S. support, a crucial need for the survival of his troubled administration.

Aside from the oil law, the associates said, U.S. officials have told the hard-line Shi’ite Muslim prime minister that they want an Iraqi government in place by year’s end acceptable to the country’s Sunni Arab neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt.

“They have said it must be secular and inclusive,” one al-Maliki associate said.

Elsewhere in Iraq, more than 700 additional U.S. troops arrived yesterday in Iraq’s increasingly volatile Diyala province to try to quell violence northeast of Baghdad.

The move comes at a time when an additional 21,500 U.S. troops are pouring into Baghdad as part of a U.S.-Iraq push to pacify the capital.

While sectarian killings in Baghdad have fallen since the crackdown began last month, violence has skyrocketed to the northeast in Diyala.

The additional U.S. forces join more than 20,000 Iraqi security forces in Diyala, according to figures provided by the U.S. military. About half of those are Iraqi police, and half are members of the Iraqi 5th Army Division.

In Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad, Mr. al-Maliki visited Iraqi security forces after he was flown to the U.S. base in a Black Hawk helicopter with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. The two exited from different sides of the helicopter, and Gen. Petraeus took part in a separate troop visit before they met again for the ride back to Baghdad.

Mr. al-Maliki discussed security issues and the need to restore infrastructure in the battered city during the meeting with Gov. Maamoun Sami Rashid al-Alwani and his provincial council, according to state television. That was followed by a meeting with powerful Sunni tribal sheiks from across the province, which stretches west from Baghdad to the border with Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Ramadi and other cities in Anbar province have seen some of the bloodiest street battles of the war.

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