Bush to Press Iraqi Premier On Security

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 29, 2006

RIGA, Latvia, Nov. 28 -- President Bush signaled plans to both reassure and pressure Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over deteriorating conditions in Iraq, as the White House prepared for an unusual summit Wednesday in Jordan aimed at arresting the slide in security.

Speaking with reporters Tuesday in Tallinn, Estonia, before flying here for a NATO summit, Bush hinted at the U.S. government's growing impatience with Maliki when he said he would query the prime minister about his "strategy to be a country which can govern itself and sustain itself."

"My questions to him will be: What do we need to do to succeed? What is your strategy in dealing with the sectarian violence?" Bush said. Despite his pointed emphasis on the Iraqi government's role in controlling the violence, Bush also made clear his view that Iraq has not yet fallen into civil war and voiced determination to keep U.S. troops there despite growing pressure to bring them home.

"We will continue to be flexible, and we'll make the changes necessary to succeed. But there's one thing I'm not going to do: I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete," Bush said later, in a speech here in the Latvian capital. "We can accept nothing less than victory for our children and our grandchildren."

With violence in Baghdad reaching levels not seen since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, both Bush and Maliki face increasing pressure to accelerate a turnover in responsibility for security to Iraqis and to begin withdrawal of more than 140,000 U.S. ground troops. The White House is conducting an internal review of Iraq policy, and the commission headed by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former Indiana representative Lee H. Hamilton is finishing its deliberations on what the U.S. government should do.

In a classified memo written earlier this month, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley expressed the administration's private frustration with Maliki's performance, questioning whether "Prime Minister Maliki is both willing and able to rise above the sectarian agendas being promoted by others." The secret five-page memo, obtained by the New York Times and posted on its Web site Tuesday night, outlined a series of proposed steps for the United States and Iraq to take.

Among other things, the Nov. 8 memo suggested that Maliki should be pressured to distance himself from anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and "bring to justice" figures in Sadr's militia who "do not eschew violence"; shake up his cabinet to include more nonsectarian technocrats; expand the Iraqi army; and declare the immediate suspension of Iraqi police units suspected of involvement in sectarian conflict.

Hadley proposed that the United States help Maliki build a new political coalition within the Iraqi parliament that would rely more on moderate, less sectarian elements rather than harder-line Shiite representatives. To accomplish this, Hadley said, money could be provided to Maliki's political operation and moderate parties. The memo also raised the possibility of sending more forces to Iraq and recommended that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad take a lower profile "and let Maliki take more credit for positive developments."

The memo laid bare the doubts about Maliki. Written shortly after Hadley met with the Iraqi prime minister, it noted concerns about various actions, including intervention to stop military action against Shiite targets, efforts to stack ministries with Shiite majorities and reported nondelivery of services to Sunni areas.

These actions "all suggest a campaign to consolidate Shia power in Baghdad," Hadley wrote. "While there does seem to be an aggressive push to consolidate Shia power and influence, it is less clear whether Maliki is a witting participant." Hadley wrote that Maliki "impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so." A White House spokeswoman Tuesday night had no comment on the memo.

Briefing reporters traveling with the president earlier Tuesday, Hadley said the broader White House Iraq review is not yet complete, suggesting that Bush's meetings with Maliki, scheduled for Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, will not produce any major developments -- at least publicly. But the meetings, the third between the two leaders since Maliki took office in May, will offer an opportunity to resolve tensions between the two governments over how to proceed.

The Bush-Maliki relationship had started with high hopes among White House officials that the prime minister would prove a more effective leader than his predecessor, Ibrahim al-Jafari. After a quick trip to Baghdad in June, Bush declared he had determined that Maliki was dedicated to a free Iraq.

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