Maliki Seeks Regional Meeting on Iraq Security

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 6, 2006

BAGHDAD, Dec. 5 -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called Tuesday for a regional conference on stabilizing his country but rejected a proposal from U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that it take place outside Iraq.

"After preparing the proper political atmosphere, we will call for holding a conference in which all those countries that are interested in the security and stability of Iraq will participate," Maliki said in a televised speech in Baghdad.

He said he would send envoys to neighboring countries, which he did not name. He also did not explain what a proper political atmosphere would be. An aide close to Maliki said the prime minister wants the conference to take place in Iraq under the Iraqi government's terms.

In an earlier statement e-mailed to reporters, Maliki rebuked Annan for suggesting that Iraq was not the right venue. "We consider his invitation to hold an international conference about Iraq as just another way to confiscate the will of Iraqis and their achievements that established democracy, a national unity government and the elected Parliament," he said in the statement.

Under pressure from the Bush administration to rein in violence, Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, said Iraqi leaders would meet in mid-December to reconcile feuding factions and "strengthen the Iraqi national unity."

His comments came a day before the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former representative Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), is set to release a report in Washington recommending ways to reduce the U.S. military presence in Iraq and end sectarian violence. The report is expected to include a recommendation that Iraq and the United States engage in talks with Iran and Syria, which border Iraq. Iraq recently resumed diplomatic relations with Syria after more than two decades of severed ties.

But the Bush administration has long-standing concerns about what officials believe to be Iran's support for Shiite militias and Syria's failure to stop foreign fighters from joining the Iraqi insurgency. High-ranking Iraqi leaders also have reservations about involving the two neighbors.

"What are other countries going to do?" Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish Coalition member of Iraq's parliament, asked after Maliki's speech. "The problem is between Iraqis now."

Late Tuesday, Maliki released a statement urging university professors and students to ignore "the desperate attempts" of a Sunni insurgent group to keep them from class. The group had sent e-mails to students and posted signs at schools and mosques saying students should stay away while it cleanses the campuses of Shiite death squads.

Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said at a Baghdad news conference that the military expects the country to be under complete control of Iraqi forces by the middle of 2007, which he called "the year of transition."

"We should see the complete transfer of command and control of all Iraqi army divisions by late spring, early summer," he said, echoing a timetable discussed by Bush and Maliki at their meeting last week in Jordan.

Nasar al-Rubaie, who leads the parliamentary bloc of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, said Tuesday that he had collected signatures from 115 of the 275 members of parliament calling on the government to draft a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces. The bloc suspended its participation in the government last week. The number of signatures could not be independently verified.

Dozens of civilians died in various shootings and car bombings across the country Tuesday.

The U.S. military reported that 14 Iraqi members of the "Society of Shia" were killed and four wounded when small-arms fire hit the bus carrying them in the Adhamiyah section of northern Baghdad Tuesday morning. A car bomb exploded after they died, a military statement said. Then a BMW was driven into the area and exploded as the injured were being taken to a hospital. The bomb caused no further injuries, the military said.

Three car bombs exploded near a fuel station, killing 16 people and wounding 25, in the southwestern Bayaa district of Baghdad, according to the Associated Press.

In central Baqubah, gunmen raided a house, killing two residents and wounding a third before setting the house on fire, according to an official with the Diyala Joint Coordination Center.

The U.S. military announced that three more soldiers died Monday. A soldier from the 1st Cavalry Division died from wounds suffered from an explosion near his vehicle in Diyala province. A second soldier was wounded in the blast. One soldier died when his vehicle rolled over north of Camp Anaconda in north-central Iraq. Another soldier was killed and five were wounded when insurgents attacked them as they were enforcing curfew restrictions in a northeastern neighborhood of Baghdad.

Special correspondent Naseer Mehdawi in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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