Senator Calls for Maliki's Ouster

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called for a
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called for a "less sectarian and more unifying prime minister and government" in Iraq. The White House responded by reaffirming its confidence in Maliki. (By Alex Wong -- Getty Images)
By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Declaring the government of Iraq "non-functional," the influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said yesterday that Iraq's parliament should oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his cabinet if they are unable to forge a political compromise with rival factions in a matter of days.

"I hope the parliament will vote the Maliki government out of office and will have the wisdom to replace it with a less sectarian and more unifying prime minister and government," Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) said after a three-day trip to Iraq and Jordan.

Levin's statement, the most forceful call for leadership change in Iraq from a U.S. elected official, comes as about two dozen lawmakers are traveling to Iraq during Congress's August break to glean firsthand assessments before receiving a progress report next month from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the U.S. commander there, and Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador.

Not every Democrat has come back from Iraq supporting a drawdown of U.S. forces in the coming months, as party leaders have advocated. Staking out positions that could complicate efforts to achieve party unity in September, a few Democratic lawmakers have returned expressing support for a continued troop presence. One of them, Rep. Brian Baird (Wash.), said yesterday that he will no longer vote for binding troop withdrawal timelines.

Levin's comments to reporters followed the release of a joint statement with the second-ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. John W. Warner (Va.), which was pessimistic about Iraq's political future. The statement referred to a round of recent meetings between Maliki, who is backed by President Bush, and Iraqi political leaders as "the last chance for this government to solve the Iraqi political crisis."

Maliki, a Shiite, has been trying to hold a summit with rival Sunni political leaders and ethnic Kurdish officials to reach a compromise on several contentious issues, including a formula to distribute the country's oil revenue and a law aimed at allowing some former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to hold government jobs. The meeting, which was scheduled to start last week, has been repeatedly delayed.

Should those talks fail in the next few days, Warner and Levin said, "the Iraqi Council of Representatives and the Iraqi people need to judge the Government of Iraq's record and determine what actions should be taken -- consistent with the Iraqi Constitution -- to form a true unity government to meet those responsibilities."

Warner, a war supporter who has grown skeptical of U.S. involvement, was traveling yesterday and unable to comment on the joint statement.

The two senators' assessment is only the most recent move in a series of efforts by both political parties to gain momentum before the next political showdown over the war.

Yesterday, Americans United for Change, an umbrella group with labor backing, unleashed new television advertisements against Sens. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) and Reps. Jon Porter (R-Nev.) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), tying them to Bush's war policies as Democrats press for Republican fissures.

Republicans also are trying to use the congressional trips to their political advantage. The tours, carefully conducted by the Defense Department, generally include visits to the Green Zone for consultations with U.S. and Iraqi officials, trips to forward operating bases and joint security stations involved in Petraeus's new counterinsurgency program, and heavily guarded tours of open markets, often in Anbar province, where a U.S. alliance with Sunni sheiks has calmed the region.

Republican leaders have seized upon any positive statements from lawmakers returning from Iraq to portray Democratic leaders as wedded to failure there while the Democratic Party grows increasingly divided over the war's progress.

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