Iraqi PM Fears for Nation's Sovereignty

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By JOHN DANISZEWSKI and TAREK EL-TABLAWY
The Associated Press
Monday, September 24, 2007; 12:54 AM

NEW YORK -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki walked a fine line Sunday: confronting his American backers over what he sees as violations of Iraq's sovereignty while stressing that his relations are rock solid with the country on whose support he still relies.

"Success is shared," he said in an interview with The Associated Press, referring to his deeply intertwined partnership with President Bush and the U.S. government. "God forbid, failure is also shared."

In a half-hour talk conducted in his Manhattan hotel suite, the 57-year-old politician from Iraq's Shiite heartland said it is unacceptable that U.S. security contractors would kill Iraqi civilians, a reference to a Sept. 16 shooting incident involving company Blackwater USA that left at least 11 Iraqis dead.

He also decried a recent arrest by U.S. forces of an Iranian citizen who had been invited into the country by Iraqi officials.

Al-Maliki, who has been leading his shaky, strife-worn Cabinet since May 2006, insisted that Iraq is making progress. He said next year will bring still more improvement to ordinary Iraqis' lives after four years of war.

In the country to attend the U.N. General Assembly, al-Maliki is on his first visit to the United States since the recent reports to Congress by Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker gave his 16-month-old government a mixed review. In spite of that, he appeared to be in no mood to brook challenges to his leadership.

A confident tone, evident throughout the interview, reflected how the Iraqi leader seems to be taking a firm stand in defense of his government's achievements, even as criticism in the U.S. and elsewhere mounts.

He repeatedly referred to Iraq's sovereignty and how the government was answerable only to the people, in what could be read as a discreet way of telling others that Iraq's security and prosperity will be Baghdad's concern long after foreign forces have been withdrawn.

Al-Maliki stressed that his country has the main duty to protect its people and to decide whom it will or will not let into the country. When U.S. contractors shoot at Iraqi citizens or U.S. troops arrest guests of the government from Iran, that is "unacceptable," he said.

The shooting deaths of civilians at Nisoor Square in Baghdad on Sept. 16 _ allegedly at the hands of Blackwater USA security contractors _ are among several "serious challenges to the sovereignty of Iraq" by the company, he said. In Arabic, he used the word "tajawiz" which also can be translated as "affront," "violation" or an intentional challenge.

He also complained about the U.S. detention of an Iranian Thursday in northern Iraq who was accused by the military of smuggling weapons to Shiite militias for use against American troops.

Al-Maliki condemned the detention and said it was his understanding that the man had been invited to Iraq by the Sulaimaniyah governorate.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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