Iraq Premier: U.S., Iraq Share Same Goal

The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 25, 2007; 1:24 AM

NEW YORK -- Iraq is the "tip of the bayonet" in the fight against terror, the country's premier said Monday, stressing that the same group responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks was behind the destruction of the minarets of a revered Shiite shrine last year in his country.

Those "who destroyed the towers of the (World) Trade Center are the same as those who blew up the (Golden Mosque) in Samarra and carried out the bombings of hotels in Jordan and Algeria," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said. The U.S. and Iraq share the same enemy, he said.

The event was held on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly a day before al-Maliki is to meet with President Bush. The Shiite politician has come under great criticism from many in the United States for failing to meet a series of benchmarks for progress on the political and economic fronts.

The attacks al-Maliki referenced _ all blamed on al-Qaida and its offshoots _ included the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York, the triple hotel bombings in the Jordanian capital in November 2005 and the double-suicide bombings in Algeria in April.

For Iraqis, however, the bombing of the mosque in Samara in February 2006 dramatically enflamed already simmering tensions between the Shiite majority and the Sunni minority who, under Saddam Hussein, had been the power brokers in the country for decades.

Speaking before an audience of about 150 Shiite Muslims, al-Maliki derided the terror group headed by Osama bin Laden and those that have allied themselves with him, such as al-Qaida in Iraq. These groups, he said, "are against humanity."

He also laid the country's various economic and political problems squarely on the shoulders of Saddam Hussein's regime, saying it was the Iraqi dictator who laid the framework for current sectarian violence that has been capitalized upon by terror groups.

"In the face of these challenges, Iraq is the tip of the bayonet" and the international community must help in combating this terror, al-Maliki said after a speech at the Khoei Islamic Center, a Shiite charitable institute named after Ayatollah Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei, a revered cleric who died in 1992.

Before visiting the Islamic center, al-Maliki attended a session sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. An Iraqi official, who attended the event, said the Iraqi delegation was wary about the forum given the criticism al-Maliki has faced in the U.S. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the event was closed to the media.

At the council, al-Maliki, asked about the country's various problems, took a jab at the Bush administration, saying that the build-up of Iraq's forces after the collapse of Saddam's regime, was not handled properly, the official said.

The Iraqi prime minister also said that the U.S. was in charge of all the ministerial portfolios and the now-defunct Coalition Provisional Authority was behind the decision to specify that various top posts, such as the presidency and the premiership, be held by Kurds and Shiites, respectively, while a Sunni was to hold the defense portfolio.

The unusually sharp rebuke comes as al-Maliki's leadership has been questioned and challenged by some political quarters in the U.S., with some politicians wondering out loud if he should be replaced.

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