US diplomat: Budget fight threatens Iraq gains

The Associated Press
Wednesday, March 16, 2011; 2:48 PM

BAGHDAD -- Eight years of work to stabilize Iraq could go to waste if Congress guts funding to train Iraqi police forces after U.S. combat troops leave the country, a senior diplomat said Wednesday.

The comments by State Department Assistant Secretary William Brownfield came on a tense day in Baghdad, where political leaders raised the specter of sectarian tensions in Bahrain boiling over into Iraq.

American combat troops are scheduled to leave at the end of the year, leaving the training of Iraqi security forces in the hands of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. The State Department has asked for $1 billion to assist Iraq's police and legal system in 2012, but Brownfield said it is uncertain that the money will be approved by Congress, which appears more focused this year on tightening spending than on Iraq's stability.

The money will "lock in the progress and the gains that (the U.S. military) have delivered at great producing a stable, secure and even prosperous Iraq," Brownfield told The Associated Press.

Violence has dropped dramatically in Iraq from just a few years ago, when the country teetered on the brink of civil war, but daily deadly attacks and political unrest reveal its continued instability. On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he fears riots in Bahrain between mostly Sunni security forces and Shiite protesters will inflame sectarian violence in the Mideast.

The statement was released a few hours after thousands of supporters answered the call of Shiite anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to gather in Baghdad and Basra to protest Saudi forces who deployed to Bahrain to help the besieged Sunni-led government.

Iraq's highest Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, also called on Bahrain's government to cease the crackdown on protesters, according to a spokesman.

Earlier Wednesday, a car bombing in Kirkuk, a northern Iraqi city rife with ethnic tensions, killed three people, including a 4-month old baby and the baby's mother, said Kirkuk city police spokesman Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir. Kurds and Arabs have been feuding for years over control of Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed, oil-rich city 180 miles (290 kilometers) north of Baghdad.

Also Wednesday, Iraqi judges ordered the execution of Munaf al-Rawi, al-Qaida's former ringleader in Baghdad, for masterminding some of the capital's deadliest attacks - including the August 2009 government ministry bombings that killed more than 100 people.

After his capture last year, al-Rawi led investigators to the two top al-Qaida leaders in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and Abu Ayyub al-Masri, both of whom were killed in a joint raid by U.S. and Iraqi security forces last April. His sentence was not a surprise and al-Rawi has said he expected to be executed.

The Iraqi Supreme Criminal Court also convicted Saddam Hussein's former Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to life in prison for targeting political parties and crimes against humanity. Aziz, one of the few Christians in Saddam's circle, is already on death row for another conviction. The Vatican case and several European nations that oppose the death penalty have asked that his life be spared.

© 2011 The Associated Press