b‎ > ‎

j

The 50-minute conference between Mr. Bush and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki took place after an acrimonious conversation late Friday between Mr. Maliki and the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad. According to an aide to Mr. Maliki, the Iraqi leader said that he was “a friend of the United States, but not America’s man in Iraq.”

The sharp remarks appear to be part of a growing schism between the Shiite-led Iraqi government and its American supporters, a division building for months that burst into full public view this week. Mr. Maliki spoke out angrily on Wednesday against the idea of American deadlines for action on stabilizing Iraq. Mr. Khalilzad publicly detailed the benchmarks the day before.

Iraqi leaders say that the United States, in particular Mr. Khalilzad, has been too meddlesome in internal affairs.

In the videoconference, Mr. Maliki, sitting beside Mr. Khalilzad in the Green Zone, opened with praise for Mr. Bush, according to Tony Snow, the White House press secretary. “History will record that because of your efforts Iraq is a free country,” Mr. Maliki said, echoing a statement he made on his trip to Washington three months ago, according to Mr. Snow, who sat in on the session.

Mr. Snow said that Mr. Maliki made “no demands, and it was a very cordial discussion.” But the prime minister, he said, made clear that he wanted to move quickly toward “an Iraqi assumption of command and control” over forces operating in Baghdad and elsewhere.

A Maliki spokesman, Ali Dabbagh, said the prime minister had said the Iraqi government wanted more control over its army, which operates under Americans.

The meeting, the second in 12 days for Mr. Bush and Mr. Maliki, was clearly part of a White House effort to diffuse tensions between the two governments.

The push for more Iraqi control comes just as American military commanders are saying the Iraqi Army needs more time to improve. America’s top military commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., said this week that it would be another 12 to 18 months before Iraqi troops would be ready to take over.

A central irritant for the Shiite leaders is what they say is an American preoccupation with Shiite militias — often linked to political parties — that have been responsible for much of the bloodshed here in the past year. Shiites fault American officials, particularly Mr. Khalilzad, for treating militias as enemies on a par with the Sunni insurgency.

“The forces need to know one clear fact,” said one prominent Shiite politician. “Who is the real enemy here? It is the Saddamists and the takfiris.” Takfiris are Sunni extremists.

That preoccupation has distracted American military policy, Shiite leaders say, and led to gaps in protection of Shiite areas vulnerable to attacks by Sunni militants, a position that American military commanders strongly dispute. Leaders argue that the Iraqis should be allowed to protect these areas themselves, an assertion that raises a distant but real American fear — that the government could use the largely Shiite army selectively, or that it could even become one side of a civil war.

Mr. Maliki leads a government that is a fragile coalition between Sunnis, Kurds and other groups, but with the arguments made in recent days, appears to be placing himself firmly inside the Shiite camp, lending an increasingly sectarian tinge to the Iraqi political landscape.

One major lever the Iraqis have is the United Nations agreement that extends legal authority for foreign troops to be here. Senior officials are trying to amend the agreement, which expires on Dec. 31, in order to give the government more control over parts of the army sooner, a process American officials are watching worriedly.

“I am now prime minister and overall commander of the armed forces, yet I cannot move a single company without coalition approval because of the U.N. mandate,” Mr. Maliki told Reuters on Thursday. “If anyone is responsible for the poor security situation in Iraq, it is the coalition.”

In Washington, the administration has sought to smooth relations, particularly as midterm elections near.

#auto

Subpages (8): 0 1 4 5 6 b w y
Comments