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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Who's in charge?

Karim Kadim/Associated Press
Supporters carried a poster of the Shiite cleric
Moktada al-Sadr through Baghdad after
checkpoints were removed from Sadr City.

Iraqi Demands Pullback; U.S. Lifts Baghdad Cordon
Published: November 1, 2006

BAGHDAD, Oct. 31 — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki demanded the removal of American checkpoints from the streets of Baghdad on Tuesday, in what appeared to be his latest and boldest gambit in an increasingly tense struggle for more independence from his American protectors.

The 172nd Stryker Brigade took down a checkpoint in the Karada neighborhood of Baghdad yesterday in response to the prime minister’s orders.

Mr. Maliki’s public declaration seemed at first to catch American commanders off guard. But by nightfall, American troops had abandoned all the positions in eastern and central Baghdad that they had set up last week with Iraqi forces as part of a search for a missing American soldier. The checkpoints had snarled traffic and disrupted daily life and commerce throughout the eastern part of the city.

The language of the declaration, which implied that Mr. Maliki had the power to command American forces, seemed to overstep his authority and to be aimed at placating his Shiite constituency.

The withdrawal was greeted with jubilation in the streets of Sadr City, the densely populated Shiite enclave where the Americans have focused their manhunt and where anti-American sentiment runs high. The initial American reaction to the order, which was released by Mr. Maliki’s press office, strongly suggested that the statement had not been issued in concert with the American authorities.

“Our commanders have his press release and are reviewing how best to address these concerns,” Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said early Tuesday afternoon, about an hour after the order was issued.

Late Tuesday night, after hours of silence, a senior American Embassy official who had been delegated to return reporters’ phone calls said the prime minister’s order was “the result of a meeting” between Mr. Maliki, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq. “It was essentially something that Maliki wanted to do and Casey agreed to it,” the official said.

But Mr. Maliki’s announcement may have been a foregone conclusion: the meeting was at 1 p.m., officials said, and the prime minister’s office issued his press release at about 1:20 p.m.

Tensions between Mr. Maliki and President Bush have been building for months. American officials have grown impatient with the Iraqi government’s inability to curb Shiite militias accused of sectarian killings and to reduce the insurgent violence. For their part, Mr. Maliki and other leading Shiites have begun to chafe at American control of the military and what they view as American favoritism toward Sunnis.

Those tensions erupted publicly last week, to be followed by shows of reconciliation.

On Wednesday, Mr. Maliki challenged an American assertion that the two governments had agreed on a timetable for stabilizing Iraq. On Thursday and Friday, he issued angry comments pointedly voicing his independence from the Americans, including an account circulated by his aide of an acrimonious meeting with Mr. Khalilzad, during which Mr. Maliki was said to have told the ambassador that he was “a friend of the United States, but not America’s man in Iraq.” On Saturday, the White House convened a videoconference at which Mr. Maliki publicly praised President Bush.

So when do they turn on US troops?

Remember, they're supposed to be looking for a kidnapped American. Now, the US has been told to give it up. Yes, US tactics are heavyhanded, but someone better wake the fuck up and realize Maliki's real bosses are in Sadr City.

This is going down a dangerous road and it's one where Bush and Rummy are gonna wind up trying to explain why Iraqi soldiers have started to fight US units.

posted by Steve @ 1:14:00 AM

1:14:00 AM

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