Iraqi PM Accuses U.S. Forces of 'Routine' Abuses

In the wake of allegations that U.S. Marines massacred civilians in Haditha, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has reportedly accused U.S. forces of routine violence against innocent Iraqis. Alex Chadwick speaks with New York Times reporter Richard Oppel about more allegations of U.S. abuses and Maliki's increasingly vocal criticism.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up: the deal to get Iran to back away from nuclear arms.

CHADWICK: First, our lead story. In Baghdad and on the front page of today's New York Times, Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki attacks the behavior of U.S. troops in Iraq, saying many disrespect Iraqi people. This follows the renewed stories this week that U.S. Marines may have killed two dozen Iraqi civilians six months ago in the town of Haditha in al-Anbar province, an insurgent stronghold. The Marines are said to have gone on a rampage after a man from their unit was killed by a bomb.

Richard Oppel wrote the story from Baghdad today for the Times, with reaction from the Iraqi government. Richard Oppel, you spoke with the prime minister. How did he seem to you?

Mr. RICHARD OPPEL (Reporter, New York Times): Well, the prime minister spoke with reporters yesterday. And it's interesting because just a couple of days ago, he had been more conciliatory about Haditha and other allegations of alleged killings by U.S. forces of innocent Iraqis. Yesterday's comments were a bit of a change from that, though. He said it's become commonplace, in his view, for American - for the American-led coalition to attack Iraqis or to kill Iraqis just on suspicion that the Iraqis are insurgents or bad guys or whatever. So his comments were definitely stronger than what they'd been just a couple days earlier. He termed this as extremely unacceptable and said this is something that they have to get worked out with the American-led coalition.

CHADWICK: And what accounts for this change in his - in the way that he speaks about this?

Mr. OPPEL: That's not clear. I mean, Maliki himself is a leader the Shiite alliance, and while he was in parliament he was one of the most outspoken Shiites on law and order issues. And among other things, he had advocated the death penalty for anyone who shelters or gives a lot of aid or help to the insurgency. And of course, the insurgency is dominated by Sunnis. Now, however, he's in a position where the government he has - the government he's formed has large participation, not only by Shiites and Kurds, who were their partner in the past government, but also Sunni Arabs and secular Shias. So he's got a broader constituency that he's got to pay attention to and respond to.

CHADWICK: Generally speaking, Richard, are people in Iraq aware of these allegations about this still in dispute incident in Haditha? Are people talking about that? Is it changing the way they feel about the American's presence there?

Mr. OPPEL: I think in Sunni areas it's probably a bigger issue than in Shiite areas, where there may not be nearly as much sympathy for attacks on Sunnis. The Haditha attack and some of the other attacks that have become an issue lately have all been in Sunni areas. As far as what do people in Haditha think of this, I have to - you know, I have to admit that's a difficult thing to gauge. I mean, clearly, clearly people up there are upset, but they, you know, they believe these sorts of attacks are not unique. We sent an Iraqi reporter up there, and, you know, clearly people up there were upset, but it's difficult to get on-the-ground reporting from Haditha.

CHADWICK: Richard Oppel of the New York Times speaking with us from Baghdad. Richard, thank you.

Mr. OPPEL: Alex, thanks.

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