Iraqis Question Timing of Maliki's U.S. Visit

Many in Iraq have been critical of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to visit Washington, D.C., for a week of meetings with President Bush and Congress. Both Shiite and Sunni Muslim politicians are questioning the timing of the visit, coming amid battles between Israel and Hezbollah.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And we're going to Baghdad now to get news from Iraq and reaction to Prime Minister al-Maliki's trip. Jamie Tarabay is there for NPR.

Jamie, what is the Iraqi public saying about this trip?

JAMIE TARABAY reporting:

Well, they're watching very closely to see what happens. They're obviously becoming very, very disillusioned with everything that's happening here. Their biggest concern, of course, is the violence that just seems to increase here every single day. You know, dozens are killed in the capital, that we know of.

The U.S. military recently released information saying that in Baghdad, just in one week, there was an average of 34 bombings and shootings. And they said that this was up 40 percent. So from their point of view, violence is getting worse and the man that they rely to ease the situation is now in Washington. And they're watching very, very closely to see what happens next.

CHADWICK: Well, from what I read on news wires, some of the Iraqi politicians don't seem very happy about the prime minister being in Washington.

TARABAY: Maliki is definitely under a lot of pressure from the different groups within his government. There are politicians on both sides, the Sunnis and the Shiites, who alternately oppose or support the U.S. presence in Iraq.

Before he went to London, Maliki received a statement from the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, demanding that he cut short his visit and return to Baghdad.

Politicians who belong to Sadr's block have said they don't want him to come back to Baghdad from Washington having signed an agreement that will prolong the American presence.

But then on the other hand, there are politicians who very openly say that if the Americans were to withdraw, chaos would immediately erupt, and whatever lawlessness there is here on the street at the moment would just multiply. And so that's something that they're really afraid of.

CHADWICK: And the prime minister had instituted a Baghdad security plan, what, several weeks ago? But from what I read, the results don't sound too good.

TARABAY: Unfortunately not. There hasn't been a lot of success in his plan at all. Everyone is pretty much admitting that it is a failure. There has been an increase, rather than a decrease in the violence - the attacks, the roadside bombs, and the shootings and the killings. And they're being blamed alternately - on Shiite death squads, Sunni extremists. We're seeing dozens of bodies being brought into the morgues each day.

I mean, today for example, the morgue reported receiving 43 bodies. And of those, 29 were killed execution style. So the security plan and the greater presence of troops on the ground has not translated yet into any kind of stability in the capital.

CHADWICK: Jamie, we've had this press conference in Washington and it's interesting to see the prime minister of Iraq getting drawn into discussions about what's going on in Lebanon and Iraqi politicians commenting on American foreign policy in Lebanon in a way that the administration must find very uncomfortable.

TARABAY: Well, I think that everything about the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's visit has been controversial on lots of different levels.

But also, I'm finding it incredibly strange that the Iraqi politicians would see fit to comment on things that are happening in Lebanon.

One of the deputy prime ministers, Barham Saleh, has offered $35 million in aid to Lebanon at the moment. And so the idea that they're looking outwards rather than inwards is incredibly puzzling. Not just to me, I'm sure, but to many of the people here.

CHADWICK: You're saying that a senior politician in the Iraqi government is offering $35 million in aid to the government of Lebanon?

TARABAY: That's absolutely right. Barham Saleh did it yesterday.

CHADWICK: NPR's Jamie Tarabay in Baghdad.

Jamie, thank you.

TARABAY: You're welcome.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.