MELISSA BLOCK, host:
In Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says he'll make a couple of key announcements this coming Sunday, his candidates to head the Interior and Defense Ministries. That's despite the fact that not all of the parties in Iraq's National Unity government agree on the names. Today, Maliki also condemned the alleged killing of Iraqi civilians by Marines last fall and he ordered a committee to hold talks with the U.S. military to establish ground rules for raids on Iraqi homes.
NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Baghdad.
PETER KENYON reporting:
For two weeks, Iraqi politicians have bickered over who should run the most important security ministries in the country, Defense and Interior. A third position, Minister of State for National Security, also remains unfilled. The feuding dragged on, despite Maliki's repeated promises to make security his top priority and despite the wave of carnage that has accompanied the delay. Today, Maliki said there would be no more delays. He would forward names to Parliament this Sunday for a vote of approval, whether or not all the factions agree.
Prime Minster NOURI AL-MALIKI (Iraq): (Through translator) This issue of choosing the ministers shall be on Sunday. It shall be presented to the session of the Parliament.
KENYON: Maliki came into office promising a special security plan for the violence-drenched capital. He also said areas to the north, such as Bakuba, and to the south, the so-called triangle of death, might need special attention. Then yesterday he traveled to the southern city of Basra, declared a state of emergency and set a special security plan for Basra was in the works.
Critics say every day without permanent leadership at the Defense and Interior Ministries only reinforces the perception among Iraqis that their leaders are more interested in their political fortunes than in bringing some relief to their citizens.
At today's news conference, Maliki also condemned the alleged killings by U.S. Marines of unarmed Iraqi women and children last fall in the western town of Haditha. He said he would seek agreement with the Americans on new rules to prevent it from happening again.
Prime Minster MALIKI: (Through translator) Of course such acts are totally rejected. We shall never compromise with the dignity and security of the Iraqi people. That is why the Cabinet directed the Security Committee to hold talks with the coalition forces to lay down regulations about house raids and arrests.
KENYON: Maliki's efforts to clarify what U.S. forces are allowed to do in pursuit of insurgents in civilian areas comes on the same day that the top American general in Iraq, George Casey, ordered all units to undergo training in moral and ethical standards in the field of battle. U.S. military personnel already get such training and Lieutenant General Peter Corelli said in a military statement that 99 percent of the forces in Iraq display professionalism and restraint in the face of a treacherous enemy.
But military spokesman Major General William Caldwell told reporters in Baghdad today that if U.S. military personnel did commit a crime, they will be held accountable. Without going into the precise rules of engagement, he said those rules are clearly understood by U.S. forces in the field.
Major General WILLIAM CALDWELL (U.S. Military Spokesman): But I don't think there's any question in our mind if you're carrying a locked and loaded weapon, you're not going to pick it up and aim it at somebody unless you feel your life is threatened. The key thing to remember is, as we tell all members of the coalition force here, we're here as guests of the Iraqi government. We're here as guests of the Iraqi people. And as such, that's exactly how we should conduct ourselves.
KENYON: The training is expected to take 30 days. Besides the U.S. investigations, the Iraqi Cabinet today backed Prime Minister Maliki's call for an Iraqi probe into the Haditha killings. It's not clear what authority, if any, Iraq would have to prosecute American soldiers.
Meanwhile, General Caldwell says there are at least three or four other investigations now underway into incidents other than Haditha. He gave no specifics.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Baghdad.
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