[Marxism] Maliki, Abdullah pull out of meeting with Bush

Fred Feldman ffeldman at verizon.net
Wed Nov 29 20:10:21 MST 2006


www.nytimes.com <http://www.nytimes.com/>  

November 29, 2006


Bush-Maliki Talks Are Postponed 


By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/sheryl_gay_sto
lberg/index.html?inline=nyt-per>  and EDWARD WONG
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/w/edward_wong/in
dex.html?inline=nyt-per> 

AMMAN, Jordan, Nov. 29 - Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/m/nuri_kamal_al-
maliki/index.html?inline=nyt-per>  of Iraq and King Abdullah II
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/a/_abdullah_ii/i
ndex.html?inline=nyt-per>  of Jordan abruptly backed out of a meeting with
President Bush on Wednesday, leaving the White House scrambling to explain
why a carefully planned summit had suddenly been cut from two days to one.

The decision occurred on a day that a classified White House memo expressing
doubts about Mr. Maliki was disclosed and after Iraqi officials loyal to a
powerful Shiite cleric said they were suspending participation in the Maliki
government because he had ignored their request to cancel the Bush meeting. 

The president and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/r/condoleezza_ri
ce/index.html?inline=nyt-per>  were already aboard Air Force One, on the way
to Amman from Riga, Latvia, where they had been attending a NATO
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/n/north_a
tlantic_treaty_organization/index.html?inline=nyt-org>  summit, when they
received the news by telephone from the United States ambassador to Iraq,
Zalmay Khalilzad. The White House insisted Mr. Bush was not upset and had
not been snubbed.

"Absolutely not," said Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president.

With the Wednesday night meeting with the king canceled, Mr. Bush and Mr.
Maliki still intend to have breakfast together here Thursday and hold a news
conference afterward. A senior White House official said, after the king and
Mr. Maliki had a productive private meeting earlier in the day and decided a
three-way session with Mr. Bush wasn't "the best use of time."

In Baghdad, the immediate effect of the walkout by officials loyal to
Moktada al-Sadr
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/moktada_al_sad
r/index.html?inline=nyt-per> , the anti-American Shiite cleric was unclear.
But the departure of the Sadr followers - 30 parliamentarians and six
ministers - raises questions about the viability of the fragile coalition
government, made up of feuding blocs of religious Shiites, religious Sunni
Arabs, Kurds and secularists.

The day's events underscore the delicate task Mr. Bush and Mr. Maliki face
as they head into Thursday's meeting. As tensions rise in Iraq, friction has
grown between the two leaders, despite Mr. Bush's insistence - reiterated by
his press secretary Wednesday - that he has faith in Mr. Maliki.

Each man is under pressure at home to extract concessions from the other.
Mr. Maliki is facing demands from Mr. Sadr for the Iraqi government to wrest
control of security forces from the Americans, and the boycott places more
pressure on the prime minister to do just that.

Mr. Bush, for his part, must demonstrate to an uneasy American public that
he is taking control of the increasingly violent situation in Iraq.
Democrats
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/d/democra
tic_party/index.html?inline=nyt-org> , who are about to run Congress after a
mid-term election that was widely viewed as a referendum on the war, are
pressing for a troop withdrawal and demanding Mr. Bush send a message to the
prime minister that the American presence is not open-ended. A bipartisan
commission will make recommendations on Iraq next week.

The White House tacked the hastily-planned trip to Amman onto Mr. Bush's
swing through the Baltics so the president could meet Mr. Maliki on safe
ground. But the careful orchestration leading up to the Bush-Maliki summit -
including a news conference in Estonia on Tuesday where Mr. Bush promised to
press the Iraqi prime minister on his strategy for stability - was upended
when The New York Times published the classified assessment of Mr. Maliki in
Wednesday's editions.

The document, written by National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley, said
that while Mr. Maliki seemed to have good intentions when talking with
Americans, "the reality on the streets suggests Maliki is either ignorant of
what's going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities
are not yet sufficient." 

Publication of the memo just as Mr. Bush was to see Mr. Maliki face to face,
left the White House struggling to put a positive spin on the news on a day
when it had hoped to highlight a decision by NATO members that would lift
certain restrictions on troops operating in Afghanistan. 

"The president has confidence in Prime Minister Maliki," Tony Snow, the
White House press secretary, told reporters in Riga, where the president's
aides seemed clearly worried about how the memo would affect the Bush-Maliki
talks.

Later, after Mr. Maliki canceled, senior officials insisted the memo had
nothing to do with it. "The president and Prime Minister Maliki will have a
very robust and lengthy dialogue tomorrow morning," Mr. Bartlett said in
Amman, adding, "No one should read too much into this."

But it was impossible not to read some palace intrigue into the scrubbing of
such a high-profile meeting, especially when it involved a White House known
for its meticulous planning. 

As Bush aides tried to provide an explanation for the cancellation - before
conceding that Mr. Maliki and the king had called the session off - they at
one point went so far as to suggest it had been put on the schedule
erroneously. Mr. Snow was still talking about photo opportunities for the
meeting when Air Force One landed in Amman - after Mr. Bush had already
received word from the ambassador.

The president was not received warmly here. Hundreds of Jordanians held a
rare sit-in at Jordan's Parliament house on Wednesday morning, while up to
500 marched through the streets Wednesday afternoon, holding banners calling
Mr. Bush a criminal and a murderer. Many carried photographs of Saddam
Hussein
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/h/saddam_hussein
/index.html?inline=nyt-per> .

"We see his arrival here as an insult to the martyrs killed by U.S.
weapons," said Bassim Qiswani, head of Jordan's Doctors Syndicate as he
marched towards the prime minister's office. "Bush created all these
problems and now he wants the Arabs to fix them."

Mr. Bush is indeed trying to reach out to moderate Arab nations to alter the
dynamic in the Middle East. He dined Wednesday night at the Raghadan Palace
with King Abdullah, where the two leaders and their aides discussed
Israeli-Palestinian relations and Syria's involvement in Lebanon, where
Syria is supporting the militant group Hezbollah
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/h/hezboll
ah/index.html?inline=nyt-org> . 

According to a senior administration official who attended the dinner, Iraq
was not a primary focus of the meal. But the king and the president also met
privately; it was unclear if they discussed Iraq out of earshot of their
aides.

Although Mr. Bush is under pressure to engage Syria, as well as Iran, in
direct talks aimed at bringing stability to Iraq, the official said the
president "made clear his view that this is not the time for engagement with
Syria because the Syrian government always seems to see any such form of
engagement as a gesture of approval, or as a way of getting off the hook for
actions that it is taking."

The president's trip to Jordan comes as Ms. Condoleezza Rice is headed to
Israel on Thursday to see Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/o/ehud_olmert/in
dex.html?inline=nyt-per> . It also comes amid a new wave of sectarian
violence in Iraq. Last week, more than 200 people died in bombings and
mortar strikes in a Shiite district of Baghdad, the deadliest attack since
the American invasion. A bloody Shiite reprisal followed, prompting a number
of world leaders, including King Abdullah, to warn that the country is on
the verge of civil war.

That prospect seemed heightened by Wednesday's boycott. At the urging of
senior ayatollahs, the religious Shiite bloc that dominates the government
is expected to stay together despite the walkout. But the balance of power
within it would change drastically if Mr. Sadr were to prolong the walkout,
because an extended absence could ignite a bitter struggle for leadership
among the top Shiite politicians.

Bahaa al-Aaraji, a leader of the Sadr legislators, said the organization had
two conditions for rejoining the government: That Mr. Maliki wrest more
control of the Iraqi security forces from the Americans and increase their
number, and that the government provide more electricity, gas and other
basic services to the people. 

In recent months Mr. Sadr has chafed as American and British forces have
been conducting an increasing number of operations across the capital and
southern Iraq aimed at undermining his populist militia. 

Mr. Sadr, in his early 30's, is arguably the most powerful politician in
Iraq because Mr. Maliki is beholden to him for his support in staving off
the prime minister's Shiite rivals, and because Mr. Sadr controls a militia
that, numbering in the tens of thousands, is regarded by many of the
majority Shiites as a protector against Sunni extremists. Mr. Hadley's memo
said that the Americans must press Mr. Maliki to "bring his political
strategy with Moktada al-Sadr to closure and bring to justice" any Mahdi
Army members who "do not eschew violence."Mr. Sadr's mercurial nature makes
it difficult to predict what will happen next. Mr. Sadr has incentives to
return to the government - he is protected from American pressure by Mr.
Maliki, who has even intervened to release Sadr loyalists from military
custody. And he is able to play the role of statesman, even meeting with
foreign leaders in neighboring countries. 

Bush administration officials consider Mr. Sadr to be one of the most vexing
problems facing Mr. Maliki. Though American commanders have been urging the
prime minister to turn against Mr. Sadr and his militia, Mr. Maliki has
found it impossible to betray his Shiite compatriot. That task grows
exponentially more difficult each time a car bomb attack by Sunni Arabs
wipes out dozens of Shiites in a marketplace or mosque, spurring the Shiites
to turn to the Sadr militia, called the Mahdi Army, for revenge and
protection.

One Shiite official close to the Sadr organization said that the current
walkout was simply stagecraft intended to play to anti-American sentiments
here.

"They're just doing that to show their supporters that they are against any
deals or contact with Americans," said the official, who spoke on the
condition of anonymity because of a fear of reprisal by the Sadr loyalists.
"It's pointless. It's just for show." 

"They will cancel their suspension in a week or so," the official predicted.
"It's a very stupid act."

Reporting for this article was contributed by Edward Wong from Baghdad,
Christine Hauser from New York, and Hassan M. Fattah from Amman, Jordan.




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