With less than two weeks to go before critical midterm elections in the United States, Maliki accused U.S. officials of election-year grandstanding, saying that deadlines were not logical and were "the result of elections taking place right now that do not involve us."
In a conference call with reporters, two senior Democratic members of the Senate Armed Services Committee focused on Maliki's statements on the Bush administration benchmarks.
Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), ranking member of the panel, said, "I think the page we are on differs and is rewritten day to day to try to get past the elections here."Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), a West Point graduate who just returned from Iraq, said Maliki's comment "deliberately repudiates what the president's saying." He called it "disheartening" but said it "might be a function of politics of Iraq as much as a function of politics of the United States. But it does not appear they're even at the level of how to talk about the problem."
Maliki's comments followed a deadly early-morning military raid in Sadr City, a teeming Shiite slum in eastern Baghdad with more than 2 million residents loyal to the charismatic anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. The aim of the operation was to capture the leader of a Shiite death squad, according to a U.S. military statement. It was unclear whether the target was among the casualties.
Sadr heads a large Shiite political party that is a key member of Maliki's government. He also heads a powerful militia, the Mahdi Army, that has fought several prolonged battles against American troops. U.S. officials, Sunni Arabs and independent observers say that the Mahdi Army is a driving force behind death squads that have slaughtered thousands of Sunnis and that Maliki's government has done little to halt the attacks or disarm the group.
Although a U.S. military statement on the operation did not mention the Mahdi Army or Sadr by name, the implication that the target was a member of the militia was unmistakable.
Iraqi army special forces, supported by U.S. advisers, "conducted a raid authorized by the Government of Iraq . . . to capture a top illegal armed group commander directing widespread death-squad activity throughout eastern Baghdad," the statement said. It also said Iraqi forces came under fire during the raid and "requested support from Coalition aircraft, which used precision gunfire only to eliminate the enemy threat."
Later, the U.S. military expanded the operation and raided a local mosque, based on "credible intelligence indicating that criminals involved in the kidnapping of a U.S. Soldier" were hiding there, according to a military statement. The soldier, an Iraqi-American who was abducted from a relative's home on Monday while visiting family on an unauthorized leave, was not found.
The military statement said that a total of 10 people were killed during the operations and 13 people were detained, including 10 "suspected death squad members." Caldwell said that several people had been held "for possible connection with or knowledge of this kidnapping," but gave few other details.
At his news conference, Maliki distanced himself from the raid, saying his government would "ask for clarification about what has happened in Sadr City" and "review the issue with the multinational forces so that it will not be repeated."
Maliki and Bush are getting along great these days, huh? Let's hope he understands that without our continued support, he'll probably end up hanging from a tree somewhere. He needs to make politically difficult decisions to fight the surge of militias in his country. Unfortunately for us, those decisions might not just be "politically difficult," since he very much depends on the support of Sadr for his continued "governance." They may, in fact, be "politically impossible decisions."