Sunday, February 18, 2007

Condoleezza Rice in Baghdad

When the war was being planned Condoleezza Rice stood with the hawks when she was the President's security adviser. Some feel that she has metamorphosed into pragmatist with her move from the White House to the State Department. It was a pragmatic idea to make a surprise stop in Baghdad as the U.S. Senate deadlocked on whether to repeat a symbolic rebuke that the U.S. House handed Bush on Friday when it opposed the administration's deployment of additional combat troops to Iraq.

Her visit occurred a day after the U.S. House of Representatives renounced President George W. Bush's latest strategy to resolve the four-year-old war in Iraq, passing a nonbinding resolution that disapproves of his decision to send about 21,500 more U.S. troops to the conflict. Most of those troops are being dispatched to Baghdad.

The U.S. House vote was the strongest rebuke of a president during wartime since Congress in 1970 rescinded the Gulf of Tonkin resolution that authorized military action in Southeast Asia.

Bush's approval rating stands at 32 percent, tied for his lowest standing in Associated Press-Ipsos polling, and most people in the United States find fault with his handling of the nearly four-year-old Iraq war.

"Some do not think that this was the right war to fight, and others think that we in the administration haven't fought this war quite right," but still support U.S. forces and others in harm's way." Rice said. "I keep hearing and reading the American people don't want to fight this war anymore. I don't think that's right. The American people want to know that we can succeed,"

Problematic Maliki

Rice met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. officials in the protected Green Zone that houses the U.S. embassy.

Of Maliki, Rice said she has been ``quite impressed with his performance.''

Although Rice used her visit to publicly praise the Iraqi government's role in a new security crackdown in Baghdad, an Iraqi official said she was more critical in private.

Nouri al-Malikibecame prime minister in May 2006, and his time in office has been defined by a surge in sectarian violence and lack of progress in improving services, curbing soaring unemployment and fighting crime.

In July of 2006 al-Maliki was quoted as declining to condemn Hezbollah and blamed the violence in Israel and Lebanon, triggered by Hezbollah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, on “Israeli aggression.” Making matters worse, Iraqi parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani accused Jews of masterminding killings in Iraq that were carried out by Sunni or Shiite insurgents

Last November, a Bush national security adviser had expressed doubts about the Iraqi prime minister's ability to end sectarian tensions ahead of a meeting between Bush and Maliki in Amman, Jordan. A confidential White House memo leaked in November questioned his ability to deal with the violence, and the Iraq Study Group report, prepared by a bipartisan commission, recommended that Washington should reduce military and political support to his government if it fails to make progress in curbing the violence.

In January of this year Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a published report that he wishes he could leave office before his four-year term is up and would not run again."I didn't want to take this position," al-Maliki told the Wall Street Journal in an interview. "I only agreed because I thought it would serve the national interest, and I will not accept it again."

And though Rice spoke approvingly of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's leadership, she urged Iraqi officials to enact laws to fairly administer the country's vast oil reserves.

Rice's message to the Iraqi's:

"The American people want to see results and aren't prepared to wait forever," Rice said during a 30-minute conversation with reporters in U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad's living room. "But we're also not saying to the Iraqis: 'Get it done by X date or else.' That's not the way one treats a partnership in these difficult circumstances."

Rice met with al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani and later had lunch at the U.S. ambassador's residence with a group that included the Kurdish deputy prime minister and the country's foreign minister.

"The Baghdad security plan is just beginning to unfold, and I think it's important to realize it wasn't ever intended to be a sort of single day -- it was intended to ramp up over time.''

Rice told Iraqi government leaders Saturday that the contentious debate in Washington over President Bush's war strategy reflects U.S. doubts that democracy will prevail over violence.

"Some of the debate in Washington is in fact indicative of the concerns that some of the American people have ... if the Iraqi government doesn't do what it has said it will do," Rice said she told leaders from all of Iraq's factions.

Meeting with US troops:

In a talk with U.S. personnel in Baghdad, Rice described their mission as essential ``for the security and well-being of the United States.''

Rice acknowledged the debate about the war in the U.S. and told the soldiers and civilians that their sacrifice is ``appreciated.''

This comes in contrast to Presidential hopeful Senator Barak Obama, who got his candidacy off to an inauspicious start by saying last weekend that the war “should have never been authorized, and should have never been waged, and on which we've now spent $400 billion, and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted.''

Whats happening now:

Iraqi and U.S. forces expanded searches in Baghdad and cleared neighborhoods of suspected militants this past week in an operation to beef up security in Iraq as violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims continued.

Rice said the joint operations were ``off to a good start, " and that she was `Impressed'.

But then Rice told Iraqi leaders that the Baghdad security operation needs to "rise above sectarianism" and noted that no U.S. or Iraqi forces have yet moved into the capital's major Shiite militia stronghold, the Iraqi official said.

The official said Rice told Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the initial stage of the crackdown, which began Wednesday, appeared to focus on Sunni areas and had left Sadr City, stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia, nearly untouched.

Explosions last week in Baghdad killed at least 59 people on the first anniversary of the blast at the Shiite Muslim al-Askari mosque in Samarra, an event that triggered a wave of bloodshed between Shiites and Sunnis. The United Nations has said the sectarian violence last year left 34,452 civilians dead.

Then on Sunday following Rice's visit there were twin explosions in an open-air market that claimed 62 lives and a third blast that killed one. The first blast tore through a produce market in the mostly Shiite area of New Baghdad, toppling the wooden stalls and leaving pools of blood and vegetables trampled in the chaos. Minutes later, another car bomb exploded near a row of stores.

More than 129 people were injured, including many women who were shopping, said police and rescue officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

Victims were carried to hospitals on makeshift stretchers or in the arms of rescuers.

Another car bomb in the Shiite enclave of Sadr City left at least one dead and 10 wounded, police said.

It was by far the deadliest day since the security sweeps began. On Thursday, a string of car bombs killed seven civilians on the first full day of the house-to-house searches for weapons and suspected militants.

The U.S.-led teams have faced limited direct defiance as they set up checkpoints and comb neighborhoods. But that could change as they move into more volatile sections of the city. The next could be Sadr City, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

U.S. soldiers pressed closer to Sadr City on Sunday and the reception changed noticeably. In previous days, Shiite families opened their doors to welcome the troops _ feeling that the American presence would be a buffer against feared attacks from Sunni militia.

On Sunday, in areas closer to Sadr City, parents slapped away the candy and lollipops given to children by soldiers.

Iran & Syria borders

The borders with Iran and Syria _ shut for three days as the plan got under way _ reopened Sunday. But new and strict rules will apply.

Moussawi, the plan's spokesman, was quoted in the Azzaman newspaper as saying the crossing points to the two nations would be open for only several hours a day and under "intense observation."
In Tehran, Syrian President Bashar Assad held talks with Iranian leaders, including President Mahmoud Ahamedinejad. The two leaders are generally on opposing sides of Iraq's sectarian divide: Iran backs the majority Shiites, and Syria is seen as a key supporter of Sunnis.Iran denies any role in the US claim that Iraqi militants receive aid and supplies from Iran, including parts for lethal roadside bombs targeting U.S. forces.Iran also denies that the anti-American cleric al-Sadr has crossed over from Iraq into Iran.

Next on Rice's agenda

Rice is due to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni Sunday and with Palestinian and Israeli officials Monday ahead of a three-way summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Feb. 19. That summit is designed to jumpstart negotiations toward the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

That mission was complicated by last week's announced power-sharing pact between the U.S-backed Palestinian President and Hamas militants whom the Bush administration considers terrorists.
-posted by Paul Grant (follower of Basho)

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