Tag Archive: al-Maliki


Gates: Some US troops may stay if Iraq wants

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_gates_iraq

By ROBERT BURNS, AP National Security Writer Robert Burns, Ap National Security Writer Thu Apr 7, 6:33 am ET

BAGHDAD – The Obama administration would keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the agreed final withdrawal date of Dec. 31, 2011, if the Iraqi government wanted them, but the Iraqis need to decide “pretty quickly” in order for the Pentagon to accommodate the extension, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday during what he said probably is his final visit to this war-torn country.

Whether to negotiate an extended U.S. military presence is up to the Iraqis, he said, adding that he thought an extension might make sense.

“We are willing to have a presence beyond (2011), but we’ve got a lot of commitments,” he said, not only in Afghanistan and Libya but also in Japan, where he said 19 U.S. Navy ships and about 18,000 U.S. military personnel are assisting in earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor relief efforts.

“So if folks here are going to want us to have a presence, we’re going to need to get on with it pretty quickly in terms of our planning,” he added. “I think there is interest in having a continuing presence. The politics are such that we’ll just have to wait and see because the initiative ultimately has to come from the Iraqis.”

Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top American commander in Iraq, said the country is lacking important security capabilities. Those include the defense of its air space and the wherewithal to supply and maintain its own forces, he said.

Asked in an interview whether all Iraqi government officials are aware of these gaps, he replied, “Some more than others.”

He said the government’s inability thus far to appoint a defense minister and an interior minister has hampered its ability to make informed decisions about whether to ask the Americans to stay longer.

Speaking to a group of reporters traveling with Gates, Austin gave the strong impression that he thinks Iraq needs a U.S. military presence beyond December, but he said he had not yet been asked to provide a recommendation to Washington.

He said Iraq faced the possibility of a “more violent environment” next year, given the absence of U.S. military force and the failure to resolve key political problems, like the Kurd-Arab tensions in Kirkuk and elsewhere in the north.

The U.S. now has about 47,000 troops in Iraq, and they will begin leaving in large numbers in late summer or early fall. The U.S. led an invasion in March 2003 that toppled the government of President Saddam Hussein a month later, but an insurgency soon set in and the U.S. got mired in a conflict that has lasted far longer — and cost far more American and Iraqi lives — than Washington had anticipated.

Gates also said civil unrest in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, with majority Shiite Muslims pushing for an end to rule by the minority Sunnis, has created tensions in Iraq, whose Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is concerned about Bahrain’s crackdown on Shiites.

Gates said he expected to discuss this subject with al-Maliki in private meetings later Thursday.

Meghan O’Sullivan, a top Iraq adviser to President George W. Bush from 2005-07, said in an email exchange that al-Maliki faces enormous domestic political pressures on several fronts, including a small but vocal number of Iraqis demanding better government, and a security situation that is improved but still tense.

Together, these pressures make it unlikely that al-Maliki feels he can publicly invite the U.S. military to stay beyond this year.

“Understandably, the Obama administration was hoping for this sort of invitation, and likely feels struck, given that it is not forthcoming,” O’Sullivan said. “They can’t be seen wanting to keep more troops in Iraq than the Iraqis do.” O’Sullivan is now a professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School.

Under blue skies and a bright sun at a U.S. base just outside the Iraqi capital, Gates told a group of soldiers that he worries that a potential shutdown of the U.S. federal government will delay issuance of their paychecks. He assured them that they eventually would get full pay, but there could be a delay if Democrats and Republicans in Washington are unable to reach a budget deal this week.

“When I start to think of the inconvenience that it’s going to cause these kids (soldiers) and a lot of their families, even a half paycheck delayed can be a problem for them,” Gates told reporters after fielding several questions from the assembled soldiers. The first question posed to him was by a soldier asking about the ramifications for military members and their families of the budget crisis back home.

Gates assured them, “You will be paid,” then added that it might take a while, depending on the length of the political impasse in Washington.

In a brief exchange with reporters during a photo session with Gates earlier Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, James Jeffrey, said U.S. ground forces are “the glue” that is holding the country together. He said this leaves a mixed picture of the situation in Iraq because making arrangements to keep U.S. troops here beyond December is going to be difficult.

In his troop talk, Gates raised the matter of his impending retirement, recalling for soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, that his first visit to Iraq was in September 2006, three months before he replaced Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary. He recalled that on a visit to Baghdad in December 2006 he conducted a press conference while a gun battle was echoing in the distance.

In all, he estimated he has made 14 visits to Iraq.

“`This will probably be my last one,” he said.

Gates previously has said he intends to retire this year, but he has not been more specific about the timing. It is widely anticipated that he is planning to quit this summer.

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6 killed as Iraqis protest in ‘Day of Rage’

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110225/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_iraq

By SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press Sinan Salaheddin, Associated Press 1 hr 30 mins ago

BAGHDAD – Thousands marched on government buildings and clashed with security forces in cities across Iraq on Friday, in the largest and most violent anti-government protests here since political unrest began spreading in the Arab world several weeks ago.

In two northern Iraqi cities, security forces trying to push back crowds opened fire, killing six demonstrators. In the capital of Baghdad, demonstrators knocked down blast walls, threw rocks and scuffled with club-wielding troops.

The protests, billed as a “Day of Rage, were fueled by anger over corruption, chronic unemployment and shoddy public services.

“We want a good life like human beings, not like animals,” said Khalil Ibrahim, 44, one of about 3,000 protesters in the capital Baghdad.

Like many Iraqis, he railed against a government that locks itself in the highly fortified Green Zone, home to the parliament and the U.S. Embassy, and is viewed by most of its citizens as more interested in personal gain than public service.

The center of Baghdad was virtually locked down Friday, with soldiers searching protesters entering Liberation Square and closing off the plaza and side streets with razor wire. The heavy security presence reflected the concern of Iraqi officials that demonstrations here could gain traction as they did in Egypt and Tunisia, then spiral out of control.

Iraqi army helicopters buzzed overhead, while Humvees and trucks took up posts throughout the square, where flag-waving demonstrators shouted “No to unemployment,” and “No to the liar al-Maliki,” referring to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Demonstrators trying to get across a bridge going from the square to the Green Zone clashed with security forces. The demonstrators knocked down some of the concrete blast walls that were put up Thursday night and threw rocks at troops who beat them back with batons. Six riot police and 12 demonstrators were wounded in the melee, said police and hospital officials.

Click image to see photos of protests in Iraq

The protests stretched from the northern city of Mosul to the southern city of Basra, reflecting the widespread anger many Iraqis feel at the government’s seeming inability to improve their lives.

A crowd of angry marchers in the northern city of Hawija, 150 miles (240 kilometers) north of Baghdad, tried to break into the city’s municipal building, said the head of the local city council, Ali Hussein Salih.

Security forces trying to block the crow opened fire, killing three demonstrators and wounding 15, local officials said. The Iraqi Army was eventually called in to restore order.

In Mosul, also in northern Iraq, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the provincial council building, demanding jobs and better services, when guards opened fire, according to a police official. A police and hospital official said three protesters were killed and 15 people wounded. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to brief the media.

Black smoke could later be seen billowing from the building.

In the south, about 4,000 people demonstrated in front of the office of Gov. Sheltagh Aboud al-Mayahi in the port city of Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, 340 miles (550 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad. They knocked over one of the concrete barriers and demanded his resignation, saying he’d done nothing to improve city services.

They appeared to get their wish when the commander of Basra military operations, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Jawad Hawaidi, told the crowd that the governor had resigned in response to the demonstrations. Iraqi state TV announced that the prime minister had asked the governor to step down but did not mention the protests.

Around 1,000 demonstrators also clashed with police in the western city of Fallujah 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Baghdad clashed with authorities, witnesses said. And in the southern city of Karbala, about 1,000 protesters rallied for better services.

In recent weeks, there had been scattered anti-government protests in Iraq. While most have been peaceful, a few have turned violent and seven people have been killed. The biggest rallies have been in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles (260 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad, against the government of the self-ruled region.

On the even of the marches, al-Maliki urged people to skip the rally, which he alleged was organized by Saddamists and al-Qaida — two of his favorite targets of blame for an array of Iraq’s ills. He offered no evidence to support his claim.

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