The Iraqi president said Sunday the bipartisan U.S. report calling for a new approach to the war offered dangerous recommendations that would undermine his country’s sovereignty and were “an insult to the people of Iraq.”
President Jalal Talabani was the most senior government official to take a stand against the Iraq Study Group report, which has come under criticism from leaders of the governing Shiite and Kurdish parties.
He said the report “is not fair, is not just, and it contains some very dangerous articles which undermine the sovereignty of Iraq and the constitution.”
Talabani, Iraq’s ethnic Kurd president, blasted the report, which suggested embedding thousands more U.S. advisers in Iraq’s security forces to quicken their training.
“It asks that they put foreign officers in every unit, which is a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty ... What will remain of our sovereignty?” he said.
He singled out the report’s call for the approval of a de-Baathification law that could allow thousands of officials from Saddam Hussein’s ousted Baath party to return to their jobs.
Talabani also criticized the call for increasing the number of U.S. troops embedded to train Iraqis from 3,000 to 4,000 currently to 10,000 to 20,000. “It is not respecting the desire of the Iraqi people to control its army and to be able to rearm and train Iraqi forces under the leadership of the Iraqi government,” he said.
Letter to Bush planned
He said the Iraqi government planned to send a letter to President Bush “expressing our views about the main issues” in the report, although he would not elaborate.
An aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday the Iraqi leader had reservations about the report but has yet to form a detailed response.
Sunni Arabs said they agree with the assessment of Iraq’s problems in the report by the commission headed by former Republican Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, but not the proposals to fix them.
In the Sunday talk shows, Baker and Hamilton said their recommendations for a more robust regional diplomacy was the best approach to promote peace and stability in the region.
“We’re not going to win this war militarily; we’re going to win it politically,” Baker said. “There must be a political reconciliation among the warring factions in Iraq or we’re going to continue to have major league problems.”
Talabani said Iraqis were not intimidated by the report’s threat to reduce political, military or economic support if the government in Baghdad cannot make substantial progress.
The report said Iraqi leaders have failed to deliver better security or political compromises that would reduce violence, and it implied that a four-month joint U.S.-Iraqi military campaign to reduce violence in Baghdad is hopeless.
“I believe that President George Bush is a brave and committed man and he is adamant to support the Iraqi government until they’ve reached success,” he said. He said setting conditions was “an insult to the people of Iraq.”
Bush has given the report a lukewarm reception and said he will weigh its recommendations along with other possible courses of action.
The recommendations, which are not binding, also have met opposition from some in the United States for the suggestion to withdraw nearly all combat brigades from Iraq by early 2008.
Talabani: 2008 date is realistic — ‘if’
Talabani said the date was realistic if the Iraqi government is given more responsibility for security. “If we can agree with the U.S. government to give us the right of organizing, training, arming our armed forces, it will be possible in 2008 (for U.S.-led forces) to start to leave Iraq and to go back home,” he said.
Kurds have been the strongest critics so far of the report and Talabani said he backed a statement by the president of the Kurdish region who objected to recommendations on sharing the oil wealth, reinstating Saddam loyalists in their old government jobs and giving Iraq’s neighbors a role in efforts to end the violence.
A statement by the governmental De-Baathification Commission also denounced the Baker-Hamilton report as “wrong and untrue” for its assertion that purging the government of Baathists robbed state institutions of professionals.
“If you read this report, one would think that it is written for a young, small colony that they are imposing these conditions on,” Talabani said. “We are a sovereign country.”
In one point of agreement, however, Talabani said Iraq already has initiated talks with Syria and Iran on gaining help in tackling the problems facing his country, and he plans to visit Damascus soon.
Damascus warns U.S. on report
Syria, meanwhile, warned that the United States would face hatred and failure in the Mideast if the White House rejects the report’s recommendations.
Syria’s ruling party’s Al-Baath newspaper urged Bush to take the Iraq Study Group’s report seriously because it would “diminish hatred for the U.S. in region.”
“But if it failed to pick up the positive signals either in the report or in the Syrian welcome of what the report has contained, it (the U.S.) would remain drowned in the quagmire and the situation in the region and the entire world would remain unstable,” the newspaper said.
At least 83 people were killed or found dead throughout the country, including 59 bullet-riddled bodies that turned up in different parts of the capital.
A roadside bomb also killed one U.S. soldier and wounded another Sunday west of Baghdad, the military said. The death raised to 43 the number of troops who have died this month and pushed the total U.S. military death toll to 2,931 since the war started nearly four years ago.
New violence around country
Meanwhile, gunmen attacked two Shiite homes in western Baghdad, killing nine men and seriously wounding another, police said Sunday.
Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, which police said occurred late Saturday in the mostly Sunni Arab al-Jihad neighborhood, but it apparently was in retaliation for a bold assault earlier in the day against Sunnis.
Witnesses said Shiite militiamen entered a Sunni enclave in Hurriyah — a predominantly Shiite neighborhood — after Sunnis warned the few Shiites living there to leave or be killed. Heavy machine gun fire was heard on Saturday and three columns of black smoke rose into the sky, the witnesses said on condition of anonymity, also out of concern for their own safety.
Baghdad has been suffering from a series of attacks aimed at driving Sunnis or Shiites out of neighborhoods of the capital where they form a minority. Omar Abdul-Sattar, a member of the Sunni Arab Iraqi Islamic Party, said Sunday that an organized effort was under way in Hurriyah to force Sunnis out, and he accused Iraq’s Shiite-led government of doing little to stop the violence.
New unrest in Hurriyah
Abdul-Sattar claimed that during the past five months, more than 300 Sunni families have been displaced from Hurriyah, more than 100 Sunnis killed and 200 wounded, and at least five Sunni mosques burned, along with houses and shops.
Dozens of Sunni families, including women and children, fled Hurriya on foot and in trucks at nightfall and took refuge in schools and mosques in neighboring Amil district.
An old man wept and cried for revenge: “I call upon all Sunnis to carry guns and fight the followers of Moqtada al-Sadr, who burned our houses and displaced us.”
Clashes also erupted between Sunni and Shiite militants in Amil district, a policeman said. One Shiite militiaman was killed and six people — five Sunnis and one Shiite — were wounded, the officer said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media.
The fighting ended with U.S. and Iraqi forces rushing to the area to contain it, he said.
Police in the northern province of Ninevah, meanwhile, said the chief of the Badoosh prison, Raad Hussein, and his deputy were detained for allegedly helping Saddam Hussein’s nephew to escape on Saturday.
Ayman Sabawi, son of Saddam’s half brother Sabawi Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti, had been serving a sentence of life in prison for possession of illegal weapons and manufacture of bombs when he fled the prison, 45 miles west of Mosul.