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Al-Maliki: U.S. fails to see Iraq's triumphs

/ Source: The Associated Press

Iraq’s beleaguered prime minister accused his American critics on Sunday of underestimating how hard it is to rebuild his country and failing to appreciate his government’s achievements “such as stopping the civil and sectarian war.”

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said told reporters that some of the criticism from Washington sends “signals to terrorists luring them into thinking that the security situation in the country is not good.” He offered no specific examples.

He also said U.S. critics may not know “the size of the destruction that Iraq passed through” and do not appreciate “the big role of the Iraqi government and its achievements, such as stopping the civil and sectarian war.”

The Democratic-controlled Congress is growing increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of political reform in Iraq. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have called for al-Maliki to be replaced.

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and the top American military commander, Gen. David Petraeus, are to report to Congress during the week of Sept. 10 on the degree of progress achieved since President Bush ordered nearly 30,000 more troops to Iraq.

A draft report by the Government Accountability Office concluded Iraq has satisfied only three of 18 benchmarks set by Congress for measuring progress and partially met two others.

None of those five benchmarks are the high-profile political issues such as passage of a national oil revenue sharing law that the U.S. has said are critical to Iraq’s future.

U.S. ambassador: 'There is progress'
During an interview broadcast Sunday by Iraqi state television, Crocker also urged patience with the Iraqis as they try to reach power-sharing agreements among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

“After 35 years of injustice under Saddam Hussein, there are some problems since liberation and the problems of 40 years cannot be solved in a year or two,” Crocker said, speaking in Arabic. “What is important is that there is progress.”

Separately, al-Maliki ordered what he said would be an unbiased investigation into last week’s deadly clashes surrounding a Shiite religious celebration in Karbala, which many have blamed on the Mahdi Army militia of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr has himself demanded an investigation, while his followers have condemned the arrests of more than 200 people in Karbala — many of them supporters of the firebrand cleric. The bloodshed in Karbala saw more than 50 people killed and hundreds injured.

Al-Sadr, who has denied that the Mahdi Army provoked the confrontation, announced a surprise six-month suspension of the militia’s activities last Wednesday following the fighting in Karbala, in an apparent attempt to deflect criticism.

“After the procrastination we had seen in the past two days, we warn the Iraqi government and the executive authorities in Karbala if they don’t open a fair, neutral and quick investigation, the Sadr office will be obliged to take unspecified measures,” spokesman Sheik Salah al-Obeidi said in Najaf.

Though the Iraqi government and U.S. commanders have praised al-Sadr’s move to stand down his militia, security forces have been keeping the Mahdi Army under pressure, saying they are focusing on breakaway factions believed to be receiving weapons, training and money from Iran — a charge that Iranians deny.

300 questioned on KarbalaA statement from Sadr’s office said that more than 200 al-Sadr followers have been detained in the past three days in Karbala province, making al-Maliki’s praise of the decision to freeze the Mahdi Army nothing more than “ink on paper.”

Meanwhile, Brig. Gen. Raid Shaker, commander of Karbala police, said 300 detainees are being questioned over the Karbala incident.

Jawad al-Hasnawi, a Sadrist member of Karbala’s provincial council, accused the prime minister of reneging on promises to stop detaining people in the Karbala violence: “They have taken us back to the era of the former dictatorship.”

Elsewhere, military spokesman Rear Admiral Mark Fox confirmed Sunday that U.S. forces arrested six people in a raid Thursday at the al-Sabah state-run newspaper in Baghdad. Fox said the military staged the raid on “actionable intelligence” and found illegal weapons when they searched the facility.

Iraqis to take over from British in Basra
In the southern city of Basra, an Iraqi commander said that British forces would officially hand over its base at a palace complex within a few days.

“Iraqi forces are already deployed and concentrated in the palace,” General Mohan al Fireji said at a press conference. “The Iraqi forces are ready to take security responsibility in Basra.”

Following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Britain controlled security across southern Iraq, but has since handed over three of four provinces to Iraqi forces. Britain’s Ministry of Defense has previously said it hopes to hand security responsibility for Basra, the last remaining province, over to Iraqi forces sometime this autumn.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has consistently refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops from the country, but Iraqi forces could take control of the country’s second-largest city as soon as October, Britain’s Sunday Times reported, citing unidentified government sources.