Maliki accuses US politicians of meddling in Iraq

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The Independent Online

The Iraqi Prime Minister delivered a stinging rebuke to Hillary Clinton yesterday, telling her to stop meddling in the affairs of his country as though it was part of America. Nouri al-Maliki said Ms Clinton, the leading Democratic contender for the US presidency, and the Democratic senator Carl Levin should "come to their senses".

The bald assertion by Mr Maliki that US politicians are behaving like colonial overlords is the latest in a series of bad-tempered exchanges between officials from both countries.

"There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin," Mr Maliki said. "They should come to their senses." His highly personal attack on Ms Clinton, who joined the anti-war camp only recently, has cut to the quick because of her party's distaste for the conflict and its overwhelming desire to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq. Mr Maliki's complaints were not confined to those in the United States, however. He also called on the French government to apologise for remarks by its outspoken foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who has called for the Iraqi leader to be toppled.

In an interview for Newsweek magazine, Mr Kouchner said he had warned the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, that Mr Maliki has "got to be replaced". It was unlikely the Prime Minister would be ousted, he added, "because it seems President Bush is attached to Mr Maliki. But the government is not functioning." Cosying up to the US after four years of icy relations since the invasion of Iraq, Mr Kouchner said Paris wanted to "turn the page" and look to the future.

"There's a lot of support for, for instance, [Vice-President] Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who's an impressive fellow, and not only because he studied in France. He's solid. Of the people who are available, he's widely seen as the one that ought to have the job," Mr Kouchner said.

Ms Clinton and Mr Levin have both called for Mr Maliki to be removed from office. Yesterday, there were further complaints about his rule from politicians in Washington. The Republican Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said the Baghdad regime was "still pretty much a disaster" but cautioned: "It's a democratically elected government and I don't think we can dictate to them." Meanwhile, senators from both parties, returning from a visit to Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, concluded that the Shia prime minister had been "a huge disappointment".

Mr Maliki's attack on the Democrats came as the American commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and US ambassador Ryan Crocker prepared to publish their report to Congress on the military situation in Iraq since an extra 30,000 American troops were sent to the country.

Mr Maliki has been angered by a series of statements from across the US political spectrum which have queried his ability improve the situation. President Bush angered him by saying he was "frustrated" that political goals were not being met. Ambassador Crocker, speaking more like a pro-consul than a diplomat, said the lack of movement was "highly disappointing".

Another Democratic senator, Jack Reed, sought to justify the criticisms raining down on Mr Maliki from all sides in the US. "I think we have a right to be critical of a government that is not doing what a government must do: protect its own people, make difficult decisions that in the long run provide for the safety and security of the Iraqi people," Mr Reed told the conservative Fox News Sunday talk show. "I think the criticism is fair."

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