BAGHDAD, (AP) – Iraq’s beleaguered prime minister on Sunday lashed out at Democrats who have called for his ouster, saying Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Carl Levin need to “come to their senses.”
Nouri al-Maliki, who is fighting to hold his government together, issued a series of stinging ripostes against a variety of foreign officials who recently have spoken negatively about his leadership. But those directed at Democrats Clinton, of New York, and Levin, of Michigan, were the most strident.
“There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin. They should come to their senses,” al-Maliki said at a news conference.
Al-Maliki launched the verbal counteroffensive in the final days before the American commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker are due in Washington to report to Congress on progress in Iraq since the introduction of 30,000 more America troops.
The Shiite prime minister said a negative report by Petraeus would not cause him to change course, although he said he expected that the U.S. general would “be supportive of the government and will disappoint the politicians who are relying on it” to be negative.
Al-Maliki appeared stung by the recent series of critical statements about his government, including one from President Bush, who said he was frustrated that al-Maliki had failed to make progress on political benchmarks. Crocker has said the lack of movement had been “highly disappointing,” and both Levin and Clinton have called for al-Maliki’s ouster.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Sunday that al-Maliki’s government “is still pretty much a disaster” despite some progress made.
“It’s a democratically elected government, and I don’t think we can dictate to them,” McConnell said. Nonetheless, McConnell said, senators from both parties agree the Shiite prime minister has been “a huge disappointment.”
Based on the sacrifices of U.S. troops, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., agreed that the U.S. government should demand more.
“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,” Reed said. “I think the criticism is fair.”
McConnell and Reed spoke on “Fox News Sunday.”
Last week Sen. John Warner, R-Va.,said the United States should order a token withdrawal of forces by Christmas. The former chairman of the Armed Services Committee said such a move would show al-Maliki that Washington was serious about progress on reconciliation among the country’s religious sects and ethnic groups.
Warner and Levin traveled to Iraq together earlier this month as part of the multitude of congressional delegations who are visiting the country before the expected heated debate on Capitol Hill about U.S. troop levels and plans for a withdrawal.
Separately, a Kurdish security official said a U.S. helicopter attacked two Kurdish police outposts on Sunday, killing four policemen and wounding eight. The U.S. military said it was investigating the report.
Jabar Yawer, spokesman for the Kurdish Peshmerga militia, said two police vehicles also were destroyed in the airstrike 65 miles northeast of Baghdad and he believed the attack was mistaken friendly fire.
“We demand American troops to give an explanation for the U.S. airstrike against a police station,” the Kurdish Interior Minister said in a statement. “The U.S. troops should take care to understand what troops are deployed in the border areas.”
Al-Maliki also criticized some U.S. military actions.
“Concerning American raids on Shula (a northern Shiite neighborhood) and Sadr City (the Shiite slum enclave in east Baghdad). There were big mistakes committed in these operations. The terrorist himself should be targeted not his family,” he said “We will not allow the detaining of innocent people.”
Two nights ago the U.S. military raided the Shula neighborhood and said it killed eight “terrorists” who had attacked an American patrol from rooftops. Some Iraqis reported many civilians were killed and wounded.
U.S. forces also are routinely raiding Sadr City, often calling in helicopter fire. The U.S. says it targets only Shiite militia fighters. Iraqi officials regularly report civilians killed.
Meanwhile, waves of Shiite pilgrims descended on Karbala on Sunday for a festival marking the birth of the 9th century Hidden Imam. A woman making the 50-mile trek from Baghdad was shot to death by men in a passing car in the southwest of the capital.
More than a million Shiite faithful from throughout the world were expected to converge on the Shiite holy city for the celebrations, which reach their high point late Tuesday and early Wednesday. The Shabaniyah festival marks the birth of Mohammed al-Mahdi, the 12th and last Shiite imam who disappeared in the 9th century.
Religious Shiites refer to al-Mahdi as the “Hidden Imam,” believing he was spared death and will return to Earth to bring peace and justice.
Six men were wounded as they walked toward Karbala with the woman who was gunned down, according to Baghdad police officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
In the past, Sunni religious extremists, including al-Qaida in Iraq, have launched massive attacks against pilgrims during Shiite celebrations, which have drawn huge crowds since the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime.
Last March, about 340 people were killed in a weeklong wave of bombings and shootings, most of them Shiite pilgrims en route to Karbala.
To prevent a repeat, Iraqi authorities Saturday banned motorcycles, bicycles and horse-drawn wagons from the streets of Baghdad indefinitely. Earlier in the day, state television announced that the ban applied to all vehicles, including cars and trucks.
Later, the chief military spokesman for Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Mousawi, said cars and trucks would be allowed but other forms of transport that could slip into smaller places were banned until further notice.
All vehicles were banned from the Karbala city center and each pilgrim entering the district was subjected to a security pat-down.
“I was hesitant to come because I feared a terrorist attack, but when I saw these strict security I felt safe,” said Haji Sabeeh Raheem, a 61-year-old pilgrim from Najaf, another Shiite holy city to the south.