BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday responded to critics in the U.S. Congress, saying his government had kept Iraq from sliding into sectarian civil war.
At a news conference, Maliki said his critics had crossed what he called a “reasonable line” and were encouraging those trying to destabilise Iraq.
Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton and some other U.S. lawmakers have called for parliament to replace Maliki. “They do not realise the size of the disaster that Iraq has passed through and the big role of this government, a government of national unity. The most important achievement is it stopped a sectarian and civil war,” Maliki said. His comments came just over a week before U.S. President George W. Bush’s top officials in Iraq present pivotal testimony on the country’s security and political situation.
Maliki said he did not want to prejudge the reports by U.S. commander, General David Petraeus, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, which are to be delivered to Congress on Sept. 10. “We have to wait until we know what is written,” he said.
Maliki is under pressure from officials in Washington to show progress towards reconciling warring majority Shi’ite Muslims and minority Sunni Arabs.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed since the bombing of a revered Shi’ite shrine in the town of Samarra in February 2006 unleashed a wave of sectarian bloodshed.
In a report released last February, the U.S. intelligence community concluded that key elements of Iraq’s violence had risen to the level of “civil war”.
The National Intelligence Estimate report had said escalating violence between Shi’ites and Sunni Arabs met the definition for a civil war, but added the politically charged term did not describe all the chaos in Iraq.
Clinton and fellow Democratic Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, have called for Maliki to be voted out because of his failure to find a political solution to Iraq’s bitter sectarian conflict.
Maliki said such officials should think first before making such statements. “This sends messages to the terrorists that the security situation is weak and the political situation is not strong. These are negative messages, encouraging the terrorists,” he said.
Maliki said his government had been active in fostering national reconciliation.
Democrats in Congress have criticised Bush’s Iraq policy and along with some senior Republicans have called for U.S. troops to begin pulling out as soon as possible.
The U.S. military says attacks have fallen since 30,000 more American troops deployed under Bush’s plan to give Iraqi leaders “breathing space” to bridge the deep sectarian divide. But while some security gains have been achieved, no key laws aimed at reconciling Iraq’s warring groups have been passed, and Maliki’s cabinet has been hit by the withdrawal of nearly half his ministers.
More than 3,700 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.