Monday, December 11, 2006

Iraq’s President Harshly Criticizes U.S. Strategy: Says US Has Moved "From Failure To Failure"

The New York Times
Iraq’s President Harshly Criticizes U.S. Strategy

BAGHDAD, Dec. 10 — President Jalal Talabani said Sunday that the American program to train Iraq’s security forces had been a repeated failure and he denounced a plan to increase the number of American advisers working with the Iraqi Army, saying it would subvert the country’s sovereignty.

Mr. Talabani’s remarks, in an interview with Western news service reporters that was later summarized and distributed by his office, amounted to an extraordinarily harsh denunciation of a central American strategy in Iraq as well as a major recommendation of the report issued last week by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group in Washington. He is the highest ranking Iraqi official to criticize the report, adding to anger among Iraqi leaders who have disagreed with some of its recommendations.

American commanders have poured more than $12 billion into training and equipping Iraq’s security forces and have tied a withdrawal of American troops to success in these efforts. But Mr. Talabani ridiculed them. “What have they done so far in training the army and the police?” he said. “What they have done is move from failure to failure.”

Mr. Talabani, who is Kurdish, said the Iraq Study Group report offered some “dangerous” recommendations that he said were “an insult to the Iraqi people” in that they undermined the country’s ability to control its own army and police.

He did not offer specific criticisms of the American training program, except to blame the Americans for inadequately screening recruits to the Shiite-dominated police to ensure their loyalties to the state rather than to a sect.

American and some Iraqi officials say some Iraqi police and army units are more beholden to Shiite militias than to the government and have helped to drive the cycles of retributive violence by attacking Sunni Arabs. Some Iraqi officials have also said that Sunni Arab officers have abetted the Sunni-led insurgency.

The Americans, Mr. Talabani said, “gathered them from the street regardless of their loyalty to the new Iraq, their capacity, their ability. These mistakes would be repeated if the Iraqi Army would be under the control of foreign officers, and we would never accept it.”

The Iraq Study Group called for increasing the number of American trainers to as many as 20,000 from the current level of more than 4,000, in the hope that it would help Iraqi units move more quickly to assume full control of the nation’s security.

Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, told Congress last month that he envisioned doubling the number of American trainers, but senior military officers now say they are planning to at least triple the number of trainers.

The shift has been endorsed in general terms by President Bush, and in recent weeks, commanders in Iraq have started moving hundreds of troops from their combat ranks to training teams.

American commanders have argued that expanding the training teams would allow trainers to work more closely with Iraqi soldiers and police. In addition, trainers would be able to watch more closely for sectarian biases and abuses.

But Mr. Talabani said the proliferation of American advisers threatened Iraqi control of the security forces.

“Assigning foreign officers in every unit of the Iraqi Army is a breach of Iraqi sovereignty,” he said, according to the translation issued by his office. “What will be left of this sovereignty if the Iraqi Army becomes a tool in the hands of foreign officers coming from outside?”

He added, “We want our hand to be free, not paralyzed, in fighting terror.”

Mr. Talabani’s remarks may be dismaying to the American leadership, which has regarded him as one of its more reliable and like-minded partners here.

Mr. Talabani’s attack on the Iraq Study Group report was wide-ranging and vociferous.

He criticized a recommendation for a law that would allow some former members of the outlawed Baath Party to return to government. The measure would reverse a “de-Baathification” process that has marginalized thousands of Sunni Arabs who worked in the Baathist government of Saddam Hussein.

He also said he supported a statement issued Thursday by Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region, who objected to several elements of the report that could weaken Kurdish autonomy by delaying an opportunity for the Kurds to govern the contested oil city of Kirkuk, and by giving the central government control over all oil revenue.

Mr. Talabani bristled at the report’s recommendation that a continuation of American military and financial assistance to Iraq be contingent on Iraqi performance. Setting conditions, he said, “was an insult to the Iraqi people.”

The leaders of the Iraq Study Group, James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, defended their report on Sunday against Mr. Talabani’s attack. “Up until this point, we’ve given a blank check to the Iraqis,” Mr. Hamilton said on CNN. “And I’m not surprised that the president would like that sort of a deal. But we believe that the American people want our aid to be conditional. We want that aid to be given only if there is a response from the Iraqi government that shows performance.”

Mr. Baker called Mr. Talabani’s comments “disappointing” but said that unless Iraq’s leaders were able to unite under a national reconciliation plan, the world could expect “not just a broad-based civil war but a wider regional war.”

Sectarian violence continued to torment Iraq’s civilian population on Sunday. Gun battles broke out between Sunni and Shiite militias in a predominantly Shiite enclave of Al Amil, a neighborhood in southwestern Baghdad. The police said at least five people were killed.

Gunmen stormed a home in Jihad, a mostly Sunni Arab neighborhood in southwestern Baghdad, killing nine people, an Interior Ministry official said.

The attacks came a day after gangs of armed Shiite militiamen rampaged through Hurriya, a mixed neighborhood in north-central Baghdad, driving scores of Sunni Arabs from their homes in what a Sunni colonel in the Iraqi Army described as one of the most flagrant episodes of sectarian warfare in the capital.

The police reported Sunday that they had found five bodies near a mosque in the neighborhood, all presumably victims of the Shiite attack on Saturday. At least 46 other corpses were found by the authorities elsewhere in the capital.

Baghdad has been consumed by a cycle of bloody sectarian violence that has sent thousands of families from mixed Sunni-Shiite areas fleeing for the safety of neighborhoods in which their own sect dominates.

Agence France-Presse reported that Iraqi authorities had detained the chief of the prison in Badush, near Tikrit, in connection with the escape of Ayman Sabawi, Saddam Hussein’s nephew, on Saturday.

The American military command said Sunday that an American soldier was killed, and another wounded, when a bomb exploded next to their patrol west of the capital.

The outgoing defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, said during a two-day visit to Iraq that American troops should remain there until the insurgency was defeated.

“We feel great urgency to protect the American people from another 9/11 or a 9/11 times two or three,” Mr. Rumsfeld said on Saturday, in remarks that were posted Sunday on the Defense Department’s Web site.

“At the same time, we need to have the patience to see this task through to success,” he said during the stop, which American military officials called Mr. Rumsfeld’s farewell visit to the troops.

Christine Hauser in New York contributed reporting.