04 Jul

Iraq’s Maliki declines U.S. offer on national reconciliation

The Iraqi prime minister tells visiting Vice President Joe Biden that Iraqis must overcome their political differences on their own and that U.S. involvement would not be welcome.

By Liz Sly, LATimes, July 4, 2009


Reporting from Baghdad — Vice President Joe Biden’s mission to promote national reconciliation in Iraq was rebuffed Friday by Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who told him that the issue was a domestic Iraqi affair and that U.S involvement wouldn’t be welcome.

Biden was beginning a two-day visit to Iraq after President Obama appointed him this week as his special representative on dealings with the Persian Gulf nation. His assignment, the White House said, is to work with Iraqis “toward overcoming their political differences and achieving the type of reconciliation that we all understand has yet to fully take place.”

But Biden’s meeting with Maliki was a reminder that although the U.S. maintains about 130,000 troops in Iraq, its influence is waning rapidly now that the clock is ticking on the timetable for the departure of all American combat troops next year.

Days earlier, Iraqis had celebrated the withdrawal of U.S. forces from their cities as a “day of national sovereignty.” And though Biden’s visit was welcomed as evidence that the United States doesn’t plan to completely disengage from Iraq, Maliki made it clear that he does not want U.S. officials to be as closely involved in Iraqi politics as they have been.

Maliki told Biden that “the reconciliation issue is a purely Iraqi issue and any non-Iraqi involvement might have a negative effect,” said Maliki’s spokesman, Ali Dabbagh. “We don’t want the Americans to come and get involved.”

Biden “received the message well, and he said he is ready to help whenever the Iraqi government asks,” Dabbagh said.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Biden said he had delivered a message from Obama emphasizing that the U.S. remains committed to Iraq’s success despite the troop pullback. Though there are still political steps that need to be taken, “Iraqis must use the political process to resolve their remaining differences and advance their national interest,” he said. “We stand ready if asked . . . to help in that process.”

A U.S. official traveling with Biden said the vice president went further than that, warning Maliki that if Iraq does not resolve its outstanding political disputes, it cannot continue to count on U.S. support……………………………

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