Al-Maliki vows crackdown on all insurgents

No one is above the law, says Iraqi prime minister

January 18, 2007|By Louise Roug and Borzou Daragahi | Louise Roug and Borzou Daragahi,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised yesterday to crack down on Shiite Muslim militias and Sunni Arab rebels, warning that no one - not even his political ally, Muqtada al-Sadr - will be above the law.

"We will not allow any politicians to interfere with this Baghdad security plan whether they are Sunnis or Shiites, Arabs or Kurds, militias or parties, insurgents or terrorists," al-Maliki said, in a rare and forceful interview.

The prime minister, a Shiite, also warned that once a military crackdown begins, political negotiations will shut down.

"When military operations start in Baghdad, all other tracks will stop," al-Maliki said. "We gave the political side a great chance and we have now to use the authority of the state to impose the law and tackle or confront people who break it."

Al-Maliki's remarks and criticism during a wide-ranging interview contrasted sharply at points with the Bush administration, which has called for continued political and economic negotiation and a longer timeline for a security crackdown.

Al-Maliki said if he is supplied with sufficient training and equipment, his security forces could stabilize Iraq enough to allow withdrawal of U.S. forces to begin in three to six months - a period in which Bush's proposed troop buildup would still be under way. And he said that if U.S. training and supplies had come earlier, lives could have been saved.

"I think that within three to six months our need for the American troops will dramatically go down," al-Maliki said. "That's on the condition that there are real strong efforts to support our military forces."

The joint U.S.-Iraq security plan involves sending 21,500 more American troops to Iraq, and between 8,000 and 10,000 more Iraqi forces to the capital, in an effort to quell the civil war between Sunnis and Shiites that on average kills more than 100 people every day.

U.S. officials have said that military operations should go hand-in-hand with a continued effort at political reconciliation between warring Shiites and Sunnis.

Al-Maliki said that Iraqi security forces this week had detained 400 Shiite militiamen affiliated with al-Sadr, a radical Shiite cleric whose followers constitute part of al-Maliki's political base. He offered no further details.

Also yesterday, a young American woman in Iraq as an employee of a U.S. nonprofit organization to help strengthen the nation's young government was among four people killed in a roadside ambush on her vehicle convoy.

The woman, whose name was being withheld pending notification of family members, worked for the National Democratic Institute, a Washington-based organization that advises political parties around the world.

Les Campbell, the head of NDI's Middle East and North Africa work, said the three other people killed - a Hungarian, a Croat and an Iraqi - were security personnel for the private security firm Unity Resource Group. Two other security guards were injured in the attack, one seriously, Campbell said.

Campbell characterized the attack as an ambush that occurred as the NDI employee was leaving a morning training seminar she had conducted for Iraqi political parties. The ambush in the Yarmuk neighborhood led to an extended gunfight between the attackers and the security personnel, a skirmish that included grenades thrown by the insurgents.

The attack came on a day when car bombs in Baghdad and northern Iraq killed at least 27 people.

In the deadliest blast, a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-packed car into a busy market in the capital's mostly Shiite Muslim enclave of Sadr City, the stronghold of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia. At least 17 were killed and 45 injured in the blast, including a family of four in a passing car.

A truck bomb targeting a police station in the contested, oil-rich city of Kirkuk killed at least 10 Iraqis and injured 42.

Louise Roug and Borzou Daragahi write for the Los Angeles Times.

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