|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Appearing together in solidarity, Republican John McCain and Iraq’s president said yesterday that the war-ravaged country is making significant but fragile progress.
The GOP presidential nominee-in-waiting expressed confidence about prospects for the two countries completing a complex agreement that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq after a U.N. mandate expires at year’s end. And Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said an American military presence still was needed.
“I, of course, am encouraged. We both agree that the progress has been significant but the progress is also fragile. And there’s a lot of work that needs to be done,” McCain said at the end of a private meeting with Talabani.
Senior Iraqi government officials said Saturday that a U.S. Special Forces counterterrorism unit conducted the raid that reportedly killed a relative of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, touching off a high-stakes diplomatic crisis between the United States and Iraq.
U.S. military officials in Baghdad had no comment for the second day in a row, an unusual position for a command that typically releases information on combat operations within 24 hours.
The raid occurred at dawn Friday in the town of Janaja near Maliki's birthplace in the southern, mostly Shiite Muslim province of Karbala. Ali Abdulhussein Razak al Maliki, who was killed in the raid, was related to the prime minister and had close ties to his personal security detail, according to authorities in Karbala.
The incident puts an added strain on U.S.-Iraqi negotiations to draft a Status of Forces Agreement, a long-term security pact that will govern the conduct of U.S. forces in Iraq. Members of the Iraqi government and security forces said the raid only deepened their reluctance to sign any agreement that did not leave Iraqis with the biggest say on when and how combat operations are conducted.
The U.S. military handed Iraqi forces control of Karbala security in October 2007. By the end of 2007 the U.S. military had transferred nine of the country's 18 provinces to Iraqi control.
"We are afraid now of signing the long-term pact between Iraq and America because of such unjustified violations by the troops. Handing over security in provinces doesn't mean anything to the American troops," said Mohamed Hussein al Musawi, a senior Najaf-based member of the prime minister's Dawa Party. "We condemn these barbaric actions not only when they target a relative of Maliki's, but when any Iraqi is targeted in the same way."
As Congress gears up to debate the Bush administration's latest request for an additional $108 billion in war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan, Iraqis are fuming at suggestions being floated by lawmakers that Baghdad should start paying a share of the war's costs by providing cheap fuel to the U.S. military.
"America has hardly even begun to repay its debt to Iraq," said Abdul Basit, the head of Iraq's Supreme Board of Audit, an independent body that oversees Iraqi government spending. "This is an immoral request because we didn't ask them to come to Iraq, and before they came in 2003 we didn't have all these needs."