US politicians unite on anger over Maliki

Iraq’s government faces mounting criticism from across the US political spectrum for its failure to broker compromises necessary to help stabilise the war-torn country.

Longstanding US frustration with the government of Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, erupted after the White House admitted last week that political progress in the country was unsatisfactory.

While Republicans and Democrats remain divided over the best way forward, both parties are increasingly united in their disapproval of the Maliki government.

“I don’t think there’s any debate in the Senate about disappointment with the Iraqi government. It’s pretty uniform,” Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, told CNN.

Politicians from both parties have accused the Iraqi government of squandering the sacrifices made by US troops to end tyranny and establish democracy.

Plans by the Iraqi parliament to go into recess for the whole of August – while US troops continue fighting – has deepened ill feeling.

At a campaign rally in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton, frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, questioned whether the US wanted freedom and stability for Iraq “more than the Iraqis want it for themselves”.

“We have given them their opportunity,” she said. “They cannot expect to have any more of our aid unless they begin to do what they must do to take care of themselves.”

John Edwards, another Democratic presidential candidate, condemned Mr Maliki as a “weak leader”.

An interim US progress report on the war last week declared that Iraq was failing to make satisfactory progress towards a series of political goals, including a law to ensure fair distribution of oil revenues among rival factions.

Democrats have seized on political failures in Baghdad to bolster their push for US withdrawal, with a growing number of Republicans joining calls for a change of strategy.

Two senior Republican senators introduced legislation on Friday that would force President George W. Bush to start planning phased redeployment of US forces from Iraq.

The measure, proposed by John Warner and Richard Lugar, aims to push the White House towards gradual withdrawal while resisting Democratic demands for an immediate pull-out.

“The optimal outcome in Iraq of a unified, pluralist, democratic government that is able to police itself, protect its borders, and achieve economic development is not likely to be achieved in the near future,” said the Warner-Lugar proposal.

“American military and diplomatic strategy in Iraq must adjust to the reality that sectarian factionalism is not likely to abate any time soon, and probably cannot be controlled from the top.”

Mr Warner and Mr Lugar are two of the most influential Republican voices on foreign policy and defence issues, making it possible their proposal could attract significant support from a war-weary party.

Mr Bush has appealed for Congress to withhold judgment on his strategy until September, when the Pentagon is scheduled to deliver a more comprehensive progress report.

In his weekly radio address on Saturday, Mr Bush pointed to signs that this year’s US troop build-up was beginning to increase security. “Our strategy is built on the premise that progress on security will pave the way for political progress,” he said.

But with Iraqi lawmakers on vacation in August, the chances of a political breakthrough before September appear slim.

Tony Snow, White House press secretary, defended the parliament’s month-long break, pointing out that August temperatures in Baghdad can reach 54°C. Critics noted that US troops would have no such respite from the savage heat.

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