Bush, Iraq’s Maliki To Speed Transfer of Security to Iraqis

By David Shelby
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington –- President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, after their November 30 meeting in Amman, Jordan, pledged to accelerate the transfer of security responsibilities from the U.S.-led coalition forces to the Iraqi government.

“My plan, and his plan, is to accelerate the Iraqis' responsibility,” Bush told reporters following the meeting.  “See, here's a man who has been elected by the people; the people expect him to respond, and he doesn't have the capacity to respond.  And so we want to accelerate that capacity.  We want him to be in the lead in taking the fight against the enemies of his own country.”

As part of their meeting, the two leaders heard a report from the Joint Committee for Accelerating the Transition of Security to Iraqis.  The five-member committee, which includes the Iraqi national security adviser, the minister of defense, the minister of the interior, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the commander of the coalition forces, has been working for the past six weeks to assess the Iraqi Ministry of Defense’s capability to assume full command and control of the Iraqi army’s 10 divisions.

A senior U.S. official speaking on background explained that the transfer of responsibility is not a simple matter because it requires the ability to train and equip troops as well as to manage complex logistics and intelligence support for military operations.

“It is a matter of developing capabilities that allow the Iraqis to take on very complicated and high-stakes problems on their own.  And so, again, transitioning is sort of the thing you do once you've developed a lot of those capabilities,” he said.

Bush expressed confidence in Maliki’s leadership and welcomed the prime minister’s desire to assume greater authority over Iraq’s security forces.

“A sign of leadership is for somebody to say, I want to be able to have the tools necessary to protect my people,” Bush said.  “One of his frustrations with me is that he believes we've been slow about giving him the tools necessary to protect the Iraqi people.  And today we had a meeting that will accelerate the capacity for the prime minister to do the hard work necessary to help stop this violence.”

Maliki pledged that his government would take the necessary steps to confront the forces seeking to destabilize his country.

“[T]he steel strength of the national unity government would help us face all those who are breaking the law, or those who are trying to take down democracy in Iraq, or those who are conspiring and trying to have coups or basically bring down the national unity government,” he said.

In an apparent reference to Shiite cleric and Mahdi militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters suspended participation in the government because of Maliki’s meeting with Bush, the prime minister said that those participating in the government have a responsibility to protect the political process.

“I think participating in the government is a responsibility and it's a mutual commitment, and those who participate in this government need to bear responsibilities.  And foremost upon those responsibilities is the protection of this government, the protection of the constitution, the protection of the law, not breaking the law,” he said.

The two leaders spoke about the need to confront sectarian militias in an effort to establish the rule of law in Iraq.  The U.S. official, who attended the meeting between the two leaders, said Maliki called this “a fundamental tenet of his government.”  The official said the prime minister expressed confidence in his ability to deal with the militias through a combination of political, economic and security measures.

Maliki also welcomed dialogue with neighboring countries to build “strong relationships based on mutual respect and staying away from everybody's internal business.”

The United States has accused Iran and Syria of interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs, and Bush reiterated his opposition to engaging in direct talks with Iran until Tehran complies with U.N. Security Council demands regarding its nuclear program. (See related article.)

A transcript of the press conference and the full text of the leaders’ joint statement are available on the White House Web site.