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Leaks, Summit Reveal Strains Over Iraq

Prepared by: Lionel Beehner
Updated: November 30, 2006

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President Bush met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan, after a turbulent chain of events that began with the leaking of a memo by National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley questioning Maliki’s capacity to control sectarian violence in Iraq. The memo, along with revelations that Iraqi officials loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr suspended their participation in the prime minister's government, may have affected Maliki's decision to skip an earlier meeting (Reuters) with President Bush. The move by the Sadr bloc also indicates the Shiite cleric's anger over Maliki's meeting with Bush, as well as the power and influence Sadr continues to wield over the Iraqi prime minister. Maliki, however, in his press conference with Bush emphasized that "Mr. Sadr and the Sadrists are just one component that participate in the parliament or in the government." He also announced that Iraqi forces would be fully ready to take over security by June 2007 (USAToday), which could accelerate timelines for a U.S. withdrawal. Bush, despite the uneasiness in the air, reaffirmed his faith in the embattled Iraqi leader.

The summit comes in advance of a bipartisan panel report, to be formally released December 6, which, according to the New York Times, includes a recommendation for the United States to pull back fifteen combat brigades but does not set a firm date for withdrawal. Meanwhile, a Pentagon report leaked in advance of the panel's review reveals a plan that entails three options: a short-term increase in U.S. forces, a long-term plan to cut the U.S. presence there with a commitment to training and advising Iraqi forces instead of combat missions, or a swift withdrawal of U.S. soldiers. President Bush dismissed calls for the third option. But insiders tell the Washington Post the Pentagon may undertake a hybrid of the first two plans: a short-term buildup of U.S. forces from the current level of about 140,000 followed by a phased redeployment to perhaps 60,000 U.S. troops. One Defense Department official likened the strategy to Michael’s Jackson’s moonwalk, whereby the singer appears to be moving forward while actually sliding backward.

The leaked reports and summit in Amman coincide with calls by some prominent Americans, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell (AP), to call the conflict in Iraq a "civil war," instead of "sectarian violence." Several major media outlets also announced they would switch to this term in their coverage of Iraq.

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