WASHINGTON – Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean on Wednesday called Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki an "anti-Semite" and criticized President Bush for inviting the newly-elected leader of Iraq to the United States.
"The president made a big deal about bringing the Iraqi prime minister to address Congress and met with him yesterday. The Iraqi prime minister is an anti-Semite. We don't need to spend $200 and $300 and $500 billion dollars bringing democracy to Iraq to turn it over to people who believe Israel doesn't have the right to defend itself and to refuse to condemn Hezbollah," Dean told the Democratic Professionals Forum in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Dean's comments ramped up three days of complaints that seemed to be dying down after al-Maliki's address to a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday. The prime minister, invited to speak to the body by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, tried to build fading support for the ongoing U.S. military commitment in Iraq. His speech came during his first trip to Washington since becoming prime minister two months ago.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Dean's comments went beyond the pale.
"Frankly, I've been in politics some 40 years and I've met a lot of politicians, and I think those of you who have followed me know I don't get into a lot of partisanship. But I dismiss Howard Dean. He's a disappointment, I think, even to some Democrats," Warner said.
"These are tough times and it requires tough talk and also honest appraisal of situations, and I think the Maliki visit points out problems that need to be faced in the future, immediate future," he continued. "But I come back time and time again, what is the alternative if we were to not continue to support the Iraqi people in achieving their measure of democracy and freedom? What signal would then be sent into that area of the world? ... That signal would certainly benefit the terrorists if we were to, in any way, become less than fully committed to work this out."
Al-Maliki's appearance had been protested by several congressional Democrats who said the prime minister's recent remarks about "Israeli aggression" demonstrated that he is out of sync with U.S. foreign policy goals. About a dozen Democratic lawmakers from the House and Senate boycotted the speech, citing al-Maliki's refusal to condemn the terror group that is currently fighting Israel in southern Lebanon.
"We understand that the prime minister has to say political things, but the long-term here is that if you mollycoddle terrorists, you give them license to continue," said Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y. "Hezbollah's function is to destroy and eliminate the state of Israel. They and their ilk would then have as their goal the destruction of all secular society throughout the region. And that is not the hand he should be strengthening long-term."
Sens. Charles Schumer of New York and Barbara Boxer of California also did not attend, demonstrating their disapproval of al-Maliki's remarks on the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and his ongoing reliance on U.S. soldiers to quell a simmering internal war in Iraq.
"Maliki did not denounce Hezbollah, a terrorist organization or repudiate amnesty for Iraqis who killed Americans soldiers. Therefore, I won't be attending,” Schumer said.
"I am not ready to honor Prime Minister al-Maliki in the chamber of the House of Representatives until I have some very serious questions answered by him," Boxer said in a statement. "When will he be able to take over the security of his own country so that American soldiers may leave?
Al-Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, was quoted in The New York Times and other publications last week as saying Israel was the aggressor in the Mideast conflict with Hezbollah, the Iranian- and Syrian-backed terror group that has been launching rockets from southern Lebanon. The ongoing conflict began two weeks ago when Hezbollah terrorists crossed the northern Israeli border, kidnapped two soldiers and killed three others.
"The Israeli attacks and airstrikes are completely destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure,” al-Maliki is quoted as saying during a news conference in Baghdad. “I condemn these aggressions and call on the Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting in Cairo to take quick action to stop these aggressions. We call on the world to take quick stands to stop the Israeli aggression.”
During breakfast with congressional leaders Wednesday, al-Maliki said he didn’t support any terrorist group. He repeated that statement during his speech.
But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaking after the address, said he asked al-Maliki directly if he believes Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, and the prime minister wouldn't respond, and furthermore, questioned Durbin's right to ask him the question.
"I said, you raised criticism of Israel in this conflict, I think it is logical, it is reasonable to ask him what is your impression of their enemy in this struggle, Hezbollah. He still refused to reply to that," Durbin said.
Durbin also brought up comments by Iraqi Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, who was quoted last week saying that Jews are to blame for all of Iraq's problems.
Durbin said Mashhadani said "outrageous things, not only about Israel and Jewish people, but even about America.
"To have a leader in the government so critical of the United States, which has given so much in defense of democracy in Iraq, is troubling," he added.
"We kept pressing and he kept sidestepping," Ackerman said of the breakfast. "He refused to say the things we needed him to say."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also said she was not satisfied with al-Maliki's response to questions about his support for Hezbollah.
"During his address, Prime Minister Maliki spoke with conviction about 'the terrorists who are falsely claiming to be speaking for Islam and Muslims.' He missed an opportunity to single out groups fitting that description, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and condemn their activities. If defeating terrorism is indeed the duty of all of us, as the prime minister proclaimed, the road to victory starts with identifying the enemy," Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.
Crediting al-Maliki for his "personal courage and obvious commitment" to improving the lives of Iraqis, Pelosi added that he seems in denial about the gravity of the conflict in Iraq.
"For the most part, the violence is perpetrated by Iraqis against Iraqis. That is the reality and it is hard to find a reason for optimism in it," she said.
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FOX News' Trish Turner and Molly Hooper contributed to this report.