Al-Maliki Blames Strengthened Insurgency on U.S. Refusal to Provide More Equipment, Arms to Iraqis

Published January 18, 2007

| Associated Press

Iraq's prime minister said security forces would have better control over their country if the United States had equipped them with more — and better — weapons, speaking during an interview in which he was deeply critical of Washington, an Italian daily reported Thursday.

In comments on U.S. President George W. Bush's revised strategy for the country, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also told Milan-based Corriere della Sera that the situation in Iraq would not be so dire if the Americans had moved faster .

"The situation would be much better if the United States had immediately sent our security forces more adequate weapons and equipment. If they had committed themselves more and with greater speed we would have had a lot fewer deaths among Iraqi civilians and American soldiers," al-Maliki was quoted as saying by Corriere.

But in Baghdad, an Iraqi government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, denied that al-Maliki made the comments to Corriere. "The news circulated by the media about the Iraqi prime minister's declaration regarding relations with American administration are baseless."

The newspaper stood by its reporting Thursday. Paolo Lepri, Corriere's foreign editor, said the interview had been taped.

According to Corriere, the Iraqi leader stopped short of openly criticizing Bush's plan to send 21,500 more American troops to join the estimated 130,000 already in Iraq.

"We have to see how the situation in the field will go," he told the newspaper. "We cannot rule out that the situation will drastically improve, allowing U.S. troops to leave the country in great numbers in three to six months."

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Al-Maliki was deeply critical of the Bush administration during the interview, and Corriere quoted the Iraqi leader as saying Bush had capitulated to domestic pressure when he criticized the hanging of former leader Saddam Hussein.

"It seems to me that Bush is capitulating under the weight of internal pressure; he is overwhelmed by the media and by the politicians. Maybe he has lost control of the situation," he said.

On Tuesday, Bush said Saddam's execution looked like "kind of a revenge killing" and said it showed that al-Maliki's government "has still got some maturation to do."

Al-Maliki reiterated that Saddam's trial and execution had been carried out according to Iraqi law and Islamic rules, and "had nothing to do with sectarian vendettas." Still, he acknowledged that mistakes had been made during Saddam's hanging, and said he had ordered those who shouted slogans against the former president to stand trial.

The Dec. 30 hanging of Saddam raised widespread criticism when video showed his executioners taunting him on the gallows and shouting Shiite slogans. The gruesome decapitation of Saddam's half brother during his execution Monday prompted more international condemnation.

Barzan Ibrahim plunged through the trap door and was beheaded by the jerk of the thick rope at the end of his fall; the Iraqi government said the decapitation was an accident.

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