Maliki Assures Bush on Iraqi Force's Readiness
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
President Bush and Iraq's prime minister agreed today that it's time to speed up the transfer of security operations to the Iraqi government. Mr. Bush met with Nouri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan and he insisted that their statements are not a sign that U.S. forces are ready to begin leaving Iraq.
NPR's David Greene sent this report from Amman.
DAVID GREENE: After meeting and sitting down for breakfast, President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki came out to speak to reporters at the hotel where the president had spent the night. The scene was a bit chaotic at times. Reporters were shouting questions, and it was often Mr. Bush trying to control things.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: You're firing at all sides here, so to speak, you know. Which one, Mr. Prime Minister, would you mind calling on one of your press corps, please?
Prime Minister NOURI Al-MALIKI (Iraq): (Speaking foreign language)
President BUSH: This guy?
GREENE: Through much of the session, Maliki stood quietly behind his lectern as President Bush heaped praise at him.
President BUSH: He's the right guy for Iraq. And we're going to help him.
GREENE: Mr. Bush said he's pleased Maliki wants to take more control in Iraq and the White House is planning soon to transfer control of ten Iraqi army divisions from U.S. to Iraqi command. If Maliki is eager for more responsibility, the president said it's a good time.
President BUSH: As opposed to saying America, you go solve the problem, we have a prime minister who's saying stop holding me back. I want to solve the problem. And the meeting today was to accelerate his capacity to do so.
GREENE: But Mr. Bush downplayed talk in Washington about U.S. forces leaving soon. As he put it, reports of a graceful exit sometime soon are wrong. He and the prime minister also insisted that partitioning Iraq is not the best way to deal with the sectarian violence that's raging.
But what is the best way to address that violence, and how soon Maliki should be able to bring a sense of stability to Iraq were questions left largely unanswered.
Unidentified Woman: Time limit on meeting goals.
President BUSH: A time limit.
Unidentified Woman: Is there a time limit on meeting goals.
President BUSH: As soon as possible. But I'm realistic. Because I understand how tough it is inside of Iraq. The prime minister's dealing with sectarian violence. The prime minister's having to deal with al-Qaida. The prime minister having to deal with criminal elements.
GREENE: And he's dealing with a powerful Shiite cleric named Moqtada al-Sadr, who runs the powerful Mahdi militia in Baghdad. Sadr also has loyalists in Maliki's government who left their jobs this week to boycott Maliki's meeting with President Bush. Both the president and prime minister were asked what can be done to reduce Sadr's influence. Mr. Bush brushed the question aside.
President BUSH: I will let the prime minister talk about his relations with al-Sadr.
GREENE: But Maliki didn't elaborate, either. He said through an English translator that anyone in Iraq who breaks laws should be dealt with. But he said rather than singling out individual groups within his government, he preferred to talk about unity.
Prime Minster AL-MALIKI: (Through Translator) Mr. Sadr and the Sadrists are just one component that participate in the parliament or in the government, and 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.
GREENE: The meetings here in Amman were shorter than expected. Mr. Bush and Maliki were scheduled to hold talks last night along with Jordan's King Abdullah. Maliki backed out, though. The White House insisted he wasn't snubbing the president even though a classified White House memo had surfaced criticizing Maliki's leadership. The prime minister was asked to clear up why the meeting was called off. All he would say though is that it was simply part of his agenda. He added there is no problem.
David Greene, NPR News. Amman, Jordan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.