Iraqi PM 'Not America's Man In Iraq'

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, speaks to the media at a press conference Wednesday Oct. 25, 2006 in the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad, Iraq. U.S. and Iraqi forces on Wednesday raided Sadr City, the stronghold of the Shiite militia led by radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki disavowed the operation, saying he had not been consulted and insisting "that it will not be repeated." AP Photo/Wathiq Khuzaie

President George W. Bush on Saturday reaffirmed his support for Iraq's prime minister, telling Nouri al-Maliki that he is not "America's man in Iraq" but a sovereign leader whom the U.S. is aiding.

His comments come after the embattled Iraqi Prime Minister ratcheted up his high-stakes and increasingly bitter dispute with the Bush administration, telling the U.S. ambassador that he was Washington's friend but "not America's man in Iraq," aides said on Saturday.

In a statement after a 50-minute video conference, Bush and al-Maliki played down tensions over a U.S. plan for benchmarks toward reducing the violence. The two leaders said they were "committed to the partnership" and would work "in every way possible for a stable, democratic Iraq and for victory in the war on terror."

They outlined three goals: speeding up the training of Iraq's security forces; moving ahead with Iraqi control of its forces; and making the Iraqi government responsible for the country's security.

The Shiite leader had issued the declaration in a meeting Friday with Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, after which the two issued a rare joint statement declaring the need to work together to set timelines to clamp off spiraling violence attributed to Shiite militias and death squads.

"I am a friend of the United States, but I am not America's man in Iraq," Hassan al-Sneid, a close al-Maliki aide quoted him as telling Khalilzad during the meeting.

The insider's account of the session was in sharp contrast to the joint al-Maliki-Khalilzad statement that was issued both by the American Embassy and al-Maliki's office late Friday night.

Al-Sneid said the prime minister demanded that his government be treated as an elected administration which enjoys international legitimacy and that U.S. forces in Iraq must coordinate better with his government.

The joint statement, however, appeared to signal that al-Maliki was backing down from his highly publicized squabble with the Bush administration and dropping his objections to a timeline proposed by Washington for bringing security to his war-ravaged nation.

The statement said the Iraqi leader reaffirmed his commitment to a "good and strong" relationship with the U.S., in what appeared to be an attempt to bring down the curtain down on a week of recriminations. The dispute has further tarnished President George W. Bush's bid to promote policy "adjustments" in Iraq with less than two weeks left before U.S. midterm congressional elections.

The vote has become a referendum on Bush policy in Iraq as U.S. deaths topped 2,800 and the war dragged into its 44th month.

The relative five-day calm in Baghdad in the five days since the end of the holy month of Ramadan ceded ground Saturday to a fresh outbreak of bloodletting.

One person was killed and 35 wounded when a rocket slammed into an outdoor market in Baghdad's turbulent southern neighborhood of Dora, according to police Lt. Mohammed al-Baghdadi. A second person was killed and nine wounded when a bomb went off in a minibus in an eastern Baghdad district, police Lt. Ali Hussein said.

In Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, police said they had found two bodies of apparent sectarian violence in the city's central al-Mu'allimeen district. A third body was pulled from the Diyala river earlier Saturday.

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

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