President Bush and his top advisers, after nine days of unrelenting criticism from Congress, are warning the Iraqi government that continuing...
WASHINGTON — President Bush and his top advisers, after nine days of unrelenting criticism from Congress, are warning the Iraqi government that continuing funding for a U.S. troop increase and other elements of Bush’s new Iraq strategy will be contingent on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s delivery on promises to quell violence, senior administration officials said.
The warning is coming despite Bush’s declaration last weekend that he had the sole authority to carry out the strategy. Now, administration officials, who have avoided declaring outright that the U.S. commitment in Iraq would be cut back if al-Maliki fails, are using the hostility of most Democrats and the skepticism of many Republicans as a way to underscore to al-Maliki that the plan represents a last chance for him.
In recent days, however, as Bush’s plan has come under attack in both houses of Congress, White House officials are trying to head off both a vote condemning Bush’s approach and a longer-term effort to restrict money or limit the number of troops that can be sent.
Some members of the administration are already discussing what one called “Plan C,” even as the administration publicly expresses support for al-Maliki. Some senior officials are discussing alternative leadership for the Iraqi government, including throwing U.S. support behind another Shiite leader, Adel Abdul Mahdi. Mahdi is the deputy to Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of an Iranian-backed party. Mahdi has long been a favorite of the White House to take the top job; he lost out when the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr endorsed al-Maliki in a vote within the Shiite coalition.
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Administration officials maintain that there is no U.S. plan to encourage a removal of al-Maliki from power, and several senior officials said that if al-Maliki does not follow through on his promise to deploy Iraqi army and police in Baghdad to quell sectarian violence, the Iraqis themselves will replace him.
Some in the administration complain that backing a member of al-Hakim’s party would quickly give Iran influence over the Iraqi government.
The conflicting signals here reflect doubt within the administration that al-Maliki will actually prove either willing or able to crack down on Shiite militia groups, which make up a large percentage of his support base.