NEW YORK (Reuters) – US President George W. Bush told Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki on Tuesday that his government must do more to help advance national reconciliation.
Meeting Maliki on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly session, Bush pressed the Iraqi leader on getting parliament to pass laws aimed at healing bitter sectarian divisions more than four years after a US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein.
“We spent time talking about reconciliation in law,” Bush told reporters while seated next to Maliki with top US and Iraqi officials in the room. “And the prime minister and speaker are dedicated to getting good law out of the assembly. And the political parties in Iraq must understand the importance of getting these laws passed,” Bush said.
“We have made it very clear and emphasised that the future of Iraq goes through the gates of national reconciliations, of political agreements,” Maliki said through a translator.
The meeting came after a deadly shooting involving Blackwater contractors who provide security for the US embassy in Baghdad. But neither Bush nor Maliki responded to a shouted question about whether Blackwater was discussed.
Iraq’s interior ministry has finished draft legislation that would end legal immunity for private security contractors in the wake of the September 16 shooting in which 11 people were killed while Blackwater was escorting a US embassy convoy through Baghdad.
Maliki had called the shooting a crime and vowed to freeze the work of Blackwater and prosecute its staff.
But Iraq has since appeared to soften its stand. Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh said that Maliki had “raised the issue of respecting the sovereignty of Iraq. Whether they are from troops or whether they are from any organisations working in Iraq, they should respect the sovereignty of Iraq.”
Another issue related to sovereignty was the arrest of people visiting Iraq, including Iranians and Iraqis, Dabbagh said. “This should be achieved jointly and can’t be one-sided action,” he said.
White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley said there was a general discussion of the recognition of Iraqi sovereignty and after the formal meeting with Bush, Maliki and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed Blackwater.”
The United States and Iraq are going together to look at this incident and related incidents,” Hadley said.
Bush reiterated that pulling out US troops from Iraq would depend on the success of the mission there.
“I have made it clear to the American people that our troop levels will depend upon success,” Bush said. “You sit in a vital region and when you succeed, which I’m confident you will, it will send a message to others, people who believe in peace,” he told Maliki.