US-Iran in Tug-of-War Over Iraq, Analyst Says

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - The United States and Iran are engaged in a tug-of-war over Iraq, even as Iraq tries to assert its independence, a Middle East expert said here on Thursday.

The analyst spoke as President Bush wrapped up a delayed meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan.

Maliki cancelled his scheduled meeting with Bush on Wednesday after Maliki's key Shiite supporters walked out of his government in protest. The Shiite politicians -- all loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr -- are furious that Maliki agreed to meet with Bush.

Dr. Mordechai Kedar from the BESA Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv said Iraq is being "torn" between a Western coalition led by President Bush and an Iranian coalition led by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

Earlier this week, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with Ahmadinejad, whose coalition includes Syria, Hizballah and Hamas.

Now Maliki is meeting with Bush, whose coalition includes Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Kedar said.

"These meetings are very meaningful. Each side wants to show that his coalition is strong and functioning. Whoever meets with the Iraqi leaders is trying to persuade them to join his camp," Kedar told Cybercast News Service.

The fact that Maliki abruptly canceled his Wednesday meetings with Bush (a move that some U.S. press reports described as a snub) was intended to assert Iraq's independence, Kedar said.

"He wants to show Bush that [Iraq] is not in America's pocket. He wants America to start sweating. He's showing he is an independent power, and he's hinting that America had better come up with some inducements," Kedar added.

Maliki indicated on Thursday that his country was open to working with Iran and Syria in an attempt to quell violence in his country.

"We are ready to cooperate with everybody who believes in the need to cooperate with the national unity government, especially our neighbors," Maliki said. He also said that "Iraq is for Iraqis and its borders will be sound."

Bush said on Thursday that Maliki believes the U.S. has been "slow about giving him the tools necessary to protect the Iraqi people." Bush said Thursday's meeting should help "accelerate the capacity for the prime minister to help stop this violence."

Bush said he and Maliki agreed that partitioning Iraq was not an option and would only lead to "an increase in sectarian violence." (Some, including prominent American Democrats, have suggested dividing the country into separate Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish states.)

Despite pressure from Americans to bring U.S. troops home, President Bush said U.S. forces will stay in Iraq "until the job is complete, at the request of a sovereign government elected by the people."

The U.S. has almost 140,000 troops in Iraq. Bush said although he wants to withdraw them "as soon as possible," he is a "realist" and understands "how tough it is inside of Iraq."

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