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White House Says No Friction With Iraqi PM Maliki


The White House is dismissing reports of friction between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and U.S. President George Bush. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, the Bush administration says the two men are united on the way forward in Iraq.

The latest indication of tension between the two leaders stems from a television interview President Bush had earlier this week in which he criticized the Iraqi government's handling of the execution of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Bush said it "looked like it was kind of revenge." Prime Minister Maliki responded that Saddam had been treated with greater respect than the former leader himself had treated his opponents.

While recognizing that the two men disagree on that issue, White House Spokesman Tony Snow says it is no indication that there are broader differences over what the president says is a new way forward in Iraq.

The prime minister also responded sharply to comments from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that his government is on "borrowed time", saying such statements boost the morale of terrorists and make them believe they have defeated the Bush Administration.

Snow says reporters are making too much of the prime minister's comments, which he suggests are based in part on domestic Iraqi politics.

"He also has political considerations of his own that he has to deal with," he said. "He is not in a fight with us. And that is the important thing to realize. If you talk about the operational level, it is not a fight."

Prime Minister Maliki says that if Washington had sent more U.S. troops sooner and spent more money on training the Iraqi army, there would have been fewer Iraqi and American deaths.

President Bush is sending more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq. Snow says the president agrees there should be more training for Iraqi forces and does not believe the prime minister's comments reflect any weakening of his support for the way forward.

"If you look procedurally at what he is discussing in terms of troops and in terms of the way forward, I think he is on board. I don't think that there is any distance when it comes to key issues: when it comes to political reconciliation, building capacity within the security forces, going after those who are threatening society," he said.

A public opinion poll by the Los Angeles Times says nearly two thirds of Americans disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the war in Iraq, and a majority believe sending more troops there is a mistake.

Snow says most Americans do not understand the entirety of the president's plans for Iraq.

"What Americans have said is, 'We want signs that these guys are serious.' There are signs now," he said. "And we expect people to keep an eye on it and we certainly are going to be interested in reporting developments as we see them both ways."

President Bush will again seek to rally public support for the war in next Tuesday's State of the Union address.

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