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US Commander Calls Political Interference in Iraqi Army 'Disturbing'


The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East has expressed concern about a new Iraqi government office that has been accused of interfering in the operations of the Iraqi military, as it tries to implement the Baghdad security plan. Admiral William Fallon spoke in Washington Thursday to the Senate's Armed Services Committee. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Admiral Fallon says the integrity of the Iraqi army chain of command is important for the military's effectiveness, and also to the effort to build confidence among the Iraqi people.

He responded to a senator's question about reports that a new office in the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government has fired some military officers who have been effective in fighting Shiite militias.

"The reports that this Office of the Commander in Chief is in fact working behind the scenes to set up a parallel organization to the Ministry of Defense is disturbing." he said.

Admiral Fallon says he and other senior U.S. officials are making their concerns known to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"It's our intent to make clear to the prime minister that this kind of an operation would be severely degrading to any attempt to move forward," he said.

Fallon said the security plan and the U.S. troop surge are having an impact, and that improved security is important to enable Iraqi leaders to take difficult steps toward reconciliation.

He said those steps, such as oil revenue sharing and easing de-Baathification, are essential to convince Iraqi Sunnis to support the government, not al-Qaida terrorists, who have carried out a series of dramatic bombings in recent weeks resulting in hundreds of deaths.

"The Shia have not responded in a major retaliatory way to these big attacks," said Admiral Fallon. "We literally hold our breath. I think one of the reasons is the prime minister, in his leadership, trying to keep this tamped down."

"We need to convince him that taking steps to give some sense of inclusion to the Sunnis so they will then lessen their support, passive or otherwise, for al-Qaida would be the biggest and most important thing that could happen in the political realm in this country," he continued.

Admiral Fallon also said the al-Qaida attacks provide justification for some Shiite factions in the government to refuse to compromise with Sunni groups, and to maintain their militias in case sectarian violence gets worse.

He says he has also encouraged Sunni leaders in other Middle Eastern countries to support Iraq's Shiite-led government and promote Iraqi reconciliation through efforts like the international conference that is underway in Egypt.

Admiral Fallon acknowledged that the Iraqi government is behind in implementing the reconciliation timeline it set for itself last year. But the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democrat Carl Levin, criticized the admiral for not being tough enough on the Iraqi government about missing its own goals.

"If you are unable to tell them that they haven't met their previous commitments, and that's what you're so reluctant to say, your message is hollow, I believe, unless you can at least state the historic facts, as well as what they need to do, and I believe on top of that there will be consequences if they don't in terms of our response and our behavior," he said.

Admiral Fallon said it is important to be balanced in comments to Iraqi leaders, and that they understand time is short and there will be consequences if they do not do what is necessary to reduce the motivations and capabilities of people involved in the violence.