It’s been interesting to observe the back-and-forth between Condi Rice and Pony Blow over just what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said last Thursday.
You may recall that Maliki put the ball in play by describing the Haditha killings as “a horrible crime” that was part of a wider patter of behavior by US forces in Iraq.
This is a phenomenon that has become common among many of the multinational forces. No respect for citizens, smashing civilian cars and killing on a suspicion or a hunch. It’s unacceptable.
On Friday Pony Blow assured us that Maliki had spoken to both Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey and explained that he had been misquoted, although Blow had no knowledge of what the Prime Minister had said or meant to say.
Q And also can you — have you been able to get any kind of readout on what the Prime Minister said yesterday about —
MR. SNOW: Yes. As a matter of fact, I just — I spoke just a couple of minutes with Ambassador Khalilzad, who, today with General Casey, went over and spoke with the Prime Minister. And according to the Ambassador, the Prime Minister says he was misquoted.
Then on Sunday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that Maliki had been quoted accurately, but that he was playing up the issue for domestic politics.
WALLACE: Finally, Haditha. This week, new Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki said the killing of Iraqi civilians in that town is not an isolated event.
I want to put up what he said. This is a phenomenon that has become common among many of the multinational forces. No respect for citizens, smashing civilian cars and killing on a suspicion or a hunch. It’s unacceptable.
Secretary Rice, is the prime minister right?
RICE: The prime minister is speaking to the concerns of the Iraqi people for greater security, and he obviously is concerned about reports that concern us as well. The president made very clear that these reports are deeply troubling.
WALLACE: What do you think of his very broad indictment of U.S. troops? He said that this is common, killing on a suspicion or a hunch. What do you think of his broad criticism of the role of U.S. troops who, after all, liberated his country?
RICE: Well, first of all, this was in a much longer set of comments. And I know now Prime Minister Maliki. I know what he thinks of the importance of American forces there.
Iraqis have told me themselves that there are neighborhoods in which people will not open the door for the Iraqi police, which is why they need a good ministry of interior, but they will for coalition forces.
We have had some bad incidents and there continue to be allegations of others which will be investigated. But overwhelmingly, American forces there putting their lives on the line every day, protecting Iraqis, helping to liberate them — that is appreciated by the Iraqi people and by the prime minister.
Finally, yesterday Pony Blow claimed that Rice did not know what she was talking about.
Also — oh, yes, I speculated about whether Condoleezza Rice or anybody here had spoken with Prime Minister Maliki, and the answer is, no, the people on the ground, Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey, have spoken with him.
Your serve, Condi.