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U.S. official admits "arrogance" in Iraq

Claudia Parsons / Reuters | October 22 2006

The United States has shown "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq, a senior U.S. diplomat said in an interview aired on Sunday, after President Bush said he was flexible on tactics, if not strategy.

U.S. military deaths in Iraq in October reached 78 this weekend, making it the most deadly month for Americans this year and raising pressure ahead of Congressional elections in November where Bush's Republican party could lose its majority in both houses halfway through his second term as president.

"We tried to do our best (in Iraq) but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq," senior U.S. State Department official Alberto Fernandez told Al Jazeera speaking in Arabic in a broadcast heard on Sunday by Reuters.

The State Department -- which has long been at odds with the Pentagon over Iraq according to several recent books -- had said earlier that a translation of the comments posted on Al Jazeera's English language Web site had misquoted its director of public diplomacy in the bureau of Near Eastern affairs.

"What he (Fernandez) says is that it is not an accurate quote," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. Asked whether he thought the United States would be judged as being arrogant, McCormack said "No".

Al Jazeera's English language Web Site also quoted Fernandez as saying Washington was ready to talk with any Iraqi group except al Qaeda in Iraq to end violence.

The Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has been meeting Shi'ite clerics this week to enlist their support in calming militia infighting in southern Iraq as well as sectarian violence between Shi'ites and Sunnis.

Disarming militias such as the Mehdi Army, loyal to powerful young cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, is seen as crucial by the United States but has proved difficult for Maliki who relies on the support of the political groups linked to the militias.


On Saturday Bush held a videoconference involving Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, top White House officials and U.S. military officials in Iraq, who have admitted that a two-month plan to secure Baghdad has failed to rein in violence and that the strategy is under review.

In his radio address on Saturday, Bush said: "We will continue to be flexible, and make every necessary change to prevail in this struggle."

He added, "Our goal in Iraq is clear and unchanging."

The White House has drawn a distinction between flexibility on tactics and a big overhaul of the strategy in Iraq, and officials have suggested such a broad revamp was not imminent.

Longtime Bush family friend and former Secretary of State James Baker is leading a panel that is preparing recommendations for alternative strategies in Iraq.

But the Iraq Study Group's report will not be issued until after the November 7 elections, at which some polls suggest Republicans could lose control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, where Democrats and some Republicans are already saying it is time to reassess U.S. policy in Iraq three years after the invasion.

Some have suggested the administration might use the bipartisan group's findings as cover for an exit strategy.

Jeffrey White, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, suggested a substantial policy revision was being weighed.

"It looks to me like this supertanker is turning," he said. "It takes a long time but I think the turn is beginning to be made."

Bombs rigged to bicycles followed by a barrage of mortars killed 16 people and wounded 60 on Saturday in a market in Mahmudiya, a town in the Sunni insurgent "Triangle of Death" bastion south of Baghdad, an Interior Ministry source said.

Gunmen killed a man there on Sunday who the police said was responsible for the attacks, a Reuters photographer in town said.

That came after several days of Shi'ite infighting and sectarian clashes in towns such as Amara and Balad, both of which were handed over to Iraqi security forces in recent months as part of U.S. efforts to gradually transfer responsibility.

There were reports of several roadside bombs, car bombs and shootings in Baghdad and around the country on Sunday, but it was a relatively calm day ahead of the Eid holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan which is expected to start in the coming days.

A roadside bomb under a vehicle killed three people and wounded six, including a police officer, as they were shopping in a market in Al Rashid street in central Baghdad ahead of the holiday, police said.

(Additional reporting by Ibon Villelabeitia, Mariam Karouny, Aseel Kami in Baghdad, Caren Bohan in Washington and Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai)



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