Biden says ‘jury’s still out’ on Iraqi prime minister’s ability to crack down on militias
BAGHDAD, Iraq – Sen. Joseph Biden said Friday the “jury’s still out” on whether Iraq’s prime minister will reach out to Sunni Arabs and clamp down on the Shiite militias blamed for spiraling sectarian violence.The Democratic presidential hopeful also said he was waiting for details of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s national reconciliation plan, which includes an amnesty for some insurgents. He hasn’t specified who they might be.”Amnesty in the context of an overall plan that is nationwide … makes sense,” Biden told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “But if that amnesty were to include some of the more outrageous thugs and perpetrators of essentially war crimes, then I don’t think that will fly.”Biden, making his seventh trip to Iraq, said he was cautiously optimistic about the Shiite prime minister’s national unity government, which took office May 20.”He’s said a number of the right things, but the proof of the pudding’s in the eating,” Biden said.The senior Delaware senator, who planned to meet with al-Maliki on Saturday, said the growth of armed militias was one of the main challenges facing Iraq and an especially tricky one politically for the Shiite prime minister.”It remains to be seen whether he’s willing to take the kind of chance and make the kind of effort to begin to deal with the militias,” Biden said. “The jury’s still out on that.””The irony is that the militias have actually grown, they have not diminished,” Biden said.Biden traveled to the southern city of Basra and met with Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq and his deputy Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli on Friday in Baghdad.He said he was reassured that the United States could begin to pull out some American forces “as early as September,” but there was no discussion of numbers.Al-Maliki said shortly after taking office he hoped to take over security for all of Iraqi’s 18 provinces within 18 months, or by the end of 2007.Biden also expressed frustration that there had been no moves toward acting on pre-election promises to reconsider the nascent Iraqi constitution to reach out more to the Sunni Arab minority.”I didn’t get any sense of urgency … on the need to amend the constitution to get more of a Sunni buy-in,” he said.