U.S. Warns Iraq It Won’t Support Sectarian Goals
Sabrina Tavernise and Robert F. Worth report that the United States has warned Iraqi leaders that, if they use government to force religious agendas, it will be without U.S. money.
The American ambassador to Iraq issued an unusually strong warning on Monday about the need for Iraq’s political factions to come together, hinting for the first time that the United States would not be willing to support crucial public institutions plagued by sectarian agendas. “The United States is investing billions of dollars” in Iraq’s police and army, said the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad. “We are not going to invest the resources of the American people to build forces run by people who are sectarian.”
Mr. Khalilzad spoke at a news conference on a day of fresh violence across Iraq. It was the bloodiest day in almost two months. He was addressing allegations that Shiite death squads operate within the Interior Ministry. Such reports have grown in recent months, with accounts of hundreds of Sunni men being rounded up by men in police uniforms and found dead days or weeks later. The deaths have infuriated the Sunni Arabs, whose radical fringe leads the insurgency here, and have sharpened their distrust of the Shiite-led government that swept into power last spring.
American officials have long argued that new cabinet ministers should place the interests of their country over those of their sects. But by linking American financing to a fair, nonpartisan army and police force, even if not intended as a direct threat, Mr. Khalilzad pressed the American position more forcefully and publicly than before.
The violence came amid signs of serious disagreement over the shape of the government. The new Parliament is required by law to meet for the first time on Saturday, and Mr. Khalilzad’s remarks seemed calculated to put pressure on Iraqis to overcome their differences. He has sharply criticized Interior Ministry abuses in the past, echoing Sunni concerns about the ministry’s failure to stop the killings. He amplified those concerns on Monday, urging the leaders to appoint interior and defense ministers who are “nonsectarian, broadly accepted and not tied to militias.” If Iraq cannot control the sectarian agendas within its government, Mr. Khalilzad said, it “faces the risk of warlordism that Afghanistan went through for a period.” Mr. Khalilzad was born in Afghanistan and served as an American envoy there before coming to Iraq last year.
Of course, government-sponsored death squads are problematic, to say the least, even if they are non-sectarian.