Iraqi P.M. lashes out at critics

Iraqi Prime Minuister Nouri al- Maliki talks to the reporters after his meeting with Syrian vice president Farouk al -Sharaa Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2007 in Damascus. al-Maliki's three-day sojourn in Syria comes as part of his efforts to seek neighbors' help in stemming the violence ravaging Iraq. He and Syrian President Bashar Assad appeared briefly before cameras before going into a closed meeting Tuesday.(AP Photo/ Bassem Tellawi).

BAGHDAD -- Iraq's embattled prime minister lashed out at American critics Sunday, saying Sen. Hillary Clinton and other Democrats who have called for his ouster should "come to their senses" and stop treating Iraq like "one of their villages."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki also lambasted the U.S. military for raids in Shiite neighborhoods of Baghdad, adding new strains ahead of next month's showdown in Washington over the future of the U.S. mission.

The grim combination of ongoing violence and political deadlock have increased frustration in both Washington and Baghdad, with American lawmakers increasingly critical of al-Maliki's performance and Iraqi leaders growing weary of what they consider unfair U.S. criticism.

Clinton and Sen. Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have called for al-Maliki to be replaced.

"There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin. They should come to their senses," al-Maliki said at a news conference.

Criticism of military

Al-Maliki also denounced recent U.S. military actions in the Baghdad Shiite neighborhoods of Shula and Sadr City that according to the Iraqis resulted in civilian deaths.

"Concerning American raids on Shula and Sadr City, there were big mistakes committed in these operations. The terrorist himself should be targeted not his family," al-Maliki said "We will not allow the detaining of innocent people."

Two nights ago, the U.S. military clashed with Shiite gunmen in Shula after they attacked an American patrol. The United States said eight "terrorists" were killed, but some Iraqis reported civilians were among the dead and injured.

U.S. forces also are routinely raiding Shiite militiamen in Sadr City, often calling in helicopter fire.

Al-Maliki launched his verbal counteroffensive about two weeks before the American commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker are due in Washington to report to Congress on progress in Iraq since the introduction of 30,000 more American troops.

The presence of those reinforcements has done little to bring about political reconciliation among Iraq's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds -- the key to lasting stability.

Looking for support

During his news conference, the Shiite prime minister said a negative report by Petraeus would not cause him to change course, although he said he expected that the U.S. general would "be supportive of the government and will disappoint the politicians who are relying on it" to be negative.

Nevertheless, al-Maliki appeared stung by the recent series of critical statements about his government, including one from President Bush, who said he was frustrated that al-Maliki had failed to make progress on political benchmarks. Crocker has said the lack of movement had been "highly disappointing."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said Sunday that al-Maliki's government "is still pretty much a disaster" despite some progress made.

"It's a democratically elected government, and I don't think we can dictate to them," McConnell said. Nonetheless, McConnell said, senators from both parties agree the Shiite prime minister has been "a huge disappointment."