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Originally published October 28, 2006 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 28, 2006 at 1:02 AM

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Iraqi prime minister gives U.S. envoy an earful in private talks

Iraq's prime minister sharply criticized U.S. policy Friday during a private meeting with the U.S. ambassador, pointing to America's failure...

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq's prime minister sharply criticized U.S. policy Friday during a private meeting with the U.S. ambassador, pointing to America's failure to either reduce violence or give his government authority over security matters.

The criticism in private was the latest example of tension between the two governments and stood in stark contrast with a joint public statement issued after the meeting.

In the statement, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the U.S. Embassy said they had agreed to unspecified "timelines" to make tough political and security decisions on the country's future.

Privately, however, al-Maliki criticized what he called the patronizing U.S. tone toward the Iraqi government and warned U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad to respect Iraq's sovereignty, according to two of the prime minister's advisers.

"I'm a friend to the United States, but not America's man in Iraq," al-Maliki told Khalilzad, according to Hassan al-Senaid, one of the prime minister's closest advisers.

Previously, al-Maliki had vehemently rejected the notion of deadlines for his government to achieve key goals, but the statement said "the Iraqi government has made clear the issues that must be resolved with timelines for them to take positive steps forward on behalf of the Iraqi people."

The statement said "Iraq and the United States are committed to working together to respond to the needs of the people." It affirmed that America "will continue to stand by the Iraqi government" amid rumors the U.S. may be seeking alternatives to Baghdad's current Shiite-led administration.

Al-Maliki's supporters downplayed the reference to timelines as insignificant, saying they were meant as rough guidelines to hand security over to Iraqis.

U.S. officials in Baghdad could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced a soldier died in dangerous Diyala province just northeast of Baghdad, raising to 97 the number of American forces killed in October — the fourth-highest monthly toll since the war began in March 2003.

Baghdad's post-Ramadan calm held into a fifth day, as U.S. and Iraqi forces returned to Sadr City on Friday to search the Shiite Muslim slum for a missing U.S. soldier, whose Iraqi family on Friday issued a plea for mercy.

The soldier, an Iraqi-born translator, was abducted by gunmen in Karrada, a middle-class Shiite neighborhood in central Baghdad, while visiting relatives on Monday, the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, according to the U.S. military. The independent Sharqiyah TV channel identified the soldier as Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie, a naturalized American born in Iraq.

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U.S. soldiers rarely are allowed to wander alone on the streets of Baghdad, and the visit had not been approved, military officials said.

There were only two reported violent deaths in the capital and eight elsewhere in the country. But authorities in Suwayrah and Kut, south of Baghdad, reported pulling nine more bodies from the Tigris River, tortured and shot to death.

Also

The Army arraigned Pfc. Bryan Howard, who was charged with raping and killing a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and killing three others in her family in Mahmoudiya, a village about 20 miles south of Baghdad. Three other soldiers and a former Army private from the 101st Airborne Division's 502nd Infantry Regiment also face charges related to the attack.

Compiled from the Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press and The Washington Post

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