First, the Iraqi Prime Minister is widely quoted as bitterly criticizing the actions of U.S. forces in Iraq:
“These forces do not respect the citizens, some of whom have been crushed by tanks and others shot. We must speak with them and fix a definition of the obligations of foreign forces,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said after a Cabinet meeting.
“The crime and misery of Haditha … is a terrible crime where women and children were eliminated,” the prime minister said.
“Yes a mistake may happen but there is an acceptable limit to mistakes.”
“We are worried about the increase in ‘mistakes’. I am not saying that they are intentional. But it is worrying for us,” he said.
“It is not justifiable that a family is killed because someone is fighting terrorists. We have to be more specific and more careful,” the prime minister added.
Today, speaking at a press conference in Baghdad with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Mr. Maliki said that an independent commission had been formed to look into what he referred to as “the massacre committed against a group of innocents.”
… in his comments on Thursday, Mr. Maliki said violence against civilians had become a “daily phenomenon” by many troops in the American-led coalition who “do not respect the Iraqi people.”
“They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion,” he said. “This is completely unacceptable.” Attacks on civilians will play a role in future decisions on how long to ask American forces to remain in Iraq, the prime minister added.
Then, the White House press spokesman tells reporters that the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq told the spokesman that the Prime Minister had told the Ambassador that the Prime Minister had been misquoted.
I spoke just a couple of minutes with Ambassador Khalilzad, who, today with General Casey, went over and spoke with the Prime Minister. And according to the Ambassador, the Prime Minister says he was misquoted.
The spokesman cannot say what it is that the Ambassador says the Prime Minister now says he said.
And apparently the Prime Minister did try to sort of explain how such a characterization would be made in the press, but that is a little too complicated for me to try to read out. But in any event, they did have a meeting with him.
Well, unfortunately, Helen, I have just tried to — what I’m trying is to relate to you, through Ambassador Khalilzad, through me, what was told to him through an interpreter by the Prime Minister. And it becomes a little convoluted, and so I don’t want to make a real clear characterization, because it’s a little hazy to me, too. All right? What I do know is that he was misquoted, he’s looking into it. But that what he said, and when he said it, and in reaction to what is a little gauzy.
And then the dog did not bark in the night. So far, no press report about the White House statement contains any reference to a reporter’s having asked the Prime Minister’s office, or any other agency of the Iraqi government, for its version of the story.
It’s easy to imagine that getting through to al-Maliki, or his press spokesman, might be hard. I just wish I believed that someone was actually trying to do it. News organizations, like intelligence agencies, have “stovepipes,” and it’s possible that no one in the White House press corps has any idea how to get a question asked in Baghdad, and that no reporter in Baghdad follows White House press briefings. But the contradiction shouldn’t be just left lying there.
There’s no way to know, right now, what al-Maliki actually said. But isn’t it strange, if the Prime Minister had been misquoted on such a sensitive point, that his office didn’t put out a correction directly, rather than at third hand?
Update Condi Rice has quietly dropped the claim that al-Maliki was misquoted. Presumably the WH press corps will be all over Snow like a cheap suit on this one.