BAGHDAD — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld paid a surprise visit to Baghdad on Wednesday to express support for Iraq's new leaders, but drew criticism from Iraqi politicians who said they feared the unannounced visit might do more harm than good.I suggested yesterday that the trip was all about domestic politics and not about Iraq and the Iraqis and Americans seem to agree.
"We didn't invite them," said Kamal Saadi, a Shiite legislator close to the new prime minister-designate, Nouri Maliki.
Saadi said Iraqi leaders had not been given advance notice of the visit, which came just days after Iraqi politicians broke through a months-long impasse on the selection of a prime minister.
"Maybe Rumsfeld's visit can be justified" because of American troop presence, "but I can't see a clear reason behind Rice's visit," Saadi said. "The crisis is over and negotiations are taking place."
Some observers and Iraqi politicians speculated that the visit had more to do with the U.S. domestic audience than the creation of an inclusive and sustainable government in Iraq.And the Iraqi politicians know they need to be independent of the Bush administration if they are going to succeed so they are telling the administration to butt out.
In Washington, the visit was seen as an attempt by the White House to shore up U.S. public opinion about the war and as the first foreign policy calling card of the new chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten.
"I actually think it's completely aimed at American public opinion," said Brian Katulis, Middle East analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. "What's going on here is part of Bolten's plan to signal to the American public that we're not staying there forever."
Ivo H. Daalder, a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, said the visit was "all about us."
Some Iraqi politicians thought the visit could backfire on the sensitive negotiations. Similar concerns were raised recently about the statements and actions of U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and about Rice's April 2 visit with her British counterpart, Jack Straw.If this road trip is indeed the brain child of Josh Bolton it appears that domestic politics is still the driving force. It would also appear that they are not thinking very far ahead when they do things that will only make matters worse in Iraq.
"It would be more appropriate if they would leave us alone," said Mahmoud Othman, a senior Kurdish legislator. "Let us solve our problems by ourselves."
"Enough is enough," said Sheik Mahmoud Sudani, a politician affiliated with radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr. "Rice's trip to Iraq at this critical time is just another desperate move by the Americans to try to impose themselves on our new government. But they have lost their influence."