Arab Leaders Backing off Al-Maliki; Fallon Sees Better Atmosphere
Byline: Richard Halloran, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
HONOLULU - Arab leaders have eased their often-harsh criticism of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, according to Adm. William Fallon, who had described the criticism as a major concern when he took command of U.S. forces in the Middle East earlier this year.
"The atmosphere has gotten better. They have stopped pinging on al-Maliki," Adm. Fallon said in an interview during a brief stopover in Hawaii, where he had served as Pacific commander before taking his new posting.
When he moved to the Central Command eight months ago, Adm. Fallon had said he planned to urge other Middle Eastern nations to do more to support the government in Iraq.
"There are a lot of people just standing around doing nothing," he said at the time.
But now, he said, Mr. al-Maliki "has stopped looking over his shoulder to see who was after him."
Adm. Fallon - whose area of responsibility includes some of the world's most turbulent countries including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan - brushed off speculation that the United States is planning to attack Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
But, he said, "The Iranians must not underestimate our resolve. The primary objective is to get them to alter their behavior, to play a constructive role in the region."
Like other senior U.S. military officers, Adm. Fallon expressed concern about the state of emergency in Pakistan, where the United States has counted on the military to help ferret out al Qaeda terrorists hiding along the border with Afghanistan.
Adm. Fallon said he hoped President Pervez Musharraf, with whom he spoke recently, and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto will be able to resolve their differences and come to a power-sharing arrangement.
Any such arrangement, however, appears unlikely after Mrs. Bhutto declared Tuesday that she would not cooperate with the general.
Adm. Fallon said he saw signs of hope in Afghanistan, where some provincial governors have managed to establish control despite a running battle with Taliban militants.
While not downplaying the tribal tendencies that hinder the formation of a working central government in Afghanistan, he said provinces with strong governors have been able to cut the production of poppies from which opium is extracted. …