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Iraq's tougher stance toward US

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Maliki has a "soft spot" for that viewpoint, says one Iraqi former official who refused to be named because of the sensitive nature of US-Iraq relations. But the prime minister also knows he needs US troops to cope with a worsening security situation in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq, the former official says. As a result, Maliki is likely to seek compromise measures short of withdrawal - including establishing zones that are off limits to US troops and requiring joint US-Iraqi patrols - to try to placate public concerns.

Incidents like the one alleged in Haditha, which can feed Iraqi resentment about living in insecurity, only make Maliki's task harder, some experts say.

"Incidents like Haditha have the effect of widening the gap further between the people and the government, because they leave them feeling like they are totally on their own," says Juan Cole, an Iraq expert at the University of Michigan. Iraqis see their new elected officials operating from inside Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, he says, while they remain "outside" in the crossfire of a counterinsurgency battle and a "civil war."

In that environment, threats to civilians are not uniquely or primarily from US forces. Just this week, more than 50 civilians were kidnapped midday just north of the Green Zone. A Sunni political group accused militias associated with the Shiite-controlled Interior Ministry of carrying out the operation.

On Tuesday, Maliki pledged to implement a new security plan for Baghdad that he said will address mounting sectarian and militia-generated violence.

With such worries, Maliki can't be too tough with the Americans, Mr. Cole says. "The government is in a difficult position because it's not able to tell the Americans to leave or what to do, but at the same time it needs to mollify a public that accuses it of letting American troops operate around the country marauding at will."

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