Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki hit back at the recent criticism from US leaders on Wednesday, telling a press conference in Damascus that the statements are "irresponsible," and suggesting Iraq could find its friends elsewhere.
Later on Wednesday, President Bush tried to reverse the strain of antagonism by telling the audience at his VFW speech: "Prime Minister Maliki is a good guy, a good man, with a difficult job and I support him."
The barrage of criticism began on Monday with the return of Senators John Warner (R-VA) and Carl Levin (D-MI) from a two-day visit to Iraq. Both expressed a sense of pessimism in the capabilities of the Iraqi government, but Levin took it a step further by calling for Maliki to step down.
Then on Tuesday, Ambassador Ryan Crocker called the political progress in Iraq "extremely disappointing" and warned that US support did not come with a "blank check," while President Bush also expressed his "frustration" with Maliki's faltering leadership failing to unite the warring factions of his government.
Responding to a question about the U.S. criticism on Wednesday, Maliki said: "The Iraqi government was elected by the Iraqi people and nobody (has the right to) put timetables ... on it," referring to benchmarks set by Washington for his government to achieve political reconciliation.
"Maybe this person who made a statement yesterday is upset by the nature of our visit to Syria," Maliki said, without clarifying whether he meant Crocker or Bush.
"These statements do not concern us a lot. What concerns us is our democratic experiment and adhering to the constitution. We will find many around the world who will support us in our endeavour."