Rice says she has "open" relationship with Iraq

RABAT (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended her administration’s strategy in Iraq on Sunday and said she had an “open” relationship with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki following claims Washington had spied on him.

Wrapping up a four-day visit to North Africa, Rice rebuffed accusations contained in a book by U.S. journalist Bob Woodward which presented a critical inside look at the Bush administration’s decision-making on Iraq.

The book said the United States spied on Maliki and other Iraqi leaders.

“We have an open political and diplomatic relationship with the Iraqis that is cooperative and I myself work constantly with Prime Minister Maliki,” Rice told a news conference in the Moroccan capital Rabat.

She did not respond directly to the spying allegations but said: “We share information and it is a very open and transparent relationship as is befitting friends who have been through as much as we have been through.”

Woodward wrote that the surveillance of Maliki caused concern among several senior U.S. officials, who questioned whether it was worth the risk, given Bush’s efforts to earn Maliki’s trust.

On claims that she had been wary of carrying out a review of Iraq strategy until after congressional elections in November 2006, Rice said she was concerned the issue may be politicized.

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“I was concerned that in the hothouse environment of the fall, we needed to have a review (of Iraq strategy) that was not going to turn political,” she said.

“The issue was not the elections and it certainly was not the Republican prospects in the Congress,” she said. “The president demanded one thing, to know what the true situation was and to be able to do something about it.”

Rice was one of the architects of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 when she was national security advisor for President George W. Bush.

While admitting that mistakes were made, particularly in the early days following the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, Rice has consistently argued that the decision to go into Iraq was correct and that history will prove this.

She said the surge of U.S. troops in Iraq had made a difference and the proof was in the reduction of violence.

“You can quarrel however you like about the process but you cannot quarrel with the outcome,” she added.

Reporting by Sue Pleming