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Iraq Fails to Meet Political Goals Set by U.S.

Bloomberg | July 12, 2007
Ken Fireman and Laura Litvan

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July 12 () -- The Iraqi government has failed so far to meet several key political goals essential for the success of the U.S. effort in that country even as a military offensive has improved security, the Bush administration told Congress.

In a status report on the four-year-old conflict, the administration said the government of Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki has failed to ease restrictions on members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, set new local elections or guarantee all groups a share of oil revenue.

The report is likely to provide fresh ammunition for lawmakers demanding a change of course in Iraq, including some Republicans, as President George W. Bush acknowledged during a White House news conference today. He urged Congress and the public to show patience.

``There's war fatigue in America, it's affecting our psychology,'' Bush said. ``I understand that. It's any ugly war.''

The report did credit the Iraqi government with fulfilling its commitments to provide troops for the security crackdown on insurgents that has been under way since February. It said that crackdown has begun to achieve success.

Biden Comments

Democrats called the report further evidence of the need for a new policy.

``This progress report is like the guy who's falling from a 100-story building and says half-way down that everything's fine,'' said Senator Joe Biden, a Delaware Democrat who heads the Foreign Relations Committee. ``If we continue the way we're going, with the president's failed strategy in Iraq, we're headed for a crash landing,'' added Biden, who is seeking the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said that while senators should review today's report, they should also wait to see what the U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker say in a September report.

``There is much at stake here, and, frankly, they deserve to be heard,'' McConnell said.

Congress got the report as it debates a host of new proposals to limit U.S. military operations in Iraq being offered by Democrats and some Republicans as amendments to a $648.8 billion measure funding all U.S. military operations in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was told in a meeting on Capitol Hill yesterday that even ``some very strong Republicans were really anxious for a new approach,'' said New Mexico Republican Senator Pete Domenici.

Different Conclusions

Bush said people would draw different conclusions from the report.

``Those who believe that the battle in Iraq is lost will likely point to the unsatisfactory performance on some of the political benchmarks,'' Bush said. ``Those of us who believe the battle in Iraq can and must be won see the satisfactory performance on several of the security benchmarks as a cause for optimism.''

He repeated his stance that withdrawal now would be a disaster.

``I know some in Washington would like us to start leaving Iraq now,'' he said. ``To begin withdrawing before our commanders tell us we are ready would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for the United States.

`Preliminary Report'

Bush urged Congress not to be stampeded into troop reduction plans now and instead await Petraeus's report.

``This is a preliminary report, and it comes less than a month after the final reinforcements arrived in Iraq,'' Bush said. He said he would veto any legislation that sets a troop withdrawal deadline.

``I don't think Congress ought to be running the war,'' Bush said. ``I think they ought to be funding our troops.

Bush said the report gave the Iraqi government a satisfactory grade on eight of the 18 benchmarks against which the administration was required by Congress to measure progress.

Those include meeting a commitment to deploy three Iraqi Army brigades in Baghdad as part of the security crackdown and eliminating safe havens for outlaws regardless of their ethnic or religious background.

Regional Autonomy

The report said the government has also made progress toward reviewing the existing Iraqi constitution, a demand of Sunni Iraqis who feel alienated from the existing power structure. The government has also taken the first steps toward allowing greater regional autonomy.

On other political goals, the report found the government wanting. Those include the oil revenue law, new elections, restrictions on Baathists, protecting Iraqi Security Forces commanders from political interference and ensuring that those troops enforce the law even-handedly.

The report described mixed progress toward the goal of curbing sectarian violence. It said that the government hadn't made satisfactory progress in rooting out sectarian militias from local security forces. On the other hand, it said a start had been made -- with substantial U.S. help -- in reducing the level of communal bloodshed.

``In Baghdad, an overall decrease in sectarian violence is due in part to intensified Iraqi and Coalition operations focused on population security,'' the report said.

White House spokeman Tony Snow said in a statement that the drop in violence in Baghdad and Anbar province ``should provide some space for the government of Iraq to make progress on key political benchmarks.''

First of Two

On two benchmarks -- declaring a general amnesty for those who have fought against the government and disarming sectarian militias -- the report said no progress has been made because current conditions don't permit achievement of either goal.

Today's report, and the one to come in September, were mandated by Congress in May when it approved $108 billion in additional funding for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

House Republican Leader John Boehner said he didn't anticipate that the report will spark significant immediate Republican defections from Bush's war strategy. His prediction will be tested later today when the House is to vote on a Democratic resolution calling for a withdrawal of U.S. troops to begin 120 days after enactment.

In May, when the House voted on a war-funding measure that included a troop withdrawal timeline, only two Republicans -- Wayne Gilchrest of Maryland and Walter Jones of North Carolina -- voted with Democrats in favor of it.

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