Friday, April 20, 2007

CSM: US Pressuring Maliki on Benchmarks

The Christian Science Monitor offers a look this morning at the pace of political reform in Iraq. Everyone seems to agree that it needs to speed up, although there are cautions that the Maliki government may simply not be able to move as quickly as people want:

When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made a surprise stop in Baghdad Thursday, a day after the horrendous car bombings in the city, his message was clear: The US commitment to Iraq is not open-ended – and the Iraqi government had better get busy on its side of the "to do" list.

The nearly three-month-old increase in US troops in Baghdad is still not complete. But US officials are starting to show impatience that a plan designed to give the Iraqi government breathing space for making decisions aimed at addressing sectarian strife is not having much of the desired response.

Indeed, the US "surge" has not been matched by an equal uptick in political action. On key issues like revenue distribution, militias, reconciliation, and constitutional reform, progress appears to be made at an "all the time in the world" pace – even though Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki committed to security steps and political decisions in conversations with President Bush this past January...

Still, some experts say a strict set of demands is too much for Maliki's year-old regime. "We're asking too much of the Iraqi government in too short a time," says Paul Hughes, an Iraq expert at the US Institute of Peace in Washington. "They still have training wheels on their operations."

Instead of focusing on benchmarks for Iraqi action, the US should be focused on getting right civilian aspects such as reconstruction and social development, says Mr. Hughes, a retired Army colonel who worked on disarmament and reintegration issues in the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003.

"Congress would serve the American people better if it tried to fix the civilian element of our involvement," he says.

It's an interesting read. It's also something to remember when you hear Democratic criticisms of the White House's 'open-ended' commitment. It's clear that the administration isn't happy with the pace (how could they be?), and it's good to see reporting of Gates carrying that message - even as real progress continues to go unnoticed.

The current fight over Iraq funding shows that the White House can keep troops in Iraq - as long as Bush is President, and he remains committee to the mission. If Iraq is unable to make sufficient political progress during this breathing space however, then either: 1) Bush won't stay committed; or, 2) Republicans will no longer hold the White House. Either way, the window for the Maliki government is measured in months.

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