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Posted: Jan 8 2007, 04:06 AM
Member No.: 331
Joined: 20-October 06
Published: January 8, 2007
WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 — President Bush’s new Iraq policy will establish a series of goals that the Iraqi government will be expected to meet to try to ease sectarian tensions and stabilize the country politically and economically, senior administration officials said Sunday.
Among these “benchmarks” are steps that would draw more Sunnis into the political process, finalize a long-delayed measure on the distribution of oil revenue and ease the government’s policy toward former Baath Party members, the officials said.
As the policy is being debated in Washington, the new American operational commander in Iraq said Sunday that his plan was to send additional American troops, expected to be part of the policy change, into Baghdad’s toughest neighborhoods, and that under the new strategy it may take another “two or three years” to gain the upper hand in the war. [Page A9.]
Without saying what the specific penalties for failing to achieve the goals would be, American officials insisted that they intended to hold the Iraqis to a realistic timetable for action, but the Americans and Iraqis have agreed on many of the objectives before, only to fall considerably short.
And the widespread skepticism about the Bush administration’s Iraq strategy among Democrats and some Republicans was underscored by the new speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, in a television interview broadcast Sunday. She, along with the Democratic leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, informed the president that they were opposed to increasing troop levels.
“If the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it,” Mrs. Pelosi said on the CBS News program “Face the Nation.” “And this is new for him because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions.”
She also suggested that Congress should deal with financing for the current war and for the proposed increase as separate issues. “If the president chooses to escalate the war, in his budget request we want to see a distinction between what is there to support the troops who are there now,” she said.
Whether lawmakers are prepared to advocate legislative steps to withhold funds from an expanded mission is unclear. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that as a practical matter, there was little that lawmakers could do to prevent Mr. Bush from expanding the American military mission in Iraq.
“You can’t go in like a Tinkertoy and play around and say you can’t spend the money on this piece and this piece,” Mr. Biden said on the NBC News program “Meet the Press.” “He’ll be able to keep the troops there forever, constitutionally, if he wants to.”
“As a practical matter,” Mr. Biden added, “there is no way to say, ‘Mr. President, stop.’ ”
Mr. Bush is expected to refer to the benchmarks in a much-anticipated speech this week outlining his new Iraq strategy, including plans to send as many as 20,000 additional troops. Administration officials plan to make the benchmarks public sometime after the address.
In addition to trying to ease Congressional concerns over the new strategy, the administration is trying to instill discipline in an Iraqi government that has been slow to act and hampered by sectarian agendas.
“There will be an approach and a strategy that reflects not only the desire for the Iraqis to take more responsibility but the need for the Iraqis to step up,” a senior administration official familiar with the deliberations said. “This is not an open-ended commitment. We are putting real specific requirements and expectations on the Iraqi government.”
The Americans and Iraqis have agreed on benchmarks before. Indeed, some of the goals that are to be incorporated on the list of benchmarks have been carried over from an earlier list that was hammered out with the Iraqis and made public in October, but never met.
The benchmarks, for example, include a previously stated commitment: setting a date for provincial elections. That goal is intended to enfranchise Sunnis — who had initially boycotted the political process — and thus give them a role in the governing of Sunni-dominated areas.
Another measure that was carried over from the old list of benchmarks is the final completion of the long-delayed national oil law that would give the central government the power to distribute current and future oil revenues to the provinces or regions, based on their population. continued............