Iraq plan may not include penalties

October 27, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration acknowledged yesterday that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has not agreed to a new plan to crack down on sectarian militias but said he has agreed to work on "benchmarks" for achieving new security measures.

"Can I say that ... the prime minister and his government have come down and said, `Yes, we'll do this, we won't do that,' or `Yes, we will do this, we won't do that, and we'll do it by this time?' No," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said at a contentious Pentagon news conference.

He told reporters that the benchmarks may not include deadlines or penalties for failing to meet the goals. "You're looking for some sort of guillotine to come falling down if some date isn't met," he said. "That is not what this is about."

His comments, and those of other U.S. officials, came after weeks of debate within the administration, fueled by pressure from Congress, over ways to prod al-Maliki toward action on political and security reform.

For months administration officials have been urging the Iraqi leader to negotiate a "compact" among his country's warring Sunni and Shiite sects.

But al-Maliki, whose selection as prime minister was backed by Shia Muslim political factions that field two of the biggest militias, has moved slowly.

On Tuesday, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, appeared to turn up the pressure on al-Maliki by announcing that he had agreed to a "timeline" for political reform.

Al-Maliki responded the next day with what sounded like a rebuttal: "The Americans have the right to review their policies, but we do not believe in a timetable, and no one will impose one on us."

Yesterday, the Bush administration scrambled to explain that what looked like a disagreement wasn't.

When al-Maliki rejected a timetable, they said, he was referring to a U.S. general's statement that American forces could relinquish primary responsibility for security in Iraq within 12 to 18 months.

As for benchmarks, they noted that Iraq's government has agreed to a set of political goals, including plans to share oil revenue and amend the constitution -- although the government has not publicly committed to a deadline.

On security measures, however, officials acknowledged yesterday that those are a work in progress.

"There is not a significant degree of disagreement at all," said David Satterfield, the State Department official in charge of policy on Iraq. "No one is imposing benchmarks or imposing timelines, and the prime minister acknowledges this."

Satterfield said the United States cannot compel the Iraqis to accept goals.

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