Low expectations for Iraq

U.S. security initiative not up for evaluation til Sept., officials say

April 28, 2007|By New York Times News Service.

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration will not try to assess whether the troop increase in Iraq is producing signs of political progress or greater security until September, and many of Bush's top advisers now anticipate that any gains by then will be limited, according to senior administration officials.

In interviews over the past week, the officials made clear that the White House is gradually scaling back its expectations for the government of President Nouri al-Maliki.

The timelines they are now discussing suggest that the White House might maintain the increased numbers of American troops in Iraq well into next year.

That prospect would entail a significantly longer commitment of frontline troops, patrolling the most dangerous neighborhoods of Baghdad, than the one envisioned in legislation that passed the House and Senate this week.

That vote, largely symbolic because Democrats do not have the votes to override the promised presidential veto, set deadlines that would lead to the withdrawal of combat troops by the end of March 2008.

Yesterday, during an appearance with Japan's prime minister at Camp David, President Bush said that he would invite congressional leaders to the White House on Wednesday, immediately after his expected veto message, to talk about a "way forward."

Speaking a day after the Democratic-controlled Congress approved legislation that requires that a troop drawdown begin by Oct. 1, Bush said - as expected - that he will veto it because of that demand.

He invited congressional leaders to discuss a new piece of legislation that does not include a timetable and expressed optimism a deal could be reached.

But he made clear that if Democrats insist on including timetables again, he will not hesitate to veto again.

"If they want to try again that which I've said is unacceptable, of course I won't accept it," the president said. "I hope it won't come to that."

Several American officials who have spoken recently with al-Maliki say they believe he would like to achieve the kind of political reconciliation that Bush outlined in January as the ultimate goal of the troop increase.

But they say the Iraqi prime minister appears to have little ability to manage the required legislation, including bills requiring fair distribution of oil revenues among Iraq's Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, and reversing the American-led de-Baathification that barred many Sunnis from participation in the new government.

Even as administration officials have been telling Congress that Bush would accept no time limits on success, they have been pushing al-Maliki to move faster.

"He is trying to fight fires coming from every direction," Ryan C. Crocker, the newly arrived U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said of al-Maliki this week, speaking by telephone. "We have to be clear to him on where our priorities are, so that we can buy him the time he needs. And we have to buy the time now, because he is going to need it in the future."

Crocker said he had told al-Maliki that evidence of progress "is important in American terms" because "to sustain American support we have to be able to see that Iraqis are stepping up to hard challenges."

But the new view of al-Maliki's limitations was put bluntly by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American commander in Iraq, who spent the week pressing Congress not to put limits on either the timing or conduct of his operations. He described what he discovered upon returning to Iraq after a two-year absence.

"He's not the Prime Minister Tony Blair of Iraq," Petraeus said of al-Maliki on Thursday. "He does not have a parliamentary majority.

"He does not have his ministers in all of the different ministries," and they "sometimes sound a bit discordant in their statements to the press and their statements to other countries. It's a very, very challenging situation in which to lead."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.