U.S. lowers expectations on Iraq goals

Even with increasing military successes, politcal gains may be `long, hard slog'

November 25, 2007|By New York Times News Service.

WASHINGTON -- With American military successes outpacing political gains in Iraq, the Bush administration has lowered its expectation of quickly achieving major steps toward unifying the country, including passage of a long-stymied plan to share oil revenues and hold regional elections.

Instead, administration officials say they are focusing their immediate efforts on several more limited but achievable goals in the hope of persuading Iraqis, foreign governments and Americans that some progress is being made toward the political breakthroughs that the intensified military campaign of the past 10 months was supposed to promote.

The short-term American targets include passage of a $48 billion Iraqi budget, something the Iraqis say they are on their way to doing anyway; renewing the U.N. mandate that authorizes an American presence in the country, which the Iraqis have done repeatedly before; and passing legislation to allow thousands of Baath Party members from Saddam Hussein's era to rejoin the government. This last goal was described by a senior Bush administration official as largely symbolic because rehirings have been quietly taking place.

Bush administration officials have not abandoned their larger goals and still emphasize the vital importance of reaching them eventually.

Ryan C. Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, said yesterday that the military successes had created an opportunity for progress but warned, "This is going to be a long, hard slog."

"It is going to be one thing at a time, maybe two," he said.

Officials in Washington and in Baghdad share the view that military gains alone are not enough to overcome the deep distrust among Iraqi factions caused by nearly five decades of dictatorship and war.

American officials in Baghdad appear to understand the limitations they face and are focusing on pragmatic goals such as helping the Iraqi government spend the money in its budget. That, officials in both countries said, could do more than anything else to build support for the fledging national government.

"I think reconciliation will eventually come," a senior Bush administration official said. "[But] that's a long way down the path."

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