Saturday, April 28, 2007

Iraq Assessment Put Off Until Fall

Failure in Iraq will be due to the inadequacies of Maliki, they are now saying.

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 Mr. 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 Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. The timelines they are now discussing suggest that the White House may maintain the increased numbers of American troops in Iraq well into next year.

That prospect would entail a dramatically 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. ...

Several American officials who have spoken recently with Mr. Maliki say they believe that he would like to achieve the kind of political reconciliation that Mr. 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. ...

But the new view of Mr. 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, as he described what he discovered upon returning to Iraq after a two-year hiatus. ...

But the Democrats say that if there is no measurable success by August, they believe several more Republicans will defect from Mr. Bush's camp and vote for a staged pullout. Moderate Republicans like Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who grudgingly backed the administration in the Senate vote this week, have said they are not willing to back an open-ended commitment.

Other Republicans have urged Mr. Bush to explain the political strategy more clearly, arguing that the troop increase is merely a tactic, and not one that can be sustained for long.

"We've tried that with the president several times," said a Republican who spoke with him about the issue in the past week. "But he knows that it doesn't pay to say what you expect Maliki to get done."

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