As US Generals gave a sobering view of progress made by their troops in Iraq, a recent report suggested that President George Bush may introduce a new policy in Iraq that includes a set of goals that the government must meet. A New York Times report said that the key “benchmarks” of goals include ways to reduce of sectarian violence by involving Sunni representatives in decision making, political stability by easing government’s hard-line against former Dictator Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, and economic activity through a long-delayed distribution of oil revenue.
Citing unnamed officials who did not say what penalties will be instituted on the Iraqi regime if the goals are not met, the report said the US will hold the Iraqis to a “realistic timetable for action.” Skeptics say that the US and the Iraqi government had agreed on many similar measures earlier without meeting any of them. Skepticism was flowing from the new Congress and Senate where Democrats had taken control and leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid told Bush that they are averse to increasing troop levels and if there is any addition to the mission there must be reasonable justification. Promising more “oversight,” “standards,” and “conditions,” they say that while they cannot control defense, they can tighten budgets. However, denying much needed money to troops is political suicide since most Americans do not want to handicap their troops abroad although they would rather have them home altogether. Democratic Presidential hopeful and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Joseph Biden said in a more guarded statement that the Congress or the Senate could practically do little to prevent Bush from expanding the Iraqi mission.
At the same time, Bush understands that a hostile Congress while may not gets its way may make his policy-making and Administration that much troublesome and this is the purpose of this new strategy which seeks to bring “accountability” into the Iraqi mission by insisting on discipline from Baghdad. To reduce nervousness in American policy making circles, Bush is focusing on sectarian violence and asking the “Iraqis to step up” and insisting that the US does not want to stay in Iraq for ever and Baghdad should not assume that the American involvement is an “open-ended commitment.”
Parts of the Sunni involvement includes plans for provincial elections that the Sunnis have boycotted earlier and passing local administration to Sunnis where their population is at a majority. The new policy may include a degree of placating such as paying Army pensions to Baath Party cadre and reducing their exclusion to any future administration or policy making. Their inclusion is sought to be created by throwing money at the problem--new programs and projects in Sunni majority areas and actualizing budgeted expenses for Sunni areas. The Army’s theory is that lack of investment in these areas is encouraging terrorist activity as people do not see any hope and hence driving the youth to al Qaeda.
The main sticking point for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has been that he has been unable to deliver projects in Sunni areas because lack of security to implementing officials and involvement of the Sunni leadership. He has been insisting that he gain access direct command over Iraq’s 10 army divisions by June making many nervous that this may be too over-ambitious a demand. In May 2005, top American officer in West Asia Gen. John P. Abizaid said that the one issue that has the least resolution is disappointing progress in developing Iraqi police units that can challenge the insurgents and the transformation has not been dramatic since then. Hence, it is unclear how al-Maliki can bring effective change in administration if he has control over the Iraqi divisions.
This is precisely why the Bush Administration is planning to infuse 20,00 additional troops into Iraq which the American president says will have “more specific goals, different rules of engagement and different expectations for cooperation with the Iraqi government.” While the world may be happier seeing a de-escalation of violence in Iraq and the eventual withdrawal of American troops from the country, a premature departure or insufficient force may create more damage than a longer tenure.