In September, the Iraqi government publicly committed to meet a series of political benchmarks, by the end of 2006 or early 2007, for advancing the national reconciliation process, including measures for amending the constitution; holding provincial elections; reforming de-Baathification laws; regulating the oil industry; and disbanding sectarian militias.
In unveiling his new security plan for Iraq on January 10, President Bush publicly pledged to “hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.” He claimed that his military escalation strategy would provide a window of stability and security in which Iraqi leaders would be able to make the political compromises necessary to move forward with reconciliation. In his speech, the President asserted that, “America’s commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people.” (New York Times, 4/4/07)
With this pledge, the President seemed to be asserting what top military officials, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, and other leading political experts have been saying: that the situation in Iraq cannot be won by military action; a successful outcome will require a political solution. As General Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq asserted at the outset of the military escalation plan, “there is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq…Military action is necessary to help improve security…but it is not sufficient.” He has advocated a “political resolution” to ensure all of Iraq’s main ethnic and political groups have a stake in the future of the country. (General Petraeus Press Briefing, 3/8/07)
In the four months since the President announced his new plan and three months into the military escalation, however, there has been little notable progress toward achieving these goals and little evidence that the Bush Administration is following through on its pledge to hold Iraqi leaders accountable. The Dempcratic Policy Comittee has released a status report on political benchmarks deatiling how the Iraqi Govenrment is falling behind on promises it has made for advancing political reconciliation.
Examples of how the Iraqi government has made little to no progress towards achieving its goals:
Amending the constitution. In a deal brokered by former U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Iraq’s Sunni Arab community agreed to participate in the October 2005 constitutional referendum, in exchange for the Iraqi government’s pledge to allow for changes in the constitution at a later date. The government agreed to form a constitutional review committee within four months after the establishment of Iraq’s elected government – by September 2006 – that would allow for an amendment process to address critical concerns of the Sunni population. According to the agreed timeline, the committee was to complete its work by January of 2007 and hold an amendments referendum by March of 2007. (Brookings Institution, Iraq Index, 4/26/07)
· Status: No Progress. The Iraqi government has not moved forward with the constitutional amendment process. The Washington Post reports that, “Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds remain split over key issues: whether Iraq should be divided into autonomous regions under a federal system; the authorities of the prime minister and the president; the national identity of Iraq; and the fate of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.” Most recently, on May 7, Iraq’s top Sunni official, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi issued a warning that he will step down and pull his entire bloc out of the government if critical amendments to the constitution are not made by May 15. Al-Hashimi’s Sunni coalition in parliament, which includes 44 out of a total of 275 members, is widely seen as essential to reconciliation efforts within Iraq. (Washington Post, 4/26/07; CNN, 5/7/07)
According to Laith Kubba, senior Middle East director at the National Endowment for Democracy, amending the constitution is critical to broader reconciliation and the key to making progress on other benchmarks. He recently told reporters that, “it’s the constitutional amendments that are the crux of the issue;” and that “these benchmarks are in reality the byproducts of a successful political process… So if you can get the Iraqis together to flesh out differences and work together, then you will get all the benchmarks you want.” (Christian Science Monitor, 4/20/07)
Disbanding militias. By May, Prime Minister al Maliki has pledged to put in place a law to disband militias.
· Status: No Progress. Although Coalition and Iraqi security forces have detained many militia members, Iraqi leaders have not reached any political agreements for dismantling militia groups. (Washington Post, 4/26/07)
Sectarian militias have proven a major obstacle to achieving security and national reconciliation. According to the Pentagon’s latest progress report on security and stability in Iraq, militia infiltration of local police and national security forces, particularly at the Ministry of Interior, remains a critical problem. The report cites the threat of foreign influence – primarily from Iran – as a key concern and also states that some militias are “engaged in sectarian cleansing in Baghdad neighborhoods.” (Department of Defense, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq, March 2007)
Dealing with militias has posed a particularly complex challenge to the Iraqi government. While many of these groups are actively undermining security and fueling sectarian violence in Iraq, analysts report that some of the less radical militias play important security roles in parts of the country, by protecting areas that U.S. and Iraqi forces have been unable to secure. The Maliki government’s failure to crack down on Shiite militias has promoted the perception that the government is working to advance sectarian, not national, interests. Moving forward with efforts to disband these groups, therefore, is seen as a key step to bridging sectarian divides in Iraq and bringing much-needed credibility to the Baghdad government. (Associated Press, 5/7/07; Washington Post, 4/30/07)
As the al-Maliki government has failed to move forward with national reconciliation measures, the Bush Administration has pushed back the goal posts – repeatedly extending deadlines and diluting requirements for progress.
According to many experts, the Administration is failing to get Iraq’s leaders to make the tough compromises necessary for national reconciliation and for achieving U.S. objectives in Iraq.
The path to success in Iraq leads through Iraqis’ political reconciliation, yet the Administration’s strategy which includes establishing bencmarks without any consequences is failing to deliver on this critically important issue.