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NYT: Bush's new policy will set benchmarks Iraq must meet; Many 'carried over from old list' but 'never met'

Published: Sunday January 7, 2007
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A senior administration official revealed to The New York Times elements of Bush's new Iraq policy, which the president is expected to discuss in a speech set for this Wednesday at 9 PM EST, before further details are released afterwards.

In related news, Monday's Washington Post reported that 22,950 civilian Iraqis were killed in 2006, and the death toll had tripled late in the year.

"President Bush’s new Iraq policy will establish a series of goals that the Iraqi government will be expected to meet to try to ease sectarian tensions and stabilize the country politically and economically, senior administration officials said Sunday," Michael R. Gordon and Jeff Zeleny write for the Times. "Among these 'benchmarks' are steps that would draw more Sunnis into the political process, finalize a long-delayed measure on the distribution of oil revenue and ease the government’s policy toward former Baath Party members, the officials said."

The paper notes that many of the goals had been "carried over from the old list of benchmarks," which Iraq "never met."

"Without saying what the specific penalties for failing to achieve the goals would be, American officials insisted that they intended to hold the Iraqis to a realistic timetable for action, but the Americans and Iraqis have agreed on many of the objectives before, only to fall far short," the article continues.

Sunday's Washington Post briefly mentioned the "benchmarks" in an article which focused on critics who called the planned escalation "more of the same." Even Pentagon officials expressed concerns about the "surge."

"President Bush is putting the final touches on his new Iraq policy amid growing skepticism inside and outside the administration that the emerging package of extra troops, economic assistance and political benchmarks for the Baghdad government will make any more than a marginal difference in stabilizing the country," Michael Abramowitz, Robin Wright and Ann Scott Tyson for the Post.

Earlier today, new Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi hinted that Congress might deny Bush Iraq funds, unless he provided justification for escalation.

"The American people and the Congress support those troops. We will not abandon them," Pelosi said on the CBS News show Face the Nation. "But if the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it...up until now, the Republican Congress has given him a blank check."

Pressed to clarify her statement, Pelosi was asked if Congress "is prepared, for the first time, to use the power of the purse to change U.S. policy.

"Congress is ready to use its constitutional authority of oversight to question what is the justification for this spending," Pelosi responded.

But other members of Congress made statements suggesting that it was unlikely that Congress would block funding if President Bush seeks more troops.

Rep. Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader from Maryland, when asked on Fox News Sunday if it was unlikely that Congress would try to prevent escalation by withholding funding, responded, "You're probably right, but I think it's too early to say that."

Also on Fox, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that he didn't think Congress would choose "to cut off money for the troops," adding that, "I don't think Congress will have the ability to simply micromanage the tactics in the war, nor should it."

Excerpts from Times article:


The new American operational commander in Iraq said Sunday that his plan was to send the additional American troops, expected to be part of the policy change, into Baghdad’s toughest neighborhoods, and that under the new strategy it may take another “two or three years” to gain the upper hand in the war.


And the widespread skepticism about the Bush administration’s Iraq strategy among Democrats and some Republicans was underscored by the new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, in a television interview broadcast on Sunday. She, along with the Democratic leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, informed the president that they were opposed to increasing troop levels.


In addition to trying to ease Congressional concerns over the new strategy, the Bush administration is trying to instill discipline in an Iraqi government that has often been slow to act and hampered by sectarian agendas.



Excerpts from Washington Post article:


More than 17,000 Iraqi civilians and police officers died violently in the latter half of 2006, according to Iraqi Health Ministry statistics, a sharp increase that coincided with rising sectarian strife since the February bombing of a landmark Shiite shrine.

In the first six months of last year, 5,640 Iraqi civilians and police officers were killed, but that number more than tripled to 17,310 in the latter half of the year, according to data provided by a Health Ministry official with direct knowledge of the statistics. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said those numbers remained incomplete, suggesting the final tally of violent deaths could be higher.

Much of last year's politically motivated bloodshed unfolded in Baghdad. The Bush administration is considering sending more U.S. troops there, as the newly ascendant Democrats in Congress press for a military withdrawal. Bringing stability and rule of law to the capital is a cornerstone of the administration's strategy to exit Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced over the weekend his own security push to tame Baghdad's sectarian strife.

Last year's spike in casualties occurred despite an ambitious U.S. military operation in the capital, Together Forward, that involved thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops cordoning off some of the deadliest neighborhoods and conducting house-to-house searches.