BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Iraq’s foreign minister said on Thursday the government had made good progress in responding to U.S. goals for improved security and political cohesion ahead of key reports soon to be delivered to the U.S. Congress.
The U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker will testify before Congress on either Sept. 11 or 12.
Their reports on Iraq’s security and political situation could prompt a shift in U.S. President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy amid calls from opposition Democrats and some senior Republicans for U.S. troops to start leaving Iraq. “The whole world is waiting anxiously to see what these reports will indicate,” Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told a news conference.
Zebari said there had been a “great deal” of progress on the security front in Iraq, while an agreement at the weekend by the country’s top five Shi’ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish leaders to boost national reconciliation was a “significant move”.
Sceptics have questioned how much of that deal — which included consensus on easing curbs on former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party holding public office — will translate into action given the paralysis gripping the Shi’ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.
The deal also called for the release of many detainees held across Iraq. Both issues are at the heart of complaints from disaffected minority Sunni Arabs, once dominant under Saddam and whose community makes up most of the detainees. “I am hopeful that come September 11 or 12 you will see more political progress along these lines,” Zebari said. But while he expressed optimism, the Washington Post reported that Iraq had only met three out of 18 goals set by Washington for political and security progress, according to a draft of another key report being prepared for Congress. The findings by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the investigative arm of Congress, are at odds with a more positive assessment by the White House in July that Iraq had met eight out of 18 benchmarks, the newspaper said.
The report, which the Post described as “strikingly negative”, is due to be delivered to Congress on Tuesday, a week before the testimony by Petraeus and Crocker. “While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced,” the draft obtained by the Post said.
U.S. commanders in Baghdad say sectarian violence has fallen since Bush sent 30,000 extra troops to Iraq. In particular, they say sectarian death squad killings in the capital have halved.
Iraq is sure to fare poorly on the legislative front in all the reports to Congress, with its parliament yet to pass any key laws Washington regards as vital to healing the bitter sectarian divide between majority Shi’ites and Sunni Arabs. Those laws include the measure on de-Baathification and a law that will equitably share the country’s vast oil wealth.
Zebari urged lawmakers to work faster when parliament reconvenes on Sept. 4 after a summer break. Lawmakers complain the government has yet to submit the key laws to parliament. Iraqi officials have warned of civil war should American soldiers pull out prematurely. “I personally believe that these reports will show the way forward more and will highlight the dangers, the consequences of disengagement. I believe it will focus on readjustment, rather than disengagement,” Zebari said.