WASHINGTON (AFP) -US President George W. Bushآs new Iraq policy will establish a series of goals that the Iraqi government will be expected to meet to try to stabilize the country politically and economically, The New York Times reported on its website.
Citing unnamed senior administration officials, the newspaper said these “benchmarks” will call for drawing more Sunnis into the political process, finalizing a long-delayed measure on the distribution of oil revenue and easing the governmentآs policy toward former Baath Party members.
Without saying what the specific penalties for failing to achieve the goals would be, US officials insisted that they intended to hold the Iraqis to a realistic timetable for action, the report said.
The Americans and Iraqis have agreed on many of the objectives before, only to fall far short, The New York Times pointed out.
Bush is expected to refer to the benchmarks in a much-anticipated speech this week outlining his new Iraq strategy, including plans to send as many as 20,000 additional troops, according to the report.
Administration officials plan to make the benchmarks public sometime after the address, the paper said.
“This is not an open-ended commitment,” the newspaper quoted a senior administration official as saying. “We are putting real specific requirements and expectations on the Iraqi government.”
Some of the goals that are to be incorporated on the list of benchmarks have been carried over from an earlier list that was hammered out with the Iraqis, made public in October, but never met, the report said.
They include, for example, a previously stated promise to set a date for provincial elections or adopt a national oil law that would give the central government the power to distribute current and future oil revenues to the provinces or regions, The New York Times said.
The benchmarks will also deal with settling a new policy on de-Baathification, according to the report.
But just days after taking control of Congress, Democratic lawmakers warned Sunday that Bush will not get a blank check to expand the number of US troops in Iraq.
Newly-minted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CBS television that the burden was on Bush to justify any additional spending on the nearly four-year-old war.
“This is new for him, because up until now the Republican Congress has given a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions, and we have gone into this situation which is a war without end which the American people have rejected,” she said.
Couching her comments by saying that the Democrats would “always support the troops who are there,” Pelosi warned that “the president is going to have to engage with Congress in the justification for any additional troops he may wish.”
“Escalation of the war is opposed by the Democrats,” she said.
Her top lieutenant in the House, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told the Fox network that Bush’s expected proposal for sending some 20,000 more troops into Iraq would be “greeted with great skepticism.”
Hoyer said an expected administration proposal for a billion-dollar shot in the arm for the Iraqi economy would also “get careful scrutiny and oversight to see whether or not we believe that is a good expenditure of the taxpayer’s dollar.”
Some in Congress remained stalwart supporters of a buildup however, including Republican US Senator and likely presidential contender John McCain.
“The presence of additional coalition forces would allow the Iraqi government to do what it cannot accomplish today on its own — impose its rule throughout the country,” McCain wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Sunday.
A surge of troops, he wrote in the daily, “must be substantial and it must be sustained.”