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Discontent Simmers over Iraq

Prepared by: Robert McMahon, Editor
August 8, 2007

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In Washington, dialogue between the Bush administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress on funding the Iraq war is on summer hiatus. In Baghdad, Iraqi lawmakers have stopped work for a recess of their own, even as Sunni politicians continue to abandon the government (al-Jazeera). Oddly enough, the only significant talking on Iraq in recent days seems to have involved U.S. and Iranian diplomats, who were reported to have held “frank and serious” (FT) discussions in Baghdad on August 6. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is following up that meeting with security talks in Iran (BBC).

Democratic congressional leaders made it clear before lawmakers left Capitol Hill in early August that they were committed to linking timelines on troop withdrawals to future Iraq war funding. The House passed a Pentagon spending bill for the fiscal year beginning October 1 that defers (CQ) for now spending on Iraq and Afghanistan. House Democrats will return in September with plans that could feature a war supplemental bill that ties in a troop drawdown or limits funding to a six-month period. On the Senate side, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) ended discussion on the defense spending bill in late July after an attempt to set a timeline of April 2008 for withdrawal from Iraq was defeated. In the process, he cut off votes (LAT) on legislation Republican lawmakers hoped would mildly alter the United States’ course on Iraq.

President Bush has already vetoed a similar attempt by Democrats in the spring to insert withdrawal timelines. But the calculation among Democrats is apparently that Republican discipline will weaken in September in the face of consistently low public approval ratings for the war and an administration status report on Iraq expected to show little progress on Iraqi political goals. CFR Senior Fellow Peter Beinart says in a new podcast that part of the strategy may involve “cold politics,” in which Democrats see a chance for a sweeping electoral win in 2008 and are uninterested in helping Republican lawmakers. But Democrats face their own test of party discipline between liberals wanting no compromise on Iraq and moderates who believe a more effective way of pressuring the administration (Politico) is reaching out to Republicans.

Adding to the challenge for both parties are some signals that, militarily at least, the surge that brought about thirty thousand additional U.S. troops into Iraq has made some progress. One such finding that set Washington buzzing came in a recent op-ed from Kenneth M. Pollack and Michael E. O’Hanlon, two experts at the Brookings Institution who had previously been critics of the war effort. Pollack told CFR.org’s Bernard Gwertzman the surge should be given more time to produce results and Democratic lawmakers should ease off of calls for withdrawal until at least early next year. Veteran Associated Press military writer Robert Burns concluded the surge is working after making his eighteenth reporting trip to Iraq in four years. But he cautioned: “Iraq may be too fractured to make whole.” Another recent visitor to Iraq, military expert Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, calls for “strategic patience” on Iraq policy in a new report. Cordesman says the new U.S. counterinsurgency strategy is making a difference and the capable team of U.S. officials currently in Iraq could outline a way to sustain that progress. But patience may be in short supply in Washington come September.

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