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Strange Summer Days for the U.S. and Iraq

Prepared by: Robert McMahon, Editor
Updated: July 24, 2007

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In at least one sign that U.S. and Iraqi timelines are in sync, lawmakers from both countries are planning a summer recess in early August. But generally, the struggles (Reuters) in the two legislative bodies highlight wide gulfs between Capitol Hill and Baghdad. In Washington, the Democratic-led Senate has tried to pressure Iraqis into compromises with vocal and legislative threats, like the troop withdrawal measure defeated last week by Republican opponents. In Baghdad, Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish parliamentary factions were trying to overcome differences on a chief benchmark set by the United States—a proposed law on managing oil revenue that is crucial to the country’s recovery (NYT)—but expressed resentment about being rushed by Washington (AP).

The Bush administration is trying both to persuade Iraqi legislators to keep on working and U.S. lawmakers to cut the Iraqis some slack past mid-September, when a major U.S. progress report on Iraq is due. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, said during a June 19 Congressional briefing that Iraqi politicians are going to need more time to carry through reforms (USNews). There is little sign that these statements appeased Democrats. The House, which has approved a troop withdrawal timeline, will not take up the Iraq spending portion of the defense appropriations bill until after the recess. The defense bill also awaits September action in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has refused to allow nonbinding Republican measures that sought to modify the administration’s Iraq policy. The Los Angeles Times raises questions about this Democratic strategy, which it says has gained the support of just eight of 250 Republicans in the House and Senate.

But Democrats are increasingly wary of Bush administration claims of progress in Iraq. The party’s presidential frontrunner, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), has become more assertive on Iraq, pressing the Pentagon to provide regular briefings on contingency plans for a withdrawal of U.S. forces. She will soon join Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) in introducing legislation (The Hill) that will require such reports. Democratic critics of the Iraq war have also seized on the latest National Intelligence Estimate as proof of the need to redouble efforts in Afghanistan. Recent surveys also indicate negative public opinion about how Washington is handling the war. A New York Times/CBS News poll found a slight increase in U.S. support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but notes that a solid majority still favors a reduction in U.S. forces there. A new Washington Post/ABC News poll finds very low approval ratings for both the president and the Democrat-led Congress, though a majority of those polled said they trusted congressional Democrats more on resolving the war.

With the surge now at full strength, bringing the U.S. force in Iraq to about 158,000 troops, military leaders are signaling they will need more time than the September 15 reporting deadline to gauge its effectiveness. The commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, told NPR on July 19 he will have a “reasonable sense” of progress by September 15 but indicated recommendations on troop sizes would come at a later time. Petraeus acknowledged concerns about the strain of multiple deployments, adding: “We see no extension beyond fifteen months for any of the forces on the ground.” A classified military plan leaked to the New York Times shows a continued strong U.S. military presence in Iraq until at least the summer of 2009. Meanwhile, the administration on July 24 began a second round of talks with its biggest regional antagonist (al-Jazeera), Iran, about ways of improving security in Iraq.

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