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Report Asks a Lot of Iraqi Government

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By HAMZA HENDAWI
The Associated Press
Thursday, December 7, 2006; 5:00 PM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- The Iraq Study Group report makes clear that much depends on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government delivering on multiple fronts for any new U.S. strategy to succeed in Iraq. It's an extremely tall order for a government seen by most Iraqis as ineffective and constantly castigated by politicians from blocs that support it.

The report makes tough recommendations for steps to be taken by Iraq's government. Some of them appear not to take into account the complexity of post-Saddam Hussein politics, the delicate sectarian balance or the impact deadly violence has on tasks that would be routine _ or at least manageable _ elsewhere.

A prominent Kurdish lawmaker criticized the U.S. panel for failing to include Iraqis, calling the recommendations "superficial and inaccurate."

"They are asking the government to do things that are beyond its abilities," Mahmoud Othman said. "The problems are many and grave _ security, terrorism, militias _ and the government, quite honestly, is unable to solve any of them."

In office since May, al-Maliki's government has brought together representatives of Iraq's Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish communities. But the government has failed to make much headway on the major problems in the country, engulfed by sectarian violence and wracked by a relentless insurgency for nearly four years.

And now, dissent is growing within the ranks of the government.

Over the past week, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi has said he wished to see the Shiite-led government go while Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie said it has failed to stop the spread of sectarian politics. Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said it was to blame for Iraq's "chaos." All three men are Sunni Arabs.

A Shiite bloc of 30 lawmakers and five Cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has announced a boycott of the parliament and government and insists it would not return until a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops is announced.

The boycott and the public dissent by Sunni Arab partners deprive the government of the image of unity and strength it needs as it wrestles with daunting challenges at home under mounting pressure from the United States and others to act decisively.

Most Iraqis see the government as virtually powerless _ unable to control Shiite militias blamed for much of the sectarian violence, end the Sunni-led insurgency, combat rising crime and unemployment or even provide enough electricity.

The Iraq Study Group report painted a grim picture of the government's performance, recommending that the Bush administration threaten to reduce U.S. military, economic and political support if the Iraqi government fails to meet milestones on security, national reconciliation and governance.

The report warned many Iraqi ministries lacked the capacity to govern effectively. It also said the Iraqi government was not effectively providing basic services and in some cases supplied them on a sectarian basis. Corruption is rampant, the report added, and the judiciary is weak.

In its initial reaction to the report, the government said it shared the panel's alarm.

"The situation in Iraq is grave, very grave in fact and cannot be allowed to continue," said al-Maliki's deputy, Kurdish politician Barham Saleh.

The Iraq Study Group noted the government has set out some objectives, and called them a "good start." But it cautioned that some target dates "may not be realistic" and offered a few recommendations.

The government objectives included a possible referendum by March on constitutional amendments demanded by Sunni Arabs, a process that has barely begun with formation of a parliamentary committee, according to lawmaker Abbas al-Bayati.

And the government set a target of next May for implementation of a proposed law on militias _ a problem that al-Maliki has yet to address despite repeated U.S. pleas.

A key objective is a gradual takeover of security by Iraqi forces, something many now believe will happen but that offers no guarantees for success.

The Iraq Study Group also recommended that Saddam loyalists _ excluding leading figures _ should be reinstated in government departments to help national reconciliation and that oil wealth should be shared by all Iraqis. An amnesty should be offered to "former bitter enemies," it said.

Some of the recommendations could bring more political divisions and even bloodshed.

For example, the return of Saddam's Baath Party officials to their old government jobs would rile Shiites and Kurds, who suffered the most under Saddam. And amnesty has been a highly charged issues, with many Shiites opposed to allowing Sunni Arab insurgents to go free after so many killings.

"This report, for which they made a song and dance ... it did not offer anything to the Iraqis and did not contribute in any way to solving Iraq's problem," said Harith al-Dhari, leader of the Association of Muslim Clerics, a Sunni Arab group with suspected links to the insurgency.

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AP writer Hamza Hendawi has reported from Iraq on numerous assignments since January 2003.


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