GOP Leader Losing Patience With Iraqi Government

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By Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, May 9, 2007; 6:32 PM

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) condemned the Iraqi government for its failure to resolve security and political problems more expeditiously and predicted that, unless the current troop surge succeeds, U.S. policy will be changed by year's end either by President Bush or congressional action.

McConnell, in an interview for washingtonpost.com's PostTalk program today, offered a harsh assessment of the Iraqi government's performance and made clear that neither the American people nor elected officials have unlimited patience for the U.S. commitment there.

"The Iraqi government hasn't done anything it said it would," McConnell said, pointing to lack of progress on oil revenue sharing and reducing sectarian violence. He added, "I don't think there are many Republican senators who are happy with what happened."

The Republican leader said the GOP's poor performance in the 2006 midterms elections resulted almost entirely from public dissatisfaction with the lack of progress in Iraq and implied that his party would suffer again in 2008 if that election becomes another referendum on Iraq.

"I think the Democrats would like to have another election on Iraq and Republicans would like to avoid it," he said.

The interview, in McConnell's Capitol offices, came hours after he met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten to discuss possible compromises on an Iraq funding bill.

Bush vetoed the first version of the bill because it included a timetable for beginning a troop withdrawal and White House Press Secretary Tony Snow warned today that the president will veto a new House Democratic bill that would provide the requested funding in two stages.

McConnell said he remained optimistic that the funding bill can be approved by the end of the month but offered few details of a potentially workable compromise, other than to say that some kind of benchmarks for the Iraqi government remain part of the discussion. The White House opposes punitive benchmarks and McConnell predicted Bush ultimately will get the funding he wants for the war in the form he wants.

The funding fight, however, is not likely to end the debate over Iraq, he said, noting there are a number of bipartisan discussions underway on Capitol Hill that could result in policy changes. Unless the surge proves effective, he said, "I think there will be a different strategy soon in Iraq."

Recent polls show that a majority of Americans oppose Bush's veto of the funding bill and favor either a timetable for withdrawal or tough benchmarks for the Iraqi government. Asked why the president continues to lose the battle for public opinion on his policy, McConnell pointed to the continuing violence in Iraq.

"I think the American people look at it and don't see success . . . What they see are daily car bombings and chaos," he said.

McConnell acknowledge that many GOP voters are dissatisfied with their 2008 field of presidential candidates. "They're waiting for Ronald Reagan," he quipped.


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