May 11, 2007
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post Foreign Service
BAGHDAD, May 10 -- A majority of members of Iraq's parliament have signed a draft bill that would require a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Iraq and freeze current troop levels. The development was a sign of a growing division between Iraq's legislators and prime minister that mirrors the widening gulf between the Bush administration and its critics in Congress.
The draft bill proposes a timeline for a gradual departure, much like what some U.S. Democratic lawmakers have demanded, and would require the Iraqi government to secure parliament's approval before any further extensions of the U.N. mandate for foreign troops in Iraq, which expires at the end of 2007.
"We haven't asked for the immediate withdrawal of multinational forces; we asked that we should build our security forces and make them qualified, and at that point there would be a withdrawal," said Bahaa al-Araji, a member of parliament allied with the anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose supporters drafted the bill. "But no one can accept the occupation of his country."
In Iraq and the United States, there is deepening frustration among lawmakers and the public over President Bush's troop buildup, a policy that has yet to prevent widespread killing in Iraq. At the same time, Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are dispatching their emissaries in an urgent transatlantic gambit to shore up support.
Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, was in Washington this week to ask Democratic members of Congress to have patience with the "surge" and not abandon Iraq at such a precarious time. On Wednesday, Vice President Cheney landed in Baghdad to press the government to act quickly on a host of divisive political issues that the Bush administration deems threatening to long-term stability.
On his second day in Iraq, Cheney spoke to U.S. soldiers at a base near Tikrit about the difficulties they face each day. "We are here, above all, because the terrorists who have declared war on America and other free nations have made Iraq the central front in that war," he said, according to a transcript of his remarks. He added: "The United States, also, has made a decision: As the prime target of a global war against terror, we will stay on the offensive. We will not sit back and wait to be hit again."
But as in the United States, Iraq's lawmakers are moving further away from the views of the government, particularly on the basic issue of the American presence in their country. The draft bill is being championed by a 30-member bloc loyal to Sadr, but it has also gained support from some other Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish legislators. So far, at least 138 lawmakers have signed the proposed legislation, the slimmest possible majority in the 275-member parliament, according to Araji. Nasar al-Rubaie, another Sadr loyalist, told the Associated Press that the proposal had 144 signatures.
"We think that America committed a grave injustice against the Iraqi people and against the glorious history of Iraq when they destroyed our institutions and then rebuilt them in the wrong way," said Hussein al-Falluji, a lawmaker from the largest Sunni coalition in parliament and a supporter of the timetable proposal.
Several legislators, including those loyal to Maliki, said they doubted that the effort would succeed at a time when Iraqi troops still rely heavily on U.S. firepower. The most prominent political parties in Iraq -- such as Maliki's Dawa party; the Shiite group known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq; the Iraqi Islamic Party, a leading Sunni group; and prominent Kurdish factions -- appear to oppose setting specific dates for withdrawal. And even if such dates were fixed, it is unclear whether that would compel the United States to obey them.
"I don't think it's a good idea," said Hachim al-Hassani, a secular Sunni from the Iraqi National List and a former speaker of parliament. "Unless we complete building our forces so we are capable of defending the country and bringing security to the country, then we are not ready for something like this. A premature withdrawal could lead to a civil war in Iraq."
Ali al-Adeeb, a lawmaker from the Dawa party and an aide to Maliki, said any timetable for American withdrawal should be accompanied by a timetable for training and equipping the Iraqi security forces.
"Pressures are increasing here in Iraq and also in the States for the withdrawal of the multinational forces. . . . and it seems that keeping these forces here indefinitely won't solve the problems in Iraq," he said. "But it should happen gradually, so that Iraqi forces can handle the security tasks."
There was also some disagreement over the terms of proposed timetable legislation. Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman told the Associated Press he had agreed to back the measure on the condition that it included an accompanying timeline for the buildup of Iraqi forces, but this was not included in the draft. Othman called the omission a "deception."
Hassan al-Shimmari, a Shiite who leads the Fadhila Party in parliament, also signed the petition and had similar concerns.
"We can all see that it's not possible for the American troops to leave, and that withdrawing right now would lead to a disaster in Iraq, because the Iraqi security forces are still very weak, and they are still controlled by their sectarian and factional loyalties," he said.
The violence driven by such sectarian rifts continued Thursday, as the insurgent group known as the Islamic State of Iraq, a coalition that includes al-Qaeda in Iraq, posted a video on the Internet that purports to show the killing of nine Iraqi police and army officers. The one-minute video shows the uniformed and blindfolded men kneeling in a row on a patch of dirt as a black-masked gunman shoots them rapidly in the head, one after another, saying "God is great" with each execution. The insurgents apparently demanded the release of prisoners before shooting the men, according to a video posted earlier.
The gruesome scene resembles a video posted April 19, also by the Islamic State of Iraq, showing the apparent execution of 20 Iraqi soldiers and police officers.
On Thursday, the U.S. military said one Marine had been killed Tuesday during fighting in Anbar province in western Iraq. Two other U.S. soldiers died Thursday from gunshot wounds, one in Baghdad and the other in Diwaniyah, south of the capital. Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi and Waleed Saffar contributed to this report.