Official Takes Case To U.S., But Skeptics Don’t Budge

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
May 9, 2007
Pg. 1

By Michael R. Gordon
WASHINGTON, May 8 — Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser to Iraq’s prime minister, undertook on Tuesday what may have been his most challenging mission yet: trying to persuade American lawmakers who have all but run out of patience that still more patience is required.
In a whirlwind series of closed-door meetings that began with Representative John P. Murtha and ended with Senator Carl Levin — two Democrats who have been leading the charge for American troop withdrawals — Mr. Rubaie sought to make the case that an American pullout would be catastrophic.
“I know that they are running out of patience, and I understand this very well,” Mr. Rubaie said in a Monday interview in which he outlined his case. “And we have to play the political game. But I feel we are on the last mile of a walk toward success, and if they let go and don’t take our hand, I feel that we are going to lose everything.”
It was Mr. Rubaie’s first visit to Capitol Hill. As he navigated the halls with the American adviser who works with him in Baghdad, Mr. Rubaie’s presence spoke volumes about Congress’s growing restiveness over Iraq policy and the emerging sense that the next four months will be critical for determining whether to extend the Bush administration’s troop buildup in Baghdad.
“We need to start lobbying in D.C.,” Mr. Rubaie said, adding that the effort was the idea of the Iraqi government, not the Bush administration. “We need to make people understand our perspective — what are the challenges we are facing, what are the difficulties we are facing. We are not lying and doing nothing.”
Mr. Rubaie used his visit in part to court supporters of a continued American presence, including Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut. But his meetings with Mr. Murtha of Pennsylvania and Mr. Levin of Michigan, which appeared to lead to no fundamental shift in their positions, demonstrated a willingness to make his case face to face with critics who have disdained similar warnings from the Bush administration.
The White House has said it will review an assessment in September from the top American commander in Iraq in considering whether the heightened level of American forces in Iraq should be extended. Congress is debating whether to impose strict deadlines for political progress on the Iraqi government as part of a bill that would provide more than $100 billion in supplemental financing for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the efforts the Iraqis make — or do not undertake — toward political reconciliation have also become a critical factor in assessing the American strategy to stabilize Iraq. So Mr. Rubaie has been keen to demonstrate that Iraqi politicians are not shrinking from that task.
He has, for example, asserted that the Iraqi Parliament would abbreviate its traditional two-month summer vacation and take perhaps no more than a week off. The idea of a long summer break has rankled some American lawmakers, who have argued that the Iraqis cannot expect American troops to risk their lives if Iraqi politicians fail to demonstrate a sense of urgency.
At the same time, Mr. Rubaie also insisted that the troop withdrawal deadlines some lawmakers are seeking to impose are unrealistic and would even embolden the enemy.
“We believe that some people in D.C. are asking the government to do something not in their hand — beyond the capacity of the government,” he said. “If you ram it down our throats and sync it to Washington because of the election cycle,” he warned, then “things will crumble.”
A British-educated physician and former spokesman for the Islamic Dawa Party, Mr. Rubaie returned to Iraq in 2003 after the fall of Baghdad. Like some of his counterparts in the Bush administration, he forecast in early 2006 that the insurgency would be sufficiently weakened by 2007 to enable many of the American forces to begin withdrawing.
Mr. Rubaie’s message for American lawmakers this week is less sanguine, but still more optimistic than the assessment shared by many lawmakers. Mr. Rubaie stressed that a law distributing oil revenues would be in place by September and that a date would be set for provincial elections to be held in 2008.
Work is under way on constitutional reforms, he said, and the overhaul of the policy barring most former Baath Party members from government jobs would be completed by the end of the year.
American lawmakers, he said, could help the process along, not with deadlines, but by putting pressure on the various Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish factions as they struggle to hammer out their legislation. “Each piece of law,” he said, required the “need to twist some different arms.”
Mr. Rubaie also asserted that Iraqi government officials were involved in serious discussions with several insurgent groups, including the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade and Ansar al-Sunna — an effort to split the opposition and turn them against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
Bush administration officials advised Mr. Rubaie during his trip here that the Iraqi government needed to make political progress so the White House could maintain sufficient support at home.
But some of Mr. Rubaie’s meetings appeared to have been more of a collision of cultures than a meeting of minds. In the meeting with Mr. Murtha, the congressman stressed the need for the Iraqis to craft a plan that would enable American forces to leave as soon as practical. But it was not clear if the two men had agreed on the definition of “as soon as practical.”
In the session with Mr. Levin, Mr. Rubaie stressed that Iraq was involved in a historic process to overcome the long legacy of authoritarian rule, and that the early withdrawal of American troops would lead to chaos.
Mr. Levin, for his part, stuck firmly to his position that the United States should begin a partial troop withdrawal in four months to put pressure on the Iraqi leaders to make the necessary political compromises.
“Clocks are action-forcing mechanisms,” Mr. Levin said in an interview after his conversation with Mr. Rubaie. Mr. Levin said the Iraqi talked of the sweeping changes under way and the need “to educate a generation.”
“I told him that is too long,” Mr. Levin said.