U.S. to Hand Iraq a New Timetable on Security Role

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Media: The New York Times
Date: 22 October 2006

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is drafting a timetable for the Iraqi
government to address sectarian divisions and assume a larger role in
securing the country, senior American officials said.

Details of the blueprint, which is to be presented to Prime Minister Nuri
Kamal al-Maliki before the end of the year and would be carried out over the
next year and beyond, are still being devised. But the officials said that
for the first time Iraq was likely to be asked to agree to a schedule of
specific milestones, like disarming sectarian militias, and to a broad set
of other political, economic and military benchmarks intended to stabilize
the country.

Although the plan would not threaten Mr. Maliki with a withdrawal of
American troops, several officials said the Bush administration would
consider changes in military strategy and other penalties if Iraq balked at
adopting it or failed to meet critical benchmarks within it.

A senior Pentagon official involved in drafting the blueprint said that
Iraqi officials were being consulted as the plan evolved and would be
invited to sign off on the milestones before the end of the year. But he
added, "If the Iraqis fail to come back to us on this, we would have to
conduct a reassessment" of the American strategy in Iraq.

The plan is being formulated by General George W. Casey Jr. and Ambassador
Zalmay Khalilzad, the top military and civilian officials in Iraq, as well
as by Pentagon officials. General Casey has been in close consultations with
the White House as the debate over the way forward in Iraq has intensified
in recent weeks. And he took part by videoconference on Saturday in a
strategy meeting with President Bush and senior administration officials,
including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld,
Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, and
Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We're trying to come up with ways to get the Iraqis to step up to the
plate, to push them along, because the time is coming," a senior Bush
administration official said. "We can't be there forever."

Until now, the Bush administration has avoided using threats of deadlines
for progress in Iraq, saying that conditions on the ground would determine
how quickly Iraq took on greater responsibility for governing the country
and how soon American troops could withdraw. CBS News has previously
reported that the Pentagon was studying these questions, but the broad scope
of the steps under consideration and the benchmarks that are being
contemplated have not been disclosed.

The idea of devising specific steps that Mr. Maliki would have to take was
described by senior officials who support the plan but would speak only on
condition of anonymity. Their willingness to discuss a plan that has not yet
been fully drafted appeared intended at least in part to signal renewed
flexibility on the part of the Bush administration, and perhaps also to
pre-empt the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, a
commission led by James A. Baker III and charged with formulating a new
strategy in Iraq. The group is expected to issue its recommendations late
this year or early next year.

The plan also moves the administration closer to an idea advocated by many
Democrats, who have called for setting a date for beginning phased
withdrawals of American troops from Iraq as a way to compel Iraq's
government to resolve its internal divisions and take on more

Frustration is growing among senior American military officers and civilian
officials in Iraq and at the Pentagon with Mr. Maliki for his failure to
move decisively against Shiite militias and on a wide range of other fronts.
Even the implied threat that the Bush administration would reassess its
presence in Iraq may not be enough, senior officials said.

In Baghdad, Iraqi leaders have been watching the discussions carefully and
expressing uneasiness over the growing political pressure in the United
States for a troop pullout.

Tensions between Washington and Baghdad reached a new point on Monday when
Mr. Maliki, who took office in May, used a telephone call with Mr. Bush to
seek assurances that the United States did not intend to oust him. The White
House said after the call that Mr. Bush had given the Iraqi leader a pledge
of full support.

Mr. Rumsfeld alluded to discussions about benchmarks on Friday at a Pentagon
news conference, noting that Mr. Khalilzad and General Casey "are currently
working with the Iraqi government to develop a set of projections as to when
they think they can pass off various pieces of responsibility."

He emphasized the urgency of transferring more security and governing
responsibilities to the Iraqi government. "It's their country," he said.
"They're going to have to govern it, they're going to have to provide
security for it, and they're going to have to do it sooner rather than

But Mr. Rumsfeld was quick to play down expectations: "There's no doubt in
my mind but that some of those projections we won't make; it will be later,
or even earlier in some instances. And in some cases, once we meet the
projection, we may have to go back and do it again."

Mr. Maliki's government has already announced its own set of benchmarks,
including the establishment of a mechanism to disarm private militias. This
week, the government removed commanders of the special police commandos and
the public order brigade, both widely criticized as being heavily
infiltrated by Shiite militias, in the first broad move against the top
leadership of Iraq's unruly special police forces.

But the surge in violence in Baghdad and other towns in recent weeks has
prompted consideration of even more far-reaching steps. An American official
said that one plan under consideration was to give the Iraqi Army the lead
role in domestic security, downgrading the role of police units.

The Bush administration has emphasized building up the police this year so
that they can take on the main role in providing security in many cities.
The move would be another acknowledgment that the increase in sectarian
violence in Baghdad and elsewhere has exposed deep problems with some police
units, which have been widely blamed by Sunnis for carrying out sectarian

The American strategy in Iraq was thrown into disarray this week by attacks
carried out by a Shiite militia in Amara, a town south of Baghdad, and by
the acknowledgment from an American military spokesman that the latest plan
to secure Baghdad was faltering.

In his radio address on Saturday, Mr. Bush emphasized that the
administration was staying flexible in its planning and would "make every
necessary change to prevail in this struggle."

"Our goal in Iraq is clear and unchanging: our goal is victory," he said.
"What is changing are the tactics we use to achieve that goal. Our
commanders on the ground are constantly adjusting their approach to stay
ahead of the enemy, particularly in Baghdad."

Officials said they were still debating which benchmarks to include and how
long the Iraqis should be given to achieve them. The plan is likely to cover
a number of Iraqi ministries, including Finance, Interior and Defense, which
have struggled to varying degrees with corruption and with delivering even
the most basic services, officials said.

General Casey said this month that he hoped by the end of the year to have
six or seven provinces under Iraqi administrative control. Currently, there
are only two. But the plan is also likely to include timelines for turning
over American-run military bases, an official said.

The decision about how far-reaching to make the blueprint is likely to be
influenced by what Mr. Maliki and his ministers say they can reasonably
accomplish. But American officials are discussing if they should specify
whether Iraqi officials deemed incompetent or corrupt should be replaced,
one official said. In addition, officials are considering a timetable for
the Iraqi Defense Ministry to have in place systems for paying, feeding and
equipping its units, jobs that are still overseen to a large degree by
American advisers and by contractors, some of whom have not performed well,
officials said.