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There's usually much of both from Iraq, and today is no exception. But the nature of the news today strikes me as a bit different.
Top U.S. military and civilian officials in Iraq said Tuesday that they had won Iraq’s agreement to set a timetable to tackle some of the country’s most intractable problems.Good:
Army Gen. George Casey, commander of American forces in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad provided no details of their discussions with Iraqi officials and no hard deadlines.
Casey also said that more U.S. troops may be needed in the capital to quell raging sectarian violence, and reiterated that it will take longer than previously thought for Iraqi troops to take the lead in providing adequate security across the war-scarred nation.
“It’s going to take another 12 to 18 months or so till I believe the Iraqi security forces are completely capable of taking over responsibility for their own security,” Casey said, repeating the estimate he made more than a month ago.
Iraqi Army soldiers backed by U.S.- led coalition advisers carried out a raid on Sadr City, a Shiite Muslim slum in east Baghdad, to search for a suspected sectarian death squad leader, the military said.This is what many in America and Iraq have wanted - an agreed-to timetable, and Iraqi forces taking the lead, and in Sadr City, no less.
Gun battles erupted in the stronghold of anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, and coalition aircraft participated in the Iraqi government-authorized operation, the U.S. military said in an e-mailed statement.
Just one minor problem...
An angry Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki disavowed a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid in the capital's Sadr City slum Wednesday, and criticized the top U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Iraq for saying his government needs to set a timetable to curb violence in the country.Unfortunately, much criticism regarding Maliki has been his reluctance to respond forcefully to actions of Sadr's militias - this reinforces that criticism. Did he initially agree to timetables with Khalilzad and Casey? Is he withdrawing that support (and denying it ever existed) in response to the Sadr City raid? Are Casey and Khalizaid acting without any coordination with Maliki? There are countless other possibilities, too...
Al-Maliki spoke at a news conference a day after U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Iraqi leaders had agreed to set deadlines by year's end for achieving specific political and security goals laid out by the United States, including reining in militia groups.
"I affirm that this government represents the will of the people and no one has the right to impose a timetable on it," the prime minister said.
The prime minister dismissed U.S. talk of timelines as driven by the coming midterm elections in the United States. "I am positive that this is not the official policy of the American government but rather a result of the ongoing election campaign. And that does not concern us much," he said.
Update: Links below are to the video of the conference. As usual, the situation is not as simple as the reports would indicate.
Here's what Ambassador Khalilzad said about timetables or timelines, and what the Iraqis had agreed to. As the U.S. civilian representative in Iraq, he is addressing "civil issues":
Second, we are helping Iraqi leaders to complete a national compact. Key political forces must make difficult decisions in the coming weeks to reach agreements on a number of outstanding issues on which Iraqis differ: Enacting an oil law that will share the profits of Iraq's resources in a way that unites the country -- this is of critical importance; amending the constitution to make all Iraqis understand that their children will be guaranteed democratic rights and equality; reforming the de-Ba'athification Commission to transform it into an accountability and reconciliation program; implementing a plan to address militias and death squads; setting a date for provincial elections; and increasing the credibility and capability of Iraqi forces. Iraqi leaders have agreed to a timeline for making the hard decisions needed to resolve these issues. President Talabani has made these commitments public. The United States and its coalition partners will support Prime Minister Maliki and other leaders in their effort to meet these benchmarks.Much later in the briefing, General Casey addressed military issues:
We are coordinating with Prime Minister Maliki and his team on developing a plan for the transfer of security responsibilities. Reforming the Security Ministry is one of the benchmarks that the Iraqi leaders have agreed to. This plan will be ready before the end of the year. To broaden international support for stabilizing Iraq, Iraqi leaders and the United Nations have been working on a plan, an International Compact with Iraq, that will consist of a commitment by Iraq to do what's necessary in terms of continued economic reform and policies to put the country on the path to stability and prosperity, in exchange for the international community's support. Many countries, including those who opposed the initial intervention in Iraq, are participating in the process, which should be completed by the end of the year.
From my perspective on the security side, we have been focusing on helping build Iraqi security forces that can maintain domestic order and deny Iraq as a safe haven for terror. We are about 75 percent of the way through a three-step process in building those forces. And it's going to take another 12 to 18 months or so till I believe the Iraqi security forces are completely capable of taking over responsibility for their own security; still probably with some level of support from us, but that will be directly asked for by the Iraqis.So news reporters edit that down to this (see above):
Top U.S. military and civilian officials in Iraq said Tuesday that they had won Iraq’s agreement to set a timetable to tackle some of the country’s most intractable problems.Is that accurate? Yes - but hardly enough information to respond to. (And is "won" accurate? Was there a battle?) Obviously a lot of erroneous conclusions can be drawn from that characterization of a much lengthier discussion. Trying to guess whether the subsequent quotes from Maliki are accurate, or if he was responding to an accurate quote from a reporter of what Casey or Khalizad said in the first place, is pointless.
But the results - political and military, good or bad - of that Sadr City raid may be of greater significance.
Again, stay tuned...