- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2006

The Bush administration is stepping up the pressure on Iraq’s political leaders to reach an agreement on a new government after four months of stalemate and bickering.

With U.S. polls showing eroding public support for the war in Iraq, and voters preparing to take out their frustrations and fears in the fall elections, President Bush is getting tougher with the Iraqis. The word has gone out to Baghdad to get your act together, form a unity government and put your factional differences behind you for now. America’s patience is finite and the time is coming when you must either pull together or… well, the U.S. isn’t saying what comes next, not yet, but the administration’s warnings are clear and chilling.

First came admonitions from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that in the end, the Iraqis were going to win this fight for their national survival and freedom or they would lose it. Yes, the U.S. would help and be there for them when needed, but they would have to fight the bulk of the battles on their own.

Mr. Rumsfeld doesn’t mince words when he says that he sees a day when U.S. military support levels will be gradually reduced to the point where the U.S. role would be largely military training and resource backup in weaponry, logistics and financial aid.

President Bush followed that up more recently by telling the Iraqis that he wanted to see some progress on forming a new government. It has been four months now since the last elections there and its leaders have been unable to unite behind Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

But the strongest signal of U.S. displeasure and impatience came this week when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw flew to Baghdad Sunday to urge political leaders to stop their feuding and get on with the job of forming a government that will unite the country.

In an exhaustive day-long meeting that continued into the night, Miss Rice and Mr. Straw used their bluntest language yet to convince the Iraqi politicians that they must to come together or risk losing the support of the Iraqi people at a time when the very survival of their country hung in the balance.

Miss Rice said later, according to press dispatches, that she was “very direct” with the Iraq leaders, particularly Mr. al-Jaafari, telling them that “the Iraqi people are losing patience.” In the sharpest face-to-face lecturing yet by a top U.S. official, she told them “your international allies want to see this get done because you can’t continue to leave a political vacuum.”

Clearly, Mr. al-Jaafari has lost whatever support he had. It is reported that Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi’s Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution, which won over 30 seats in the parliament in December, has withdrawn its support from the prime minister.

Both Miss Rice and Mr. Straw made it clear that they had every right to press the Iraqis for some movement toward a new government. The U.S. and Great Britain had paid for that right with the blood of their soldiers, Mr. Straw told them.

Miss Rice talked frankly of the “human treasure” their two nations, among others, had sacrificed over the past three years in behalf of the Iraqis.

Now it was up to them to show that sacrifice had been worth it. “The American people want to see Iraq succeed, but they want to see Iraq progress toward success,” she said.

Until now, the U.S. has not taken sides in the jockeying and trade-offs for leadership in the new government, but that posture underwent a noticeable change Sunday. The body language, if not the diplomatic signs, were clear: Mr. al-Jaafari had to go and a stronger leader had to be put in his place.

“When the two met with al-Jaafari in front of reporters, the tension was

noticeable,” The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler reported. “Rice sat with a frozen smile as she and al-Jaafari made awkward conversation about the stormy weather outside.”

After a meeting described as “frosty” by Mr. Kessler, at which Miss Rice bluntly criticized Mr. al-Jaafari’s inability to pull the warring factions together, Miss Rice said the Iraqis had “to get a prime minister who can form a government.”

The dark clouds hanging over that meeting were in sharp contrast to the sunny atmosphere at a later meeting with Vice President Abdul Mahdi who came close to upsetting Mr. al-Jaafari for the prime ministership in February. “It’s wonderful to see you,” Miss Rice gushed several times.

Mr. al-Jaafari’s replacement may happen sooner rather than later and if it does, Miss Rice and Mr. Straw will get much of the credit for the change in direction. If their mission to Baghdad could be summed up in a few words, it would be “no more Mr. Nice Guy.”

The time for diplomatic schmoozing was over. America’s bravest and best have given their lives so that the Iraqis would have the freedom to choose their own government. They had better act soon, for our patience is coming to an end.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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