- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A progress report on Iraq will conclude that the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad has not met any of its targets for political, economic and other reform, speeding up the Bush administration’s reckoning on what to do next, a U.S. official said yesterday.

The “pivot point” for addressing the matter will no longer be Sept. 15, as initially envisioned, when a full report on President Bush’s “surge” plan is due, but instead will come this week when the interim mid-July assessment is released, the official said.

“The facts are not in question,” the official told the Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because the draft is still under discussion. “The real question is how the White House proceeds with a post-surge strategy in light of the report.”

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The report, required by law, is expected to be delivered to Capitol Hill by Thursday or Friday, as the Senate takes up a $649 billion defense policy bill and votes on a Democratic amendment ordering troop withdrawals to begin in 120 days.

Also being drafted are several Republican-backed proposals that would force a new course in Iraq, including one by Sens. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, and Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, that would require U.S. troops to abandon combat missions. Mrs. Collins and Mr. Nelson say their binding amendment would order the U.S. mission to focus on training the Iraqi security forces, targeting al Qaeda members and protecting Iraq’s borders.

Republican support for the war has eroded steadily since Mr. Bush’s decision in January to send some 30,000 additional troops to Iraq. At the time, Mr. Bush said the Iraqis agreed to meet certain benchmarks, such as enacting a law to divide the nation’s oil reserves.

Iraq’s parliament last week rejected a proposed oil law within hours after it was unanimously approved by the Cabinet.

This spring, Congress agreed to continue funding the war through September but demanded that Mr. Bush certify on July 15 and again on Sept. 15 that the Iraqis were living up to their political promises or forgo U.S. aid dollars.

The official said it is highly unlikely that Bush will withhold or suspend aid to the Iraqis based on the report.

A draft version of the administration’s progress report circulated among various government agencies in Washington yesterday.

White House press secretary Tony Snow tried to lower expectations on the report, contending that all of the additional troops had just gotten in place and it would be unrealistic to expect major progress by now.

“You are not going to expect all the benchmarks to be met at the beginning of something,” Mr. Snow said. “I’m not sure everyone’s going to get an ‘A’ on the first report.”

In Baghdad, Iraq’s foreign minister warned yesterday that a quick American military withdrawal from the country could lead to a full-scale civil war, the collapse of the government and spillover conflicts across the region.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraqis “understand the huge pressure that will increase more and more in the United States.”

Mr. Zebari did not comment on the performance of Iraq’s deadlocked parliament.

Attacks in Baghdad yesterday killed at least 13 persons. Prominent Shi’ite and Sunni politicians called on Iraqi civilians to take up arms to defend themselves after a weekend of violence, including one of the deadliest attacks in the four-year Iraqi conflict, that took more than 220 lives.

The burst of violence comes at a sensitive time. U.S. forces are waging offensives in and around Baghdad aimed at bringing calm to the capital.

“In our estimations, until Iraqi forces are ready, there is a responsibility on the United States to stand with the [government] as the forces are being built,” Mr. Zebari said.

Senior Iraqi officials are calling on civilians to arm themselves and fight insurgents, reflecting growing frustration with Iraqi security forces’ inability to prevent terrorist attacks — like Saturday’s suicide truck bombing in the Shi’ite town of Armili, north of Baghdad, which killed more than 160 people, according to the latest toll from police and officials.

The attack on Armili — a town of Shi’ites from the Turkoman ethnic minority — indicated extremists are moving farther north to unprotected regions.

“People have a right to expect from the government and security agencies protection for their lives, land, honor and property,” Iraq’s Sunni Arab vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, said yesterday.

“But in the case of [their] inability, the people have no choice but to take up their own defense,” Mr. al-Hashemi said.

Violence continued in Baghdad yesterday, with a roadside bomb and two cars wired with explosives that killed eight around the capital and the discovery of a body with bullet wounds and torture marks dumped in the street, an apparent victim of sectarian death squads.

Two soldiers and two policemen died in a gunbattle in the Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah.

Fifty miles north of the capital, a roadside bomb exploded near an Iraqi military bus, killing nine Iraqi soldiers and injuring 21, according to an officer with the Iraqi 4th Division.

Iraqi commanders say U.S. and Iraqi troops are making progress in a three-pronged security sweep that began in mid-June — one in Baghdad, another to the northeast in Baqouba and the third to the south.

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