Friday, July 13, 2007

While official Washington argues over how much progress Iraq is making toward achieving a series of congressionally mandated benchmarks, many Iraqis are unaware that the set of yardsticks even exists — or what they could mean to the country’s future.

“What? I mean what are they?” asked Jenan, a well-educated young female interpreter who avoids the violence on Baghdad’s streets by staying at home for weeks on end.

The members of parliament, she said, are “only puppets. None of the Iraqi people count on them or trust them. Believe me, not even one progress happened in the country.”

For Raed Wahid, a musician who lives in northern Baghdad, the question of benchmarks appeared equally odd.

“I don’t know what is this game?” he said. “What good are they supposed to achieve? Everyone is terrified. There is no security, and it gets worse every day.”

Even lawmakers who had heard of the American insistence that the Iraqi government move forward on key legislation did not seem to realize yesterday that continued U.S. military backing could depend on whether the benchmarks are achieved.

“The benchmarks are a good idea, but we need more input from the Iraqi side. So far, there hasn’t been much opportunity for the Iraqi [members of parliament] to voice their opinions on how to set or judge the benchmarks,” said Maysoon al Damluji, a legislator from Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National List party.

“We should have benchmarks, but we should work together on them,” she added.

These Baghdad residents expressed their views via telephone interviews and Internet messaging.

For people like Jenan, who will not leave her house even to get a newspaper and who is afraid to have her full name published, it seems absurd to pin progress in her country to legislation passed by the Iraqi government.

“It is because the Bush administration do not want to prove their failure, so they would say that the parliament is the key to a peaceful and prosperous Iraq,” she said.

“The Americans are staying in the [Green Zone] and military bases where they are provided with all their needs. They do not even know of the suffering of the Iraqis,” she concluded bitterly.

c James Palmer in Baghdad and Willis Witter in Washington contributed to this report.

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