Iraqi legislators can't take the heat

The Baltimore Sun

ATLANTA -- It's so-o-o hot in Iraq in August.

You couldn't reasonably expect a group of high-ranking politicians to continue to work on tough issues while the thermostat registers 130 degrees, could you? So what if they work in the Green Zone where the electricity is reliable and the air-conditioning is quite comfy? They needed a break from all that feud-- ... ah, deliberating.

So the Iraqi parliament is taking August off.

So why are 160,000 U.S. troops risking their lives? Why are our soldiers and Marines pounding the wretchedly hot and dangerous streets wearing 80 pounds of gear?

It's not as though Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his colleagues would have accomplished much even if parliament had stayed in session. Some bloc of Shiites or Sunnis is always stalking out. The prime minister himself is both duplicitous and indecisive. Mr. Maliki is not so much interested in a democratic republic that protects the interests of minority Sunnis as he is in a Shiite-run government that punishes Sunnis. And he often blusters about his government's alleged strength and sovereignty - U.S. military forces can leave "any time they want," he declared last month - before he hurriedly reverses himself.

When Gen. David Petraeus gives his report to Congress next month, he will no doubt cite a few places where U.S. troops have made military progress. In Anbar province, for example - once a haven for jihadists - Iraqi-born Sunnis have grown weary of the death toll and turned their backs on insurgents linked to al-Qaida, cooperating instead with U.S. forces. Anbar, for now, is stable.

But the Iraqi government hasn't come close to meeting the political "benchmarks" that President Bush laid out in January. Mr. Maliki and his colleagues deserve an "F."

President Bush ignored a key recommendation of the Iraq Study Group when he announced his escalation of forces in January. But he agreed with the group that a series of political accommodations would be needed among the warring Iraqi factions. Mr. Bush claimed he would turn up the pressure on the Iraqi government to make political compromises and concessions; indeed, he said, that was the purpose of sending more U.S. troops - to give the Iraqis another few months to get their act together.

"I have made it clear to the prime minister and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people - and the Iraqi people," he said.

Since then, American officials have identified three of those so-called benchmarks as priorities: passing legislation to share oil proceeds among ethnic groups, including the Kurds; outlining a process by which some former Baathists - members of Saddam Hussein's political party - could hold government posts; and passing a law scheduling provincial elections for later this year. The Iraqi government would be judged on those, White House officials said repeatedly.

But when the Iraqi parliament left for its summer vacation, there was no oil-sharing agreement, no law mandating provincial elections, no process for reintegrating former Baathists. Parliament is set to return Sept. 4, just 11 days before General Petraeus is scheduled to give his much-anticipated progress report. Don't expect those all-important benchmarks to be met by then.

No reasonable person believes that U.S. forces can stabilize Iraq without political compromises by its elected leaders. Adm. Michael G. Mullen, who is set to replace Gen. Peter Pace as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress recently that unless Iraqis bridge their political differences, "no amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference."

Unfortunately, Iraq's political leaders are not the sort who believe in compromise. They have no use for it. They believe in a winner-takes-all system - you lose, you die. And as long as U.S. troops are over there, they'll share in the dying.

If the United States withdraws its troops, the Iraqis may tire of the bloodletting. Or maybe they won't. Either way, it's time to start bringing our soldiers and Marines home.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun. Her e-mail is

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