Friday, June 08, 2007

Senate Armed Services Committee Told Iraq Trends Negative in Secret Briefing

Lawmakers are getting realistic assessments of the failing U.S. mission in Iraq, yet some Senators and Congressmen are continuing to untruthfully portray the situation as improving.

Maybe the (overwhelmingly Republican) members are taking their cues from the White House, but it is hard to overlook their intentional misleading of the American people when the relevant committees on Capitol Hill are receiving secret briefings that contradict their statements.

U.S. intelligence officials ... told the Senate Armed Services Committee in a closed session last month that trends in Iraq remain negative and that the prospect for political movement by the nation's feuding Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds appears marginal. The secret intelligence conclusions were disclosed during yesterday's hearing by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and confirmed by a Republican official.

The conclusions largely tracked the findings of the last National Intelligence Estimate, released in January, before Bush announced his decision to send nearly 30,000 more troops to Iraq, suggesting that the intelligence community does not think the force buildup has changed the outlook nearly five months later. Bayh quoted a CIA expert on radical Islam as saying that "our presence in Iraq is creating more members of al-Qaeda than we are killing in Iraq," though it was unclear whether that came during the May 24 briefing. ...

During a recent visit to Washington, a senior Iraqi official said sectarian divides are deepening. "People may look for benchmarks, achievements, legislation here and there to look for progress," said the official, who was not authorized to speak on the record and agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity. "This will not reflect the reality. This country is in deep, grave trouble. . . . If anyone expects problems to be fixed by September 2007 or 2008, they will be in for a bad surprise."

There has been little progress in four key political areas. At the top of the list is revisiting the Iraqi constitution that was approved in an October 2005 referendum, to better balance power among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds. The project was handed over to a legislative committee, which did not meet a May 15 deadline. ...

A separate committee is working on legislation governing the distribution of Iraq's oil wealth. Although a framework law was agreed to by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government this year, it has not been submitted to the parliament. Implementing legislation to determine how revenue is collected and divided among the regions remains incomplete and a subject of heated dispute.

Also, agreement on provincial elections has moved slowly with the appointment of a new national electoral commission. Minority Sunnis, many of whom boycotted the last round of elections, hope to regain political power, and the majority Shiites are reluctant to cede power.

Finally, Iraqis have made the least progress among the four areas on a de-Baathification law. "It's an extremely difficult issue," the senior U.S. official said. "If you push it too fast in an environment like we have right now just to meet a benchmark, you can risk a very extreme reaction" among Shiites who remain adamantly opposed.


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