Bush's new Iraq plan could take years to meet, U.S. field commander says

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's new Iraq policy will establish a series of goals that the Iraqi government will be expected to meet to try to ease sectarian tensions and stabilize the country politically and economically, senior administration off...

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's new Iraq policy will establish a series of goals that the Iraqi government will be expected to meet to try to ease sectarian tensions and stabilize the country politically and economically, senior administration officials said Sunday.

Among these "benchmarks" are steps that would draw more Sunnis into the political process, finalize a long-delayed measure on the distribution of oil revenue and ease the government's policy toward former Baath Party members, the officials said.

In Baghdad, the new American operational commander in Iraq said Sunday that even with the additional American troops likely to be deployed under President Bush's new war strategy, it may take another "two or three years" for American and Iraqi forces to gain the upper hand in the war.

Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno assumed day-to-day command of war operations last month in the first step of a makeover of the American military hierarchy in Iraq. In his first lengthy meeting with reporters, the 52-year-old general struck a cautious note about American prospects, saying much will depend on whether commanders can show enough progress to stem eroding support in the United States for the war.

"I believe the American people, if they feel we are making progress, they will have the patience," he said. But right now, he added, "I think the frustration is that they think we are not making progress."


Without saying what the specific penalties for failing to achieve the goals would be, American officials insisted that they intended to hold the Iraqis to a realistic timetable for action, but the Americans and Iraqis have agreed on many of the objectives before, only to fall far short. And the widespread skepticism about the Bush administration's Iraq strategy among Democrats and some Republicans was underscored by the new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a television interview broadcast on Sunday. She, along with the Democratic leader of the Senate, Harry Reid, informed the president that they were opposed to increasing troop levels.

"If the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have to justify it," Pelosi said on the CBS News program "Face the Nation." "And this is new for him because up until now the Republican Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no conditions."

She also suggested that Congress should deal with financing for the current war and for the proposed increase as separate issues. "If the president chooses to escalate the war, in his budget request we want to see a distinction between what is there to support the troops who are there now," Pelosi said.

Whether lawmakers are prepared to advocate legislative steps to withhold money from an expanded mission is unclear. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that as a practical matter, there was little that lawmakers could do to prevent Bush from expanding the American military mission in Iraq.

"You can't go in like a Tinkertoy and play around and say you can't spend the money on this piece and this piece," Biden said on the NBC News program "Meet the Press." "He'll be able to keep the troops there forever, constitutionally, if he wants to."

"As a practical matter," Biden added, "there is no way to say, 'Mr. President, stop.' "

Bush is expected to refer to the benchmarks in a much-anticipated speech this week outlining his new Iraq strategy, including plans to send as many as 20,000 additional troops. Administration officials plan to make the benchmarks public sometime after the address.

In addition to trying to ease congressional concerns over the new strategy, the Bush administration is trying to instill discipline in an Iraqi government that has often been slow to act and hampered by sectarian agendas.


"There will be an approach and a strategy that reflects not only the desire for the Iraqis to take more responsibility, but the need for the Iraqis to step up," a senior administration official familiar with the deliberations said. "This is not an open-ended commitment. We are putting real specific requirements and expectations on the Iraqi government."

The Americans and Iraqis have agreed on benchmarks before. Indeed, some of the goals that are to be incorporated on the list of benchmarks have been carried over from an earlier list that was hammered out with the Iraqis, made public in October, but never met.

The benchmarks, for example, include a previously stated commitment: setting a date for provincial elections. That goal is intended to enfranchise Sunnis, who boycotted the initial elections in Sunni-dominated areas. American officials hope that the measure will give Sunnis more of a stake in the political process.

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