When Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker first reported on the results of the surge a year ago this past week, top congressional figures were quick to point out that the Iraqi government had satisfied only three of the 18 benchmarks set up as barometers for progress.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), made that point while speaking on the Senate floor, when he declared the “Bush-Petraeus plan” a failure.
“Strengthening the central government is not happening,” he said last week. “As the surge and number of troops goes up, the strength of the central government goes down. That equation says failure in the Bush-Petraeus surge. The goal is not a military goal. In the president's own words, it is to give the government of Iraq greater stability, greater breathing room -- and that government, by just about every standard, is worse off than before.”
But the White House is now reporting that 15 of the 18 benchmarks set up to measure the Iraqi government’s effectiveness have been satisfied.
A critical turning point may have been reached in February of this year when the central government passed three pieces of legislation simultaneously: the Provisional Powers Law, the Amnesty Law and a national budget.
While political progress remains uneven, it is not non-existent, according to U.S. State Department reports and recent congressional testimony. The remaining unmet benchmarks concern the disarmament of militias and the distribution of oil revenue.
But the legislative measures that have come to fruition, especially in the past few months, demonstrate that Iraq’s government is in fact taking better advantage of the improved security climate, top administration officials claim.
In his April testimony Ambassador Crocker pointed to legislative achievements that could serve as meaningful foundations for future nation-building efforts. Crocker called attention to the Provisional Powers Act, which better defined the relationship between central and local governing authorities.
“The Provincial Powers Law is a major step forward in defining the relationship between the federal and provincial governments,” Crocker said. “Passage of this legislation required debate about the fundamental nature of the state, similar in its complexity to our own lengthy and difficult debate over states' rights.”
The relationship between the central government in Baghdad and the provinces is somewhat ambiguous and even contradictory, as it is spelled out in the Iraqi Constitution. Article 115 allows for local legislation to be elevated above national laws, while Article 122 seems to provide the provinces with little legislative influence.
Under the Provisional Powers Act, the various provinces have the latitude and space to legislate on local matters as long as there is no contradiction with the Constitution. The new law also calls for provincial elections to be held by Oct. 1 of this year. The most significant political parties have all expressed support for the elections, Crocker said in his testimony.
Other important steps indicating political progress in the past few months include a pension law that provides benefits to citizens who previously had been denied claims after serving in Saddam Hussein’s government.
The Accountability and Justice Law (de-Baathification reform) also passed earlier this year. It is designed to reincorporate thousands of experienced government hands who were lower-ranking members under the previous regime. The De-Ba’athification is being pushed as major ingredient for reconciliation between the Shite government and Sunni Arabs.
Amnesty legislation that will impact mostly Sunni prisoners who are charged with relatively less serious offenses has also become a reality. Proponents of the bill anticipate that thousands of prisoners could be released, if amnesty is properly implemented. The overriding idea behind amnesty is to remove pressure from an already overtaxed criminal justice system, while encouraging Sunnis to cooperate more fully with the Shite government.
The absence of political progress in 2007 that was acknowledged by some Bush administration officials no longer holds true in 2008 in light of the Iraqi parliament’s legislative initiatives. The weekly status updates on Iraq made available through the U.S. State Department for instance shows that military progress on the ground is now co-joined with economic and political progress.
Nevertheless, prominent Democrats on Capitol Hill continue to insist that Iraq’s government has failed to deliver in a meaningful way.
When she was asked if the troop surge was a success during a July press conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNSNews.com it was not, and she cited a lack of political progress.
“The purpose of the surge,” which started in January 2007, “was to create a secure period of time so the government of Iraq would have political room to take actions that would bring [political] reconciliation to Iraq,” Pelosi said. (See related story)
“Since the surge began, 1,100 of our troops have died,” she said. “They told us it would take 60 to 90 days to do it all. It’s a year and a half and it still hasn’t happened.”
The delays in provincial elections, the need for de-Baathification (rooting out senior Baath Party members from Iraqi ministries), and constitutional modifications were among the speaker’s list of concerns.
Although the new laws are less than perfect they do represent a hopeful start, Crocker told members of congress in April.
“Last summer, the COR [Iraq’s Council of Representatives] suffered from persistent and often paralyzing disputes over leadership and procedure,” he said. “Now, it is successfully grappling with complex issues and producing viable tradeoffs and compromise packages. As debates in Iraq’s parliament became more about how to resolve tough problems in a practical way, Iraqi politics have become more fluid.”
Weekly Status Updates
The U.S. State Department’s Weekly Status Updates on Iraq highlight the political and economic progress that has been made the surge began in Jan. 2007. Not all of the legislation has been submitted for final deliberation.
Feb. 28 2007
Council of Ministers Passes Draft Hydrocarbon Law:
• On February 26, the Council of Ministers approved a draft of the hydrocarbon framework law. The next step is for the draft legislation to be submitted to the Council of Representatives for deliberation. This law is a vital component necessary for long-term economic growth in Iraq, according to the U.S. State Department.
March 7 2007
Inflation Statistics Show Progress:
• Official Iraqi statistics show an overall price decline of 6.8% from January to February. Year-on-year prices were up 37.1% (a sharp decline from January’s year-on-year rate of 66.4%). Core inflation (which excludes fuel and transport prices) was down 1.2% in February, with year-on-year inflation at 23.7%, down from 30.7% in January. It is too early to say that inflation is under control, but this may be a positive first step.
April 4, 2007
Budget Execution: Salah al-Din Approves 2007 Capital Budget:
• On March 28, Salah al-Din Provincial Council members endorsed a comprehensive capital investment budget for the province’s $95 million capital allocation in the national budget. With the provincial capital budget approved, it can be passed to the Ministry of Finance, after which requests for individual project funding can be submitted to the Ministry of Planning and Development Coordination (MoPDC).
May 9, 2007
Declaration by the EU on the ICI:
• At the International Compact for Iraq (ICI) meeting held May 3 in Sharm al-Shaykh, Egypt, the EU Presidency reaffirmed its support for the GOI [Government of Iraq]and commended it for the commitments it has made under the ICI for promoting reforms in the political, security, economic, and social fields. It announced that the EU’s financial support for Iraq is anticipated to reach 1.8 billion euros (including grants, debt relief and
loans). The EU Presidency reaffirmed its strong support for the UN’s central role in Iraq and welcomed the opening of negotiations for a Trade and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Iraq.
Feb. 6, 2008
Iraqis Fly their New National Flag:
•Iraqis hoisted their new national flag over the Iraqi Parliament for the first time February 5. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki presided over the flag-raising ceremony attended by cabinet members and dignitaries. Remarking on how Iraq’s adoption of the new flag represents a symbolic break with the memory of Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime, Maliki said, “It erases the impact of the past." The temporary national flag will fly for one year before a permanent one is chosen.
Presidency Council Approves De-Baathification Law:
•The Iraqi Presidency Council approved the Law on Accountability and Justice by default February 3. The legislation will allow thousands of Saddam Hussein-era officials to return to government jobs and is one of several key provisions before the GOI that Washington considers central to Iraqi national reconciliation. The bill will become law once it is published in the Official Gazette.
Feb. 20, 2008
CoR Transmits Budget, Provincial Powers, and Amnesty:
•The Council of Representatives transmitted three key pieces of legislation to the Presidency Council February 17: the 2008 budget, a Provincial Powers law, and an Amnesty law. The Provincial Powers law will help define the bounds of authority between the central and provincial governments in Iraq’s federal system. The Amnesty law would establish a committee to review cases of detainees scheduled for amnesty releases; most of those potentially affected are Sunni.
June 18, 2008
Council of Representatives (CoR) Plans to Move Out of the Green Zone:
•Iraq’s CoR resumed its work on Tuesday, June 17, after a one-week recess. During this session, it was announced that the CoR will relocate outside Baghdad's International Zone compound in September for the first time since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. According to CoR Deputy Speaker, “Moving [out of the International Zone] means there is improvement in security and we are getting closer to the people.”