The President Asserted Progress on Security and Political Issues. Recent Reports Weren't Often So Upbeat.
In his speech last night, President Bush made a case for progress in Iraq by citing facts and statistics that at times contradicted recent government reports or his own words.
For instance, Bush asserted that "Iraq's national leaders are getting some things done," such as "sharing oil revenues with the provinces" and allowing "former Baathists to rejoin Iraq's military or receive government pensions."
Yet his statement ignored the fact that U.S. officials have been frustrated that none of those actions have been enshrined into law -- and that reports from Baghdad this week indicated that a potential deal on sharing oil revenue is collapsing.
In a radio address to the nation less than a month ago, the president himself complained that the Iraqi government was failing to address these issues. "Unfortunately, political progress at the national level has not matched the pace of progress at the local level," Bush said on Aug. 18. "The Iraqi government in Baghdad has many important measures left to address, such as reforming the de-Baathification laws, organizing provincial elections and passing a law to formalize the sharing of oil revenues."
Bush also asserted that Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province, was once an al-Qaeda stronghold but that "today, Baqubah is cleared." But in a meeting with reporters on Aug. 27, the head of the State Department team in Diyala said the security situation was not stable, hampering access to food and energy, though he acknowledged that commerce was returning to Baqubah.
"Everything is based around security; if we have security, then we can bring in agencies like USAID," John Melvin Jones said, referring to the U.S. Agency for International Development. "It's going to take a while before the security situation gets stable enough so that you can have a lot of these other agencies involved."
Bush also thanked "the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq." But the State Department's most recent weekly report on Iraq said there are 25 countries supplying 11,685 troops -- about 7 percent of the size of the U.S. forces.
At one point, the president cited a recent report by a commission headed by retired Marine Gen. James Jones, saying that "the Iraqi army is becoming more capable, although there is still a great deal of work to be done to improve the national police."
But the report said Iraq's army will be unable to take over internal security from U.S. forces in the next 12 to 18 months and "cannot yet meaningfully contribute to denying terrorists safe haven." It also described the 25,000-member national police force as riddled with sectarianism and corruption, and it recommended that it be disbanded.
The commission also recommended that U.S. troops in Iraq be "retasked" in early 2008 to protect critical infrastructure and guard against border threats from Iran and Syria, while gradually turning responsibility for security over to Iraqi forces despite their deficiencies -- advice the president did not follow in last night's speech.
The president also painted a relatively favorable picture of Baghdad, saying that a year ago much of it "was under siege" but that today "ordinary life is beginning to return." He did not mention that much of the once-heterogeneous city has been divided into Shiite and Sunni enclaves.
The president also said that groups of "Iranian-backed militants" are "being broken up, and many of their leaders are being captured or killed." In congressional testimony this week, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker emphasized that Iran poses a looming menace in Iraq.
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