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Political Progress in Iraq Is "Slow, Halting and Superficial"

  • A new U.S. Institute of Peace report, released on April 6, concludes that political progress in Iraq is “slow, halting and superficial” and social and political fragmentation remains “pronounced.”  It finds that the few benchmarks passed have “not alleviated the underlying causes of political instability in Iraq or facilitated the emergence of a truly national polity.”  
  • Similarly, a new Center for American Progress report, released on April 3, concludes that “President Bush's 2007 military escalation in Iraq has failed strategically despite some short-term tactical gains.  Meaningful political reconciliation between Iraqi factions has not occurred.”  
  • Even General David Petraeus stated on March 13, “No one [in the U.S. and Iraq governments] feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation.”   

The stated goal of the Bush Administration's military surge in Iraq, announced in January 2007, was to provide the space for national political reconciliation in Iraq to occur.  More than a year later, the goal of meaningful political reconciliation has not been achieved.  

Over the last several weeks, the Bush Administration has been claiming that the recent passage of three “benchmark”  laws by the Iraqi parliament are remarkable achievements that signify that there is now significant political reconciliation occurring in Iraq.  Yesterday, the nonpartisan U.S. Institute of Peace issued a report that, among other things, rejected this claim by the Administration.  The U.S. Institute of Peace report points out:


“The Iraqi parliament has achieved some … of the benchmarks set out for it by the Administration.  The laws that it has passed, such as de-Baathification reform and provincial powers, are vague, and much will depend on their implementation.  … The benchmarks were intended to serve as proxy indicators for a broader ‘national reconciliation.'  The benchmarks have not succeeded in this regard. … Political progress is slow, halting and superficial.”

This fact sheet provides an overview of the lack of political reconciliation in Iraq and the fact that the recent passage of the three benchmark laws by the Iraqi parliament have not signaled major progress - instead leaving serious questions unanswered about the laws' implementation and Iraq's future.

A stable, unified Iraq is more elusive today than before the surge.  As the Center for American Progress concludes in its new report, “A unified, independent, and stable Iraq that is an ally in the global war on terrorism is more elusive today than it was when President Bush's military escalation began in early 2007…. The measures taken to achieve [short-term security progress] have exacerbated Iraq's internal divisions and tensions over the long-term.  For example, today the U.S. independently funds approximately 90,000 predominantly Sunni militiamen across Iraq, many of whom demonstrate little allegiance to Iraq's central government.  In recent weeks, the U.S. has also provided air and ground military support to one side in an intra-Shi'a civil war that has raged throughout the southern and central parts of Iraq.”

Mere passage of a few laws does not signify meaningful political progress towards reconciliation. 
“As they did during the Iraqi elections of 2005, proponents of the war are confusing the completion of American-formulated political benchmarks with genuine political reconciliation.  And just as in 2005, Iraqi politicians are once again papering over fundamental differences over what Iraq is and should be, to meet arbitrary American political markers.” [Center for American Progress, 4/3/08]

There are serious questions about the vagueness and implementation of all three recently passed “benchmark” laws by the Iraqi parliament.  “Iraq's political transition remains stuck where it was in 2005, with no real advances on constitutional reform and worrisome unanswered questions on the implementation of three recently passed laws.  The laws cited by supporters of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq indefinitely as remarkable legislative achievements - de-Baathification reform, a provisions powers law, and an amnesty law for detainees - do not by themselves represent a major step forward.  As we know from the experience of our own country, the passage of legislation does not guarantee implementation.”  [Center for American Progress, 4/3/08]

Many experts predict that the “De-Baathification Reform” law will result in more Baathists being purged from the government than before.  One of the benchmark laws cited by the war's proponents is the de-Baathification reform law - and yet it may turn out that this law will hinder reconciliation instead of promote it.   “The Justice and Accountability Law [the “de-Baathification reform” law] is widely believed to be harsher than the old de-Baathification process, which barred high-ranking members of Saddam Hussein's predominantly Sunni Arab Baath Party from holding government jobs.  The new law could prohibit even more former officials from government service.” [New York Times, 2/4/08]  “Critics of the law said it could have the opposite of its intended effect, and eventually rekindle sectarian bloodshed.”  [New York Times, 1/16/08]

Many questions have also been raised about the vaguely-worded Amnesty law.  “With the Amnesty law, like most pieces of Iraqi legislation, the fine print must be read to understand its true implications.  According to the legislation, detainees will have their cases reviewed by a ‘competent committee.'  The language of the bill, however, includes neither a clear definition of what a competent committee is nor who will select its members.  Moreover, prisoners will not be eligible for amnesty if they are accused of one of a number of crimes.  To date, the Iraqi government has released close to 16,000 detainees in Iraqi custody.  However, more than 8,000 remain in Iraqi custody and another 23,000 remain in U.S. detention centers.”  [Center for American Progress, 4/3/08]

Finally, the Provincial Powers law also raises more questions than it answers.  “The Provincial Powers law by itself does not satisfy the benchmark calling for increased provincial devolution.  The law is only the beginning of a process that is supposed to lead to provincial elections, and while a date of October 1, 2008, has been set, Iraq may not be able to pass the necessary legislation governing elections or appoint the requisite election commission members at the provincial level before that date.  Moreover, there are not yet any political parties operating with local leaders.” [Center for American Progress, 4/3/08]