Iraqis tell Washington to monitor its own progress

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BAGHDAD, Sep 15 (Reuters) Iraqi lawmakers said today Washington was covering up for its own mistakes in Iraq by setting them artificial benchmarks to meet and then ticking them off like scorecards.

Frustrated by criticism from the United States over their slow progress towards political goals meant to foster national reconciliation, Iraqi leaders said Washington would be better served by dxamining its own progress in the unpopular war.

''The Americans always try to pretend the responsibility for cleaning up this mess isn't theirs and tend to shift blame onto Iraq, Iran and Syria for everything that goes wrong,'' said veteran Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman.

''But they should stop this nonsense and admit that most of the accountability rests on their shoulders,'' he told Reuters.

In a report ordered by Congress, the White House said yesterday that Iraq's leaders had not met half of their key goals.

The US administration's admission of shortfalls in the performance of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's fractured government came a day after President George W Bush had said enough progress had been made to justify troop withdrawals.

The White House report concluded Iraq's leaders had made satisfactory progress on nine out of 18 political and security benchmarks and unsatisfactory progress in seven. It said it could not rate two other targets.

The benchmarks, which include a crucial revenue-sharing oil law, are designed to promote reconciliation between Iraq's warring majority Shi'ite and minority Sunni Arabs.

Maliki's shaky unity government has been all but paralysed by infighting. A dozen ministers, Shi'ites and Sunnis, have left his cabinet and the political movement of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr has threatened to pull out of the coalition.

The White House report followed two days of Congressional testimony by General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Iraq, and US ambassador Ryan Crocker in a progress report that was seen as possibly presaging a change in US policy in Iraq.

Their much-anticipated report noted some security improvements but also described very modest political gains. Bush broadly backed Petraeus's recommendation for a limited withdrawal of about 20,000 troops by July.

''Before they ask the government to treat the problems in Iraq they should correct the mistakes they committed, like the disbanding of the Iraqi army,'' Sunni Arab lawmaker Izzedine al-Dawla said.

BRITISH CRITICISM British generals who served in Iraq during the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003 have criticised US post-invasion planning as ''fatally flawed''.

Othman said it was hard to keep up with US demands.

''One day they say three out of 18 objectives were met. Then they say we've met nine of 18 objectives,'' Othman said.

''It's like they're marking an exam paper.'' Shi'ite lawmaker Abbas al-Bayati said Iraqis were only paying attention to the progress report by Crocker and Petraeus.

''It is the most accurate and it calls for their army to continue working in Iraq until stability is reached,'' he said.

Nassar al-Rubaie, head of Sadr's Shi'ite parliamentary bloc, said progress could only be achieved by setting a timetable for the total withdrawal of US troops.

''An indication of progress can be judged by the increase of qualified Iraqi security forces that can provide security in the event of an American withdrawal,'' Rubaie told Reuters.

REUTERS GT PM1755

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