BAGHDAD – Iraqi leaders have failed to take advantage of a reduction in violence to make adequate progress toward resolving their political differences, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Thursday.
Petraeus, who is preparing to testify to Congress next month on the Iraq war, said in an interview that “no one” in the U.S. and Iraqi governments “feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation,” or in the provision of basic public services.
The general’s comments appeared to be his sternest to date on Iraqis’ failure to achieve political reconciliation. In February, following the passage of laws on the budget, an amnesty for certain detainees, and provincial elections, Petraeus was more encouraging. “The passage of the three laws today showed that the Iraqi leaders are now taking advantage of the opportunity that coalition and Iraqi troopers fought so hard to provide,” he said at the time.
Petraeus came to Iraq a year ago to implement a counterinsurgency strategy, backed up by a temporary increase of some 30,000 U.S. troops, intended to ease the sectarian and political differences that threaten to break the country apart.
The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has won passage of some legislation that aids the cause of reconciliation, drawing praise from President Bush and his supporters. But the Iraqi government also has deferred some of its most important legislative goals, including laws governing the exploitation of Iraq’s oil resources, that the Bush administration had identified as necessary benchmarks of progress toward reconciliation.
Many Iraqi parliament members and other officials acknowledge that the country’s political system is often paralyzed by sectarian divisions, but they also say that American expectations are driven by considerations in Washington and do not reflect the complexity of Iraq’s problems.
In what appeared to be a foreshadowing of his congressional testimony, which his aides said he would not discuss explicitly, Petraeus insisted that Iraqi leaders still have an opportunity to act. “We’re going to fight like the dickens” to maintain the gains in security and “where we can to try and build on it,” he said.