Iraq falling behind on 'benchmarks'
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Others also find hope in a reshuffled cabinet. "If Maliki can appoint technocrats who are much more qualified and not such troublemakers as Sadr, it could be the best thing for the government and for getting things done," says Henri Barkey, an Iraq expert at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.Skip to next paragraph
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Still, some experts say a strict set of demands is too much for Maliki's year-old regime. "We're asking too much of the Iraqi government in too short a time," says Paul Hughes, an Iraq expert at the US Institute of Peace in Washington. "They still have training wheels on their operations."
Instead of focusing on benchmarks for Iraqi action, the US should be focused on getting right civilian aspects such as reconstruction and social development, says Mr. Hughes, a retired Army colonel who worked on disarmament and reintegration issues in the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003.
"Congress would serve the American people better if it tried to fix the civilian element of our involvement," he says.
Others say the best way to get the Iraqi government moving is to press regional diplomacy, an idea promoted last December by the Iraq Study Group. "Use the regional leverage and that would really bring fear, and maybe then [the Iraqis] will move on and compromise on some of these critical issues," says the Mr. Kubba of the National Endowment for Democracy.
Nevertheless, legislation for sharing oil revenues has been approved by Maliki's cabinet, although it still must pass in parliament. But in any case, Kubba says, too much stock has been placed in the oil issue, when it's really constitutional amendments – as promised to the Sunnis when they signed on to the constitution in 2005 – that are holding up broad reconciliation.
"The emphasis on oil revenue has left the impression that if we give [the Sunnis] their share of oil, they will be quiet. That is not the case," Kubba says. "It's the constitutional amendments that are the crux of the issue, but nobody has moved on this. They are dancing around the issue as if another year is OK, and it's not."
The Sunnis see constitutional reform as key to an equitable political process. So if that can be sorted out, then other legislative goals are more likely to fall into place, according to Kubba. "These benchmarks are in reality the byproducts of a successful political process," he says. "So if you can get the Iraqis together to flesh out differences and work together, then you will get all the benchmarks you want."
For others, though, setting out expectations will remain an important tool for the US to prod action by the Iraqi government. "Benchmarks are important in that they give a signal to the Iraqis that four years have gone by and US patience is not infinite," says Mr. Barkey, also a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. "If it lends more oxygen to the fire under Maliki, then it helps Bush say, 'Look, I'm under pressure. You need to produce.' "