US calls for swift political progress
BAGHDAD - Top American diplomatic and military officials yesterday urged Iraq's lawmakers to speed up political progress, a sign of Washington's concern that security gains could be squandered amid legislative infighting.
Also reminiscent was the political discord in parliament. Now, as before, lawmakers are divided into sectarian blocs, and boycotts and walkouts continue to hamper movement on major bills. None of the legislation that US officials focused on earlier this year has won approval.
That is different now, and what is giving US officials a new sense of urgency, is the reduced violence across the country and in particular the capital, Baghdad. They say higher violence levels will return if parliament does not use the calmer environment to improve essential services nationwide, forge ties with local and provincial leaders, and sort out disputes blocking major bills splitting Sunni Arabs, Shi'ites and Kurds.
The pending legislation would manage Iraq's oil wealth and lift rules limiting employment opportunities for former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party.
US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, who served as ambassador to Iraq in 2004, said six days of touring Iraq had left him encouraged by the improved security.
"Now progress on political reconciliation . . . is needed to consolidate the gains made thus far," he said at a news conference. "If progress is not made on these fronts, we risk falling back to the more violent patterns of the past."
In separate comments, the No. 2 commander of US troops in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, said the lowered violence showed that things "are clearly moving in the right direction."
But Odierno, speaking to CNN's "Late Edition," echoed Negroponte's comments that the national government should pick up the pace of reconciliation.
"I think now we have security at a level where we have to now look at other things. The increase of services to the people, the increase of political accommodation at the local level, the provincial level," he said. continued