This is from IHT. Although there is not too much about the oil benchmark, as the article mentions the Kurds are unsatisfied with the present draft. The analysis of the attempts to reverse De-Baathification is most interesting. It is amazing that Chalabi the Pentagon's out of favor former poster boy was put in charge. Amendments to the constitution seem to be going nowhere as well.
In Iraq, benchmarks look more like obstacle course
By Damien Cave
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
BAGHDAD: Iraq's political leaders have failed to reach agreement on nearly every law that the United States has demanded as a benchmark, despite heavy pressure from Congress, the White House and top military commanders. With only three months until reports on progress are due in Washington, the deadlock has reached a point where many Iraqi and U.S. officials now question whether any substantive laws will pass before the end of the year.
Kurds have blocked a vote in Parliament on a new oil law. Shiite clerics have stymied a U.S.-backed plan for re-integrating former Baathists into the government. Sunnis are demanding that a constitutional review include more power for the next president.
And even if one or two of the proposals are approved - the oil law appears the most likely, officials said - doubts are spreading about whether the benchmarks can ever halt the cycle of violence.
For the handful of party leaders with the power to make deals, the promise of compromise now carries less allure than the possibility for domination. Long-suppressed Sunnis and Kurds now see total victory within their grasp. Previous U.S. benchmarks like elections have failed to bring peace, and after four years of unfulfilled promises, bloodshed and sprawling chaos, wary glances have turned into cold, unblinking stares.
The same forces of entropy have severed links between the party leaders and their constituencies. In Shiite areas of the south, Sunni areas of the west and Kurdish areas of the north, Iraq's central government has become increasingly irrelevant as competing groups maneuver at the local level for control of public money and jobs. In many cases, Iran and other foreign powers provide more support than Baghdad does.
Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki told a U.S. military commander Monday, "There are two mentalities in this region: conspiracy and mistrust."
Iraq's political limitations raise difficult questions for the United States. President George W. Bush's stated mission for the increase in troops this year was to create an atmosphere of security that would lead to political reconciliation. But if broad-based compromises fail to emerge or have little impact, what comes next? Most Western political officials in Iraq and Washington refuse to discuss a Plan B publicly.
But Iraqi leaders and those who work with them admit that their days are often filled with angst and frustration. Some have turned their attention toward risky local alliances with militants who say they will now fight Al Qaeda. Even among the most hopeful, expectations have diminished.
"Being here, you can't be optimistic until things happen," said Ashraf Qazi, special representative for Iraq from the United Nations. He said a broad national reconciliation program based on a series of new laws might be possible this year but added that even signs of momentum would earn a "passing grade."
"There are no guarantees," he said. "In fact it would be overambitious to say all these things can be solved."
The challenges to reconciliation include the personal, the sectarian and the systemic. The stalled laws regarding de-Baathification and a constitutional review highlight the distrust over the petty and profound disputes that have undermined the process.
THE CONSTITUTION The document is a product of the last ambitious U.S. effort to inspire a grand compromise among Iraq's belligerent factions. Approved by a referendum in October 2005, it set the stage for elections and was widely praised by the White House, but it failed to address many of the country's most vital issues.
There was so little agreement on how to share revenue - with minority Sunnis fearing they would be left out - that the charter even failed to give the government a right to collect taxes.
Iraq's government formed a constitutional review committee in October to address potential amendments. The group was given four months to come up with recommendations for changes.
Nicholas Haysom, a constitutional expert with the United Nations, worked closely with the committee. He said the group's 31 participants met regularly. Members said the initial gatherings were cordial.
"We felt there is an ethical commitment," said Humam Hamoudi, one of three committee chairmen and a member of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the largest Shiite political party. "We have a mission to accomplish."
The discussions, however, soon gridlocked over a number of issues, including many of the same problems that arose during the last constitutional effort. Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, for example, could not agree on how to divide revenues and responsibilities between the federal government and regions. The future of oil-rich Kirkuk was left in limbo, with Kurds holding out for a referendum scheduled for the end of this year, which they hope will grant them control.
There were also bitter disputes over whether the new constitution should define Iraq as an Arab country, and whether the powers of the presidency should be expanded.
The process shows no sign of a speedy finish, with major issues still outstanding and other recommendations tied to controversial proposed laws and a census, which is intended to allocate revenue according to population.
"We have not committed to doing it by September," Hamoudi said. "Maybe the American Congress has made such a commitment, but we have not."
DE-BAATHIFICATION Ever since the Americans purged members of the Baath Party from the government soon after the invasion in 2003, they have been trying to reform the policy.
Some changes were made in 2004, bringing back teachers and people with technical expertise, but the hope has been that a broader plan to rehire low- to mid-level Baathists would drain the Sunni-led insurgency of support.
The latest de-Baathification campaign began this spring with the grandly titled Reconciliation and Accountability Law, a proposal backed by Zalmay Khalilzad, who was the U.S. ambassador until April. The draft decreed that all former Baathists who had worked in the government could collect their pensions. It opened government jobs to thousands more, and set a three-month time limit for Iraqi citizens to bring lawsuits against former members of the Baath Party, which Saddam Hussein had run.
Sunnis supported the overhaul, and Shiites and Kurds were expected to fall into line after the prime minister, a Shiite, and the president, a Kurd, announced the plan on March 26.
But the law included a change that would later become its undoing. Within a year, the law said, Iraq's De-Baathification Commission - headed by Ahmad Chalabi - would be disbanded.
Chalabi, the former Pentagon protégé, relies on the commission for an official role in Iraq's government. Having just renovated a spacious office in the Green Zone of Baghdad, he has strongly opposed any effort to weaken his position or the country's policy on former Baathists.
According to a senior official with the commission, Chalabi and members of his organization sabotaged the plan by rallying opposition among Shiite government officials in southern Iraq then displaying their complaints to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most powerful Shiite cleric.
On April 1, Chalabi visited Sistani's office in Najaf. At a news conference later, Chalabi declared that Sistani had told him the law was incomplete and that "there would be other drafts."
A day later, an aide to Sistani confirmed that there was "a general feeling of rejection" about the proposal. Since then, the original draft has gone nowhere.
The Americans have met with several groups responsible for additional drafts that address de-Baathification. Iraqi officials said they are working on a compromise law combining various elements of the U.S. law and other proposals, primarily a softer alternative backed by Chalabi.
But without clear support from Sistani, no final draft of the law has been submitted. It remains unclear how much support such a proposal could attract. Hussein al-Falluji, a member of Parliament with the Iraqi Consensus Front, the main Sunni bloc, said the prime minister did not fully support reconciliation with former Baathists.
Moreover, some Sunnis in the current government fell afoul of Baathists under Saddam and may not be eager to bring back members of the former regime.
Even if the law passes, it may not be enforced. In many provinces, officials have little respect for laws passed in the capital. In the South, various Shiite parties have already divided the spoils of government: the Fadhila Party controls much of the oil industry; the Border Police are tied to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.
Baathists looking for work need not apply; residents say that merely mentioning that someone was once a Baathist is usually enough to get him killed.
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