The New York Times reported in its Sunday editions that a desire "to pre-empt the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group" may be among the reasons the Bush administration is now "drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to address sectarian divisions and assume a larger role in securing the country."[1]  --  (On Oct. 12, the New York Sun leaked word that the Baker group will conclude that the U.S. must give up on the goal of establishing democracy in Iraq, and that after focusing on securing Baghdad the U.S. should negotiate with Iran and Syria in order to secure a safe phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.)  --  Reuters reported late Saturday that the White House issued a vague, categorical denial of the report.[2]  --  The London Independent, meanwhile, reported Sunday that a top U.S. diplomat interviewed by Al Jazeera had admitted that "undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq."[3]  --  The Washington Post reported Sunday that the president, at a high-level "meeting, which the White House called the third in a series Bush has held with this group to consult on the war, did not consider any significant policy changes, a senior official said."[4] ...

1.

Middle East

U.S. TO HAND IRAQ A NEW TIMETABLE ON SECURITY ROLE
By David S. Cloud

New York Times
October 21, 2006 (posted Oct. 21)

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/22/world/middleeast/22policy.html

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration is drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to address sectarian divisions and assume a larger role in securing the country, senior American officials said.

Details of the blueprint, which is to be presented to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki before the end of the year and would be carried out over the next year and beyond, are still being devised. But the officials said that for the first time Iraq was likely to be asked to agree to a schedule of specific milestones, like disarming sectarian militias, and to a broad set of other political, economic, and military benchmarks intended to stabilize the country.

Although the plan would not threaten Mr. Maliki with a withdrawal of American troops, several officials said the Bush administration would consider changes in military strategy and other penalties if Iraq balked at adopting it or failed to meet critical benchmarks within it.

A senior Pentagon official involved in drafting the blueprint said Iraqi officials were being consulted as the plan evolved and would be invited to sign off on the milestones before the end of the year. But he added, “If the Iraqis fail to come back to us on this, we would have to conduct a reassessment” of the American strategy in Iraq.

In a statement issued Saturday night, a White House spokeswoman, Nicole Guillemard, said the Times’s account was “not accurate,” but did not specify what officials found to be inaccurate.

The plan is being formulated by General George W. Casey Jr. and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the top military and civilian officials in Iraq, as well as by Pentagon officials.

General Casey has been in close consultations with the White House as the debate over the way forward in Iraq has intensified in recent weeks. And he and Mr. Khalilzad took part by videoconference on Saturday in a strategy meeting with President Bush and senior administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“We’re trying to come up with ways to get the Iraqis to step up to the plate, to push them along, because the time is coming,” a senior administration official said. “We can’t be there forever.”

Until now, the Bush administration has avoided using threats of deadlines for progress, saying conditions on the ground would determine how quickly Iraq took on greater responsibility for governing the country and how soon American troops could withdraw. CBS News has reported that the Pentagon was studying these questions, but the broad scope of the steps under consideration and the benchmarks that are being contemplated have not been disclosed.

“We’ve been coordinating with the Iraqis for months on a series of measures they can take to assume more control of their country,” the White House statement said, “and to form the basis for a national compact between all communities in Iraq on the way forward.”

The idea of devising specific steps that Mr. Maliki would have to take was described by senior officials who support the plan but would speak only on condition of anonymity. Their willingness to discuss a plan that has not been fully drafted appeared intended at least in part to signal renewed flexibility on the part of the administration, and perhaps also to pre-empt the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, a commission led by James A. Baker III and charged with formulating a new strategy in Iraq. It is expected to issue recommendations late this year or early next year.

The plan also moves the administration closer to an idea advocated by many Democrats, who have called for setting a date for beginning phased withdrawals of American troops from Iraq as a way to compel Iraq’s government to resolve its internal divisions and take on more responsibility.

Frustration is growing among senior American military officers and civilian officials in Iraq and at the Pentagon with Mr. Maliki for his failure to move decisively against Shiite militias and on a wide range of other fronts. Even the implied threat that the administration would reassess its presence in Iraq may not be enough, senior officials said.

In Baghdad, Iraqi leaders have been watching the discussions carefully and expressing uneasiness over the growing political pressure in the United States for a troop pullout.

Tensions between Washington and Baghdad reached a new point on Monday when Mr. Maliki, who took office in May, used a telephone call with Mr. Bush to seek assurances that the United States did not intend to oust him. The White House said after the call that Mr. Bush had pledged full support for the Iraqi.

Mr. Rumsfeld alluded to discussions about benchmarks on Friday at a Pentagon news conference, noting that Mr. Khalilzad and General Casey “are currently working with the Iraqi government to develop a set of projections as to when they think they can pass off various pieces of responsibility.”

He emphasized the urgency of transferring more security and governing responsibilities to the Iraqis. “It’s their country,” he said. “They’re going to have to govern it, they’re going to have to provide security for it, and they’re going to have to do it sooner rather than later.”

But Mr. Rumsfeld was quick to play down expectations: “There’s no doubt in my mind but that some of those projections we won’t make; it will be later, or even earlier in some instances. And in some cases, once we meet the projection, we may have to go back and do it again.”

Mr. Maliki’s government has already announced its own set of benchmarks, including the establishment of a mechanism to disarm private militias. This week, the government removed commanders of the special police commandos and the public order brigade, both widely criticized as being heavily infiltrated by Shiite militias, in the first broad move against the top leadership of Iraq’s unruly special police forces.

But the surge in violence in Baghdad and other places recently has prompted consideration of even more far-reaching steps. An American official said that one proposed plan was to give the Iraqi Army the lead role in domestic security, downgrading the role of police units.

The Bush administration has emphasized building up the police this year so that they can take on the main role in providing security in many cities. The move would be another acknowledgment that the increase in sectarian violence in Baghdad and elsewhere has exposed deep problems with some police units, which have been blamed by Sunnis for carrying out sectarian attacks.

The American strategy in Iraq was thrown into disarray this week by attacks carried out by a Shiite militia in Amara, a town south of Baghdad, and by the acknowledgment from an American military spokesman that the latest plan to secure Baghdad was faltering.

In his radio address on Saturday, Mr. Bush emphasized that the administration was staying flexible in its planning and would “make every necessary change to prevail.”

Saying the goal of victory was “unchanging,”” he added: “What is changing are the tactics we use to achieve that goal. Our commanders on the ground are constantly adjusting their approach to stay ahead of the enemy, particularly in Baghdad.”

Officials said they were still debating which benchmarks to include and how long the Iraqis should be given to achieve them. The plan is likely to cover a number of Iraqi ministries, including Finance, Interior, and Defense, which have struggled to varying degrees with corruption and with delivering even the most basic services, officials said.

General Casey said this month that he hoped by the end of the year to have six or seven provinces under Iraqi administrative control. Currently, there are only two. But the plan is also likely to include timelines for turning over American-run military bases, an official said.

The decision about how far-reaching to make the blueprint is likely to be influenced by what Mr. Maliki and his ministers say they can reasonably accomplish. But American officials are discussing if they should specify whether Iraqi officials deemed incompetent or corrupt should be replaced, one official said. Officials are also considering a timetable for the Iraqi Defense Ministry to have in place systems for paying, feeding, and equipping its units, jobs that are still overseen to a large degree by American advisers and by contractors, some of whom have not performed well, officials said.

2.

Conflict in Iraq

U.S. REPORTEDLY HAS IRAQ SECURITY TIMETABLE

** White House denies Times’ report, says no firm dates for Iraqi progress **

Reuters
October 21, 2006

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15363557/

NEW YORK -- The Bush administration is drafting a timetable that includes specific milestones for the Iraqi government to address sectarian divisions and assume a larger role in securing the country, the New York Times reported in its Sunday editions.

Citing senior U.S. officials, the Times said details of the plan, to be presented to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki before the end of the year and carried out over the next year and beyond, were still being worked out.

“We’re trying to come up with ways to get the Iraqis to step up to the plate, to push them along, because the time is coming,” the paper quoted a senior Bush administration official as saying. “We can’t be there forever.”

ADMINISTRATION DENIES TIMETABLE

But a White House spokeswoman disputed the account.

“The story is not accurate, but we are constantly developing new tactics to achieve our goal,” White House spokeswoman Nicole Guillemard said.

“We’ve been coordinating with the Iraqis for months on a series of measures they can take to assume more control of their country, and to form the basis for a national compact between all communities in Iraq on the way forward.”

According to the newspaper, officials said that for the first time Iraq would likely be asked to agree to a schedule of specific milestones, like disarming sectarian militias, and to a broad set of other political, economic, and military benchmarks intended to stabilize the country.

PENALTIES, CONTINGENCIES CONSIDERED

The Times said the blueprint was being formulated by General George Casey and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, the top U.S. military and civilian officials in Iraq, along with unnamed Pentagon officials.

And while the administration will not threaten to withdraw U.S. troops, several officials told the Times it would consider changing military strategy or taking other measures if Iraq balked at adopting it or failed to meet critical benchmarks.

The Times cited a senior Pentagon official involved in drafting the blueprint as saying Iraqi officials were being consulted on the plan and would be asked to sign off on the milestones before year’s end.

“If the Iraqis fail to come back to us on this, we would have to conduct a reassessment” of U.S. strategy, it cited the official as saying.

3.

World Politics

TOP U.S. DIPLOMAT: WE HAVE SHOWN STUPIDITY AND ARROGANCE IN IRAQ
By Marie Woolf

Independent (UK)
October 22, 2006

http://news.independent.co.uk/world/politics/article1919098.ece

A senior U.S. diplomat said yesterday that the United States had shown "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq, but warned that failure in the violence-ridden Arab nation would be a disaster for the entire region.

In an interview with al-Jazeera, Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the U.S. State Department, also said the U.S. was ready to talk with any Iraqi group -- excluding al-Qaeda in Iraq -- to reach national reconciliation in the country, which is racked by widening sectarian strife as well as an enduring insurgency.

"We tried to do our best but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq," he said. "We are open to dialogue because we all know that, at the end of the day, the hell and the killings in Iraq are linked to an effective Iraqi national reconciliation," he said, speaking in Arabic.

His remarks came as President George Bush continued to review Iraq strategy with his top generals. In his weekly radio address, broadcast yesterday, he said he would make "every necessary change" in tactics to respond to spiralling violence in Iraq, and acknowledged that a drive to stabilize Baghdad had not gone as planned. But he said he would not abandon his goal of building a self-sustaining Iraqi government. President Bush said: "The past few weeks have been rough for our troops in Iraq and for the Iraqi people . . . Our goal in Iraq is clear and unchanging: our goal is victory. What is changing are the tactics we use to achieve that."

Meanwhile, Tony Blair is to hold talks with Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Saleh, in London tomorrow about an exit strategy for British troops. The Prime Minister is expected to discuss the country's escalating violence and the role that Syria and Iran could play in brokering a peace. Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, will also meet the Iraqi politician.

The London talks will focus on plans for an eventual withdrawal from Iraq, although Britain has ruled out an immediate pull-out. The discussion will also consider how to resolve the violence, including the situation in Amarah, where British troops remain on standby after it was first over-run by Shia militia and then retaken by Iraqi forces.

Yesterday, the Foreign Office stressed the need for Iran and Syria to engage with Iraq and said they could play an important role. The view chimes with that of a study group set up by the former U.S. secretary of state, James Baker, at President Bush's request. Leaks from the Iraq study group suggest it will recommend talks with Iran and Syria -- which President Bush branded part of an "axis of evil."

4.

Politics

Bush Administration

AT WHITE HOUSE MEETING, NO BIG CHANGES IN IRAQ
By Michael A. Fletcher

Washington Post
October 22, 2006
Page A08

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/21/AR2006102100360.html

President Bush met with his top advisers and military commanders on Iraq yesterday in a White House session that, senior officials said, weighed options for forging a way forward amid the surging violence but did not contemplate any major shifts in strategy.

The participants in the 90-minute video conference -- who included Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the military commander in Iraq -- talked about tactical changes that could overcome the severe challenges posed by the war, officials said.

"The participants focused on the nature of the enemy, the challenges in Iraq, how to better pursue our strategy, and the stakes of succeeding for the region and the security of the American people," said White House spokeswoman Nicole Guillemard.

The meeting, which the White House called the third in a series Bush has held with this group to consult on the war, did not consider any significant policy changes, a senior official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss private meetings. And in his Saturday radio address, Bush offered no indications on any major shift, even as he acknowledged the increasing violence in Iraq.

"Our goal is clear and unchanging: Our goal is victory," he said. "What is changing are the tactics we use to achieve that goal. Our commanders on the ground are constantly adjusting their approach to stay ahead of the enemy, particularly in Baghdad."

The high-level meeting came amid growing U.S. frustration with the deteriorating state of affairs in Iraq, where both civilian and U.S. military casualties have sharply increased in recent weeks. The surge in violence, coupled with the growing antipathy among the American public toward the war, is feeding a sense that the Bush administration will be forced to retreat from its open-ended support of the war.

In a news conference Friday, Rumsfeld emphasized that U.S. officials are pressing the Iraqi government to offer projections about when it will be able to take over a greater share of the responsibility for securing the country and making economic and political progress.

"The biggest mistake would be not to pass things over to the Iraqis," Rumsfeld said. "It's their country. They're going to have to govern it. They're going to have to provide security for it. And they're going to have to do it sooner rather than later."

White House officials denied a New York Times report, posted yesterday afternoon on the newspaper's web site, that said the administration is drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to take on that greater role in securing the country.

If the Iraqis fail to meet the timetable, the Times quoted an unnamed senior Pentagon official as saying, the Bush administration would consider an abrupt shift in policy short of troop withdrawals. It would mark the first time that the administration has used deadline threats to pressure the Iraqi government to more aggressively pursue progress.

"The story is not accurate," said Frederick L. Jones II, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

White House officials said the matter was not discussed at yesterday's meeting. Still, administration officials acknowledge that they have been pressing for months for the Iraqis to take greater responsibility for disarming warring militias and to take other steps to stabilize their country.

Benchmarks have been part of the U.S. policy in Iraq for months, said Dan Bartlett, a top aide to Bush.

"Implicit in that is that if they are not achieving the benchmarks, we are going to have to make changes accordingly," Bartlett said, adding that troop withdrawals or other dramatic changes in U.S. policy are not being contemplated.

Casey has been working on a series of benchmarks for handing over to the Iraqi government control of both military bases and entire areas of the country. At a recent news conference, Casey said he expects six or seven more provinces in Iraq to come under full control of the government by the end of the year, although Rumsfeld said Friday that "there's no doubt" some of Casey's projections will not be met.

Currently, the Iraqi government has control of two of the country's 18 provinces, meaning that local police can keep order without routine help from the U.S.-led military coalition.

"We are constantly developing new tactics to achieve our goal," Jones said. "We've been coordinating with the Iraqis for months on a series of measures they can take to assume more control of their country."

Diane Farrell, a Democratic candidate for Congress, gave her party's national radio response to Bush, saying: "To be blunt, the president and the Republican Congress have been wrong on Iraq and wrong to keep their failed strategy. . . . An arbitrary departure date could be dangerous, but real goals for the new Iraqi government and its army are necessary."

Farrell, who is running against Rep. Christopher Shays in Connecticut, said Democrats will hold Bush accountable for the war in Iraq if they gain control of either the Senate or House in midterm elections next month.

Yesterday's meeting took place amid a significant increase in violence around Iraq. At least 78 U.S. troops have been killed so far in Iraq this month -- the highest daily rate since January 2005. Attacks in Baghdad have surged 43 percent since midsummer, despite the presence of thousands of U.S. troops, while nationally more than 100 Iraqis a day are being killed, according to the United Nations.

U.S. commanders are trying to decide whether to send more troops to Iraq.

Bush said in his radio address that the increase in violence is attributable in part to a more aggressive posture being taken by U.S. troops. Still, he said, Americans have faced tough battles before.

"In World War II and the Cold War, earlier generations of Americans sacrificed so that we can live in freedom," he said. "This generation will do its duty as well."

--Staff writer Ann Scott Tyson contributed to this report.