The Bush administration says it is working
with Iraqi officials to draft a series of benchmarks for meeting specific
security, economic and political goals. But, officials deny they are
issuing any ultimatums.
President Bush has held a number of meetings recently with his top
military and national security advisors. But officials caution against
reading too much into the flurry of
White House spokesman Tony Snow says no dramatic
announcement is imminent,
though he notes there are constant adjustments to reflect changing
realities on the ground.
"Are there dramatic shifts in policy? The answer is no," said Tony
During a briefing for reporters, Snow said top Iraqi, coalition and
U.S. officials in Baghdad have been meeting for some months to assess the
situation, and come up with a list of benchmarks, or objectives. The New
York Times reported Sunday that the American participants are drafting a
set of specific timetables, and hinting at possible penalties, if targets
are not met. Snow said that part of the report goes too far, adding, the
United States is not in the business of issuing ultimatums.
"I think it is important to realize that, this is really both sides
rolling up their sleeves, taking a practical look at all levels," he said.
"The Iraqis also have very publicly been setting up benchmarks for their
own political and economic progress."
Snow was asked if the Bush administration is satisfied with the efforts
of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government to dismantle militia
groups, and bring down the level of violence. Snow stressed the situation
is difficult, and added the White House is satisfied Iraq's leaders are
taking the matter seriously.
"I think you also see much more aggressive efforts on the part of the
Iraqi government, because the prime minister understands the vital
importance of reconciliation - the third reconciliation conference will
take place the week after next on the 4th [of November]," said Tony Snow.
Talk of a possible shift in U.S. tactics in Iraq has intensified in the
weeks leading up to the November 7 congressional election in the United
States. Voter discontent with the war appears to have helped opposition
Democrats, prompting even some Republicans to call for a change in policy.
Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware is likely to take over the
chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee, if the Democrats regain
control of the Senate. During a conference call with reporters, he said
there may be hints of change from the White House, but nothing will
happen, if the Republicans remain in control on Capitol Hill.
"If they have a new plan, then they should not wait before they put it
out, which makes me believe, if they hold on [to their majorities] in
Congress, they do not have any real intention of making a significant
change in policy," said Joseph Biden.
Polls indicate Iraq is the biggest single issue cited by American
voters in the days leading up to the election. In a recent poll conducted
by Newsweek magazine, 34 percent of those surveyed said they trust the
Republicans to do a better job in handling the Iraq issue. 46 percent
chose the Democrats.