Sat, Aug 19, 2006 - Page 7 News List

US frustration over slow progress in Iraq increasing


US President George W. Bush is not frustrated over the slow progress in Iraq, the White House insists. But a lot of other Americans are -- apparently including US troops.

The Pentagon's top general says troops suggested to him during a recent trip to Iraq that they are among those who are worried.

White House Spokesman Tony Snow took pains to deny a report on Wednesday that Bush had privately expressed frustration with the Iraqis for not appreciating US sacrifices made there and with the Iraqi people and their leaders for not supporting the US mission.

"We don't expect ... an overnight success," Snow said when asked Bush's opinion on the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Just when success might come and whether it is even possible are key questions for war-weary Americans. And the latest setbacks in Iraq come as congressional elections approach.

Troops are also disgruntled over Iraqi efforts, according to questions put to Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he visited the country over the weekend.

One asked how much more time the Iraqi government should be given to achieve the political unity needed to stabilize the country.

Another wanted to know whether US forces will stay if Iraqis descend into all-out civil war.

And a third ended a question about continued US troop deployments to Iraq by asking, "Is the war coming to an end?"

Pace said his talks with troops reassured him that they are proud of what they are doing and satisfied with what they have accomplished. But he also said he detected among them "some frustration at the Iraqis for not yet grasping the opportunity that's in front of them."

Rival Shiite and Sunni sects have failed to reconcile their differences and establish an effective government capable of taking over security responsibilities for the country.

Pace said the troops feel: "`We're doing our part. When is the [Iraqi] governance part going to kick in?' And that's a fair question."

Pushing Iraqis along for three years through formation of an interim government, the writing of their Constitution and election of the current government -- only to have the fighting worsen -- has grown old for many in civilian and military quarters.

Senator Carl Levin, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, sounded one of his recurring themes at a recent committee hearing: Iraqi politicians must get the message that US troops cannot stay indefinitely, and should make political compromises to stop insurgents and avoid all-out civil war.

"There's a certain irony if military and political leaders seem to be losing patience with the Iraqis," said Charles Pena, a fellow at the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy and George Washington University's Homeland Security Institute. "We're the ones who created this situation."

"It's perfectly logical for Americans and the president to be frustrated" by lack of political progress in Iraq, said CATO Institute's Christopher Preble.

He blamed Bush's "grave error" in assuming that Iraqis would unite after former president Saddam Hussein's fall.

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