BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government defended its efforts to stabilize the country on the eve of a key U.S. progress report, but said Sunday it needs more help and was not ready for a timetable on the withdrawal of American forces.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki argued that his Shiite-dominated government has made great strides since he took office in May 2003 promising to bring minority Sunnis into the political process and stem support for the insurgency.
But in Washington, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday that President Bush’s war strategy is failing and the top military commander in Iraq is “dead flat wrong” for warning against major changes.
“The reality is that, although there has been some mild progress on the security front, there is, in fact, no real security in Baghdad or Anbar province, where I was dealing with the most serious problem, sectarian violence,” said Sen. Joseph Biden, a 2008 presidential candidate who recently returned from Iraq.
Army Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker are scheduled to testify before four congressional committees, including Biden’s, today and Tuesday. Lawmakers will hear how the commander and the diplomat assess progress in Iraq and offer recommendations about the course of war strategy.
Anonymous officials said over the weekend that the advisers would urge Congress not to make significant changes. Their report will note that while national political progress has been disappointing, security gains in local areas have shown promise, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal deliberations.
The Iraqi government also issued a new appeal to neighboring countries to step up assistance. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said bordering countries had been slow to fulfill promises to stem the flow of fighters and weapons into Iraq.