One week before Iraq's deadline for drafting a new constitution, some U.S. lawmakers are expressing concern about the document's eventual content, as well as overall progress in combating insurgents and the pace of training Iraqi security forces.
Continued insurgent violence as well as political discord in Iraq remain points of concern, according to the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Indiana Republican Richard Lugar. But, speaking on the U.S. television program "Fox News Sunday," Mr. Lugar suggested Americans look beyond the hour-by-hour headlines and take note of momentous changes taking place in Iraq.
"We are going to see a constitution August 15, a referendum about two months following that, and elections in the country that will establish a government," Mr. Lugar says. "And clearly, in that period of time, the intensity of training for Iraqi security forces will be increased and, hopefully, successful. It seems to me that things are on track."
Mr. Lugar noted that Iraq's history of friction between ethnic and religious groups would seem to dampen hopes that any constitution drafted would win broad support from the Iraqi people. The senator said it is therefore all the more remarkable that a constitutional framework does, indeed, appear to be taking shape.
But the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden of Delaware, said that success is not simply a matter of Iraqi politicians meeting deadlines, but must be judged by the actual content of what is crafted.
"Would it not be the ultimate irony if, written into that constitution, women had fewer rights than they did under Saddam? Would it not be an irony if, in fact, Sharia becomes the [sole] source of law, instead of a [component] source? It is too early to tell," Mr. Biden says. "I am still mildly hopeful [of a positive outcome]."
The final push to draft an Iraqi constitution comes amid signs of growing weariness on the part of the American public to the human and other costs of operations in the strife-ridden nation. Days after a rash of attacks left more than 20 U.S. servicemen dead in Iraq's westernmost province, a poll by Newsweek magazine shows only 40 percent of Americans believe progress is being made in the country, and that only 26 percent now favor keeping U.S. forces in Iraq for as long as it takes to reach President Bush's objectives.
U.S. military commanders now say a modest reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq may be possible as early as the first half of next year. But for that to happen, Iraqi troops will have to be trained to take over for American servicemen. The Bush administration says more than a 100,000 Iraqi security forces have to be trained. But Senator Biden says only a tiny fraction are ready to operate fully and competently on their own.
"Fewer than three thousand. Fewer than three thousand, able to take over, totally, without U.S. support. There are then another 25-to-30,000 that, with significant U.S. support, are able to do very useful things," Mr. Biden indicarted.
Asked about the benchmarks that will allow an eventual drawing down of U.S. forces in Iraq, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, California Republican Duncan Hunter, argued against holding unreasonable expectations for Iraq. Representative Hunter spoke on the CBS program "Face the Nation."
"Requiring the standard to be that we have a nation that is free of violence is unrealistic, and nobody has suggested that as a goal," Mr. Hunter says. "This is a balancing act. You do not want to hand this responsibility off to the Iraqi military too early. We have got to train them up to the right point. On the other hand, you do not hold their hands [coddle them]. You have to make sure that they pick up that responsibility."
Appearing on the same program, California Senator Barbara Boxer said Iraqis will never truly assume responsibility for securing their own nation unless they are given a deadline, in the form of an announced departure date for U.S. troops, to do so.