Skelton says Iraq political system has 'turned to worms'

Friday, August 17, 2007

Skelton said he was concerned about the possibility of Iraq "completely collapsing politically."

SEDALIA, Mo. -- House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton said Thursday that Iraq's political system "has turned to worms" and warned that insurgents could launch a massive offensive ahead of a critical progress report by U.S. officials.

Iraq's political leaders outlined a new alliance Thursday that seeks to save the faltering U.S.-backed government. The progress report is due by mid-September from the top U.S. military commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

But Skelton said it appears increasingly unlikely that the Iraqi political system can work.

"The political system has turned to worms," Skelton, D-Mo., told reporters while attending events at the Missouri State Fair. "I'm very disappointed that they can't glue their parliament together and they can't pass meaningful legislation that will take hold and cause reconciliation between their various sects."

A new Shiite-Kurdish coalition, announced Thursday, would retain a majority in the Iraqi parliament and potentially enable the passage of legislation demanded by the Bush administration, including a law on sharing Iraq's oil wealth among Iraqi groups. But the new alliance failed to bring in Sunnis, who remain crucial to efforts for future stability.

Skelton said he was concerned about the possibility of Iraq "completely collapsing politically."

"You don't have a country unless the political system works," he said.

Iraqis were still picking through the rubble Thursday following a Tuesday night terrorist attack by four suicide bombers that killed hundreds of people in the Qahtaniya region.

Skelton warned that insurgents are likely to wage even more attacks in "a Tet-like offensive" in advance of the progress report. The 1968 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese offensive undermined public support for the Vietnam War in the United States. Skelton said he hoped the Iraqi violence would not skew interpretation of the progress report.

Skelton's concerns were echoed by Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., who appeared with Skelton and several Republican House members at a State Fair news conference.

Although Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki praised Thursday's political agreement as a first step toward unblocking the paralysis that has gripped his government, Bond said al-Maliki may be running out of time to turn things around.

"Al-Maliki is not cutting the mustard," Bond said. "If he can't get the program done, then I think he would be well advised to call early elections" for a new parliamentary government.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who also was at the State Fair on Thursday, said the violence in Iraq likely has less to do with the upcoming progress report to U.S. officials than it does with the civil-war-like divisions in Iraq.

"It has to do with Maliki being perceived as incredibly weak right now," McCaskill said. "I think the different factions are making movements to try to destabilize that government."

The places where the U.S. troop surge has helped stabilize neighborhoods have largely been homogenous areas, with greater difficulties in areas that are home to various Iraqi factions, McCaskill said.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: