Iraq Strains Under U.S. Deadlines

An Iraqi army soldier blindfolds terrorist suspects in an Iraqi army compound in Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, March 12, 2007. U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted a joint operation on the outskirts of Baqouba, apprehending 27 suspected terrorists and seizing weapons and stolen vehicles. AP Photo/Talal M. al-Dean

Iraq's fragmented leadership is struggling to meet the major benchmarks that it has pledged to the United States to achieve soon, with political wrangling and a chaotic legislature standing in the way.

The issue took on new urgency last week when House Democrats drafted legislation that would require President Bush to certify by July 1 and again by Oct. 1 whether the Iraqi government is making progress on security, an oil plan and constitutional amendments.

Even if the Democratic proposals never make it through Congress, pressure is mounting for the Iraqis to meet a timetable or risk losing U.S. troops and support.

But the Iraqis face a host of stumbling blocks that go to the heart of the crisis.

And recent talk of changes in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government may just increase the paralysis as groups maneuver for power.

Making al-Maliki's political responsibilities all the more difficult is the constant violence plaguing Iraq, which left hundreds of Shiites in mourning Monday at funeral processions a day after a suicide car bomber rammed a flatbed truck packed with pilgrims.

The attack on Shiites returning from weekend rites in Karbala killed 32 people.

Attacks have killed hundreds of Shiite pilgrims in the past week as they traveled to and from Karbala, where they commemorated the 7th century death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson.

As the Iraqi government struggles to meet U.S. deadlines, the top American commander in the country, Gen. David Petraeus, told CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey that he is also well aware of pressure in Washington to get the job done.

"We do know that there's a Washington clock, a London clock, if you will, all of these different clocks out there, and there's a Baghdad clock. They're not all moving at exactly the same rate of speed," Petraeus said.

The "Washington clock" Petraeus referred to will likely only speed up with casualty reports from Iraq continuing; a U.S. Marine was killed in combat operations in western Iraq and an Army soldier died in the Baghdad area, the military said Monday.

The Marine, assigned to Multi National Force-West, was killed Sunday in the Anbar Province, the scene of ongoing fighting between U.S.-led forces and Sunni insurgents.

The Army soldier, assigned to the Multi-National Division-Baghdad, died Sunday "due to a non-battle related cause," the statement said without providing additional details.

The clock ticking in Gen. Petraeus' ear is hardwired to Iraq's seemingly-unstoppable sectarian violence. As the bomb tore through the truck carrying the Shiite pilgrims over the weekend, a group of representatives from Iraq's neighbor countries, the U.S. and other interested parties met in Baghdad to discuss a remedy for the bloodshed.

Pizzey reports most of the interest at the meeting was on U.S. delegates sitting down with counterparts from Iran and Syria, but two mortars strikes close by may have helped the delegates focus on the immediacy of their challenge.

At the first meeting of the "neighbors conference" the atmosphere was good, and various committees were formed to deal with the issues going forward. But, Pizzey says, none of the delegates, and least of all the military, is under the illusion that the insurgents are clocking out and going home.
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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

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