Looking At The Benchmarks From Baghdad

This Reporter's Notebook was written by CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey in Baghdad.

The "benchmark" in the interim report on Iraq that seemed to be President Bush's favorite is Anbar province. And, indeed, the security situation in what was the most volatile area of Iraq has improved.

Sunni sheikhs fed up with the excesses of insurgents have signed on to provide men to fight against al Qaeda in Iraq.

So far it has worked out well enough to be repeated in other areas, but those who have to do the job are cautious. In Baqouba, the American troops taking part in Operation Arrowhead Ripper know their new allies were once their enemies.

"We keep our eyes wide open and our powder dry," Colonel Stephen Townsend, commander of the 3rd Stryker Brigade said. "We're not blinded as to what the potential possibilities are."

Read The Benchmark Assessment Report
The Sunnis' loyalty is still tenuous, based more on what the sheikhs think they can gain in the long run rather than out of any sense of nationhood. If and when "victory" comes, they will want a share of power, and the benchmark for providing that – provincial elections – has a failing grade.

The number of Iraqi forces was called satisfactory in the report, but overall the effort is judged "less than satisfactory," in part because Iraqi troops are not even-handed, tending to split along sectarian lines.

Talk of U.S. troops pulling out quickly strikes fear in the hearts of Iraqi politicians. As Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi put it a few days ago: "I think the result is damaging the reputation of the United States worldwide, at the same time creating a possibility that my country might slide into civil war or to a security chaos."

The grade for Iraqi politicians is mixed grade at best. The Iraqi parliament is virtually paralyzed. A boycott by a Sunni bloc and some Shias has made it impossible to pass a new oil law and other vital legislation.

And there are far more basic benchmarks than U.S. congressional standards. In the words of the report; "citizens nationwide complain about government corruption and the lack of essential services."

Given the conditions, the mood on the streets of Baghdad ought to be bordering on open revolt. But people are too worn down by the grind of merely getting through the day to do anything else.

"The parliament does not deserve their salaries," Ali Abu Saffa said as he stood in line to buy a block of ice. "They are looking after themselves instead of solving the people's problems."

He makes two trips a day to buy ice made from contaminated water so the family can keep a bit of food cool and give his kids a cold drink.

The power is on for only a few hours a day at best now, and the temperature here regularly hits 120 degrees ... a serious benchmark by anyone's standards.

Allen Pizzey
  • James Klatell

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