CRAWFORD, Texas - President Bush said Saturday that while political progress is moving too slowly on the national level in Iraq, positive steps in cities and towns are offering hope for future stability.
The Bush administration, facing a mid-September deadline to report to Congress on progress in Iraq, has long prodded the Iraqi government to finalize a national oil law, organize provincial elections and integrate former members of Saddam Hussein's Baathist Party back into the central government.
In his weekly radio address, Bush acknowledged weak progress in these areas and instead highlighted strides being made at the local level, outside of Baghdad.
"Unfortunately, political progress at the national level has not matched the pace of progress at the local level," Bush said in the broadcast taped at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. "The Iraqi government in Baghdad has many important measures left to address, such as reforming the de-Baathification laws, organizing provincial elections and passing a law to formalize the sharing of oil revenues."
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"As reconciliation occurs in local communities across Iraq," he said, "it will help create the conditions for reconciliation in Baghdad as well."
When Bush announced the buildup in U.S. troops in January, he also said the administration would double the number of provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq. These are units of U.S. civilian, military and diplomatic workers who help Iraqi communities rebuild infrastructure, create jobs and encourage reconciliation from the bottom up.
Bush cited Anbar province, where local sheiks joined U.S. forces in driving out terrorists. Bush said that today, the provincial council in Ramadi is back, and that last month, provincial officials reopened parts of the war-damaged government center with the help of a provincial reconstruction team.
"Similar scenes are taking place in other parts of Anbar," the president said. "Virtually every city and town in the province now has a mayor and a functioning municipal council."
Bush mentioned further examples:
n In al-Qaim, tribal leaders, who turned against terrorists, now head the regional mayor's office and the local police force.
n In Muthanna, an overwhelmingly Shia province, the local council held a public meeting to hear from citizens on how to spend their budget and rebuild neighborhoods.
n In Baqubah, six banks have been reopened.
n In Ninewa province, local officials have established a commission to investigate corruption.
Despite the successes, the provincial reconstruction teams have been troubled by interagency disputes over funding, staffing and administrative support and security concerns.
"When things work - and they often do at the local or project level - they work in spite of a lack of any meaningful planning and management in Washington, or as yet in Iraq," said Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq expert at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, who recently returned from a trip to the country.
"All have major problems in getting any action out of the central government and face a morass of local, provincial and tribal politics. The good news is that they are now being integrated with the military and are getting military support and protection, but it again is too early to judge what is really happening," Cordesman said.
And even at the local level, progress is slow.
In his report to Congress earlier this month, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction said rebuilding is being crippled by power plant problems, mismanagement, corruption and weak spending on capital projects by Iraq's central government ministries and its provinces.