S.C. GOP Congressman crosses aisle on Iraq

WASHINGTON -- Republican lawmakers anxious about their 2008 election prospects are growing increasingly frustrated by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's failure to unify his fractured country and reach the political benchmarks set by Congress.

Senior Republican lawmakers are pushing for "accountability hearings" to pressure the Iraqi government to make progress toward narrowing sectarian divides among Sunni and Shiite Muslims and Kurds, sharing oil revenues and achieving other U.S. goals.

"I think it gets to a point where we have spent enough time and enough lives and enough money in this one particular spot," said Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina, who was one of 17 Republican House members who voted against the U.S. military buildup in Iraq last February.

"Our military has succeeded," Inglis said in an interview. "The question is whether Iraqi politicians can succeed. If they fail, it is not a U.S. failure. Let them go baby-sit a civil war."

Inglis, a fifth-term representative from reliably Republican South Carolina, asked for hearings to pressure the al-Maliki government in a letter Sept. 26 to Rep. Tom Lantos, a California Democrat and the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, the panel's senior Republican.

Inglis said "there has been nowhere near enough progress" on the Iraqi government reaching what he called "the big three" benchmarks Congress mandated -- though without deadlines -- in May:

• Sharing oil revenues among Iraq's 18 provinces and especially among its three main sects: Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

• Allowing former members of Saddam Hussein's ruling Baath Party to hold government, military and civilian posts.

• Adopting constitutional amendments guaranteeing the rights of Sunnis, who held sway under Saddam, and other religious and ethnic minority groups.