Top U.S. gen­eral re­jects pull­out

‘I be­lieve that we can move for­ward’

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Rowan Scar­bor­ough

The top U.S. com­man­der for Iraq on Nov. 15 re­jected pro­pos­als from Se­nate Democrats to im­me­di­ately pull troops from Iraq or do it on a spe­cific timetable start­ing in March.

“Our troops’ pos­ture needs to stay where it is as we move to en­hance the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the Iraqi se­cu­rity forces,” Gen. John Abizaid, the head of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand, told the Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, “and then we need to as­sess whether or not we can bring ma­jor com­bat units out of there.”

His re­sponse was, in ef­fect, a dis­missal of a pro­posal from in­com­ing Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Chair­man Carl Levin, Michi­gan Demo­crat, for a phased with­drawal to be­gin in four months, and from Rep. John P. Murtha, Penn­syl­va­nia Demo­crat, for an im­me­di­ate pull­out.

Gen. Abizaid said cur­rent troop lev­els, and an im­prov­ing Iraqi se­cu­rity force of more than 300,000, are suf­fi­cient to even­tu­ally win.

“I be­lieve that we can move for-

see

ward,” he said.

But Democrats, and at least one Repub­li­can, ex­pressed skep­ti­cism.

“It’s not en­cour­ag­ing to those of us who heard time af­ter time that things are, quote, ‘pro­gress­ing well,’ that we’re mak­ing progress, et cetera, be­cause we’re hear­ing from many other sources that that’s not the case,” said Sen. John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can.

Sen. Joe Lieber­man of Con­necti­cut, who won re-elec­tion as an in­de­pen­dent, dis­played how dif­fi­cult it will be for Mr. Levin to get a ma­jor­ity of sen­a­tors to agree to spe­cific with­drawal dates.

“I agree with both of you that a con­gres­sional man­date to be­gin a with­drawal from Iraq in a time cer­tain would be a dis­as­ter for the Iraqis and, more di­rectly, for the U.S.,” he said.

Gen. Michael V. Hay­den, CIA di­rec­tor, later pro­vided a sober pic­ture of Iraq.

“Even if the cen­tral gov­ern­ment gains broader sup­port from Iraq’s com­mu­ni­ties, im­ple­ment­ing the re­forms needed to im­prove life for all Iraqis will be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult,” he said. “Iraq’s en­demic vi­o­lence is eat­ing away at the state’s abil­ity to gov­ern. The se­cu­rity forces are plagued by sec­tar­i­an­ism and se­vere main­te­nance and lo­gis­tics prob­lems.”

The hear­ing also found the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion sig­nal­ing a post­elec­tion change in pol­icy to­ward Iran, which the U.S. says is fu­el­ing the Shi’ite in­sur­gency and deaths squads in Iraq. Cou­pled with Sunni ter­ror­ists, the groups have spun Bagh­dad into waves of vi­o­lent sec­tar­ian killings that threaten to throw the coun­try into a civil war. Oc­to­ber was one of the dead­li­est months for U.S. troops, and more than 2,800 have been killed in the war.

David Sat­ter­field, the top ad­viser on Iraq to Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice, said the United States is ready to talk di­rectly with Iran about achiev­ing peace in Iraq. Mr. Sat­ter­field did not open the door to the other prob­lem neigh­bor, Syria.

The hear­ing came at an­other piv­otal time for the 3 1/2-year-old war. Ab­sent at the wit­ness ta­ble was out­go­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Don­ald H. Rums­feld, who re­signed un­der pres­sure on an Elec­tion Day that saw Democrats re­take Congress largely on frus­tra­tion with the Iraq war. De­fense Sec­re­tary-des­ig­nate Robert M. Gates is to un­dergo con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings be­fore the com­mit­tee next month.

Democrats take con­trol of Congress in Jan­uary and are ex­pected to de­bate leg­is­la­tion that would speed a troop ex­o­dus. Repub­li­cans and the White House, so far, op­pose such mea­sures. All Wash­ing­ton eyes are on the Iraq Study Group, a con­gres­sion­ally cre­ated panel of for­mer gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials. It is set next month to lay out a list of op­tions for win­ning in Iraq.

Two widely spec­u­lated ideas are a timetable for troop with­drawal and di­rect talks with Syria and Iran, both U.S.-des­ig­nated ter­ror states. Gen. Abizaid seemed to rule out the first op­tion; Mr. Sat­ter­field ac­cepted part of the sec­ond.

Gen. Abizaid con­firmed an As­so­ci­ated Press re­port that when he met with Iraqi Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki, a Shi’ite, in Bagh­dad last week, he pressed him to be­gin or­der­ing his forces to dis­arm the Mahdi’s Army, from which cells have spun off into death squads.

The Mahdi’s Army is led by rad­i­cal cleric Muq­tada al-Sadr, a po­lit­i­cal ally of Mr. al-Ma­liki. Gen. Abizaid said Mr. al-Ma­liki has be­gun dis­arm­ing the mili­tia, and U.S. forces have raided sus­pected death squads in Sadr City, Sheik al-Sadr’s strong­hold.

The gen­eral said Iraq must cur­tail vi­o­lence in six months or risk los­ing any chance of a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment. He ac­knowl­edged that there are not enough U.S. forces in Iraq to con­trol the en­tire An­bar prov­ince, a sprawl­ing Sunni re­gion west of Bagh­dad that has be­come a base for al Qaeda ter­ror­ists.

This re­mark brought a sharp re­buke from Mr. McCain. Al­though many Democrats want troops called home, and Repub­li­cans gen­er­ally back the cur­rent 140,000, Mr. McCain ad­vo­cates send­ing more forces.

“Wouldn’t it make sense to say it might be well to get both Bagh­dad and al An­bar prov­ince un­der con­trol be­fore we have an­other bat­tle of Fal­lu­jah and lose many more lives?” Mr. McCain said.

Gen. Abizaid an­swered, “It’s easy for the Iraqis to rely upon us to do this work. I be­lieve that more Amer­i­can forces pre­vent the Iraqis from do­ing more, from tak­ing more re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own fu­ture. They will win the in­sur­gency, they will solve the sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence prob­lem, and they’ll do it with our help.”

Gen. Abizaid has rec­om­mended a tem­po­rary in­crease of U.S. train­ers embed­ded with Iraqi units.

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