November 17th, 2006 02:33 EST
Democratic leadership after U.S. elections opens vigorous policy debate
Washington -- A vigorous government debate over U.S. policy in Iraq is taking shape as the top U.S. commander in the Middle East and the State Department's Iraq coordinator testified before congressional committees a week after the Democratic Party won large electoral gains in November 7 U.S. congressional elections.
Both Republicans and Democrats have pledged bipartisan cooperation and an open discussion of the appropriate strategies for Iraq, but the two political parties also are staking out clear positions on the best way to move forward in Iraq.
The outlines of the debate became clearer November 15 when General John Abizaid, the U.S. commander responsible for military policy in Iraq, and David Satterfield, the State Department's chief Iraq coordinator, testified before the House and Senate Armed Services committees to report on developments and discuss proposed policy changes. Congress remains under Republican control until January, and the Iraq hearing was scheduled well before the November 7 election by Republican Senator John Warner, chairman of the Senate committee. However, the hearings allowed incoming Democratic congressional leaders to air their views. The U.S. Congress has been under control of President Bush's Republican Party since before the United States first sent troops to Iraq in March 2003.
DEBATING U.S. TROOP LEVELS
Incoming Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin has called for a phased redeployment of U.S. troops over the next four months to six months. In a November 13 press conference, Levin said this would "make it clear to the Iraqis that our presence is not open-ended and that they must take and make the necessary political compromises to preserve Iraq as a nation. We cannot save the Iraqis from themselves."
In his Senate testimony, Abizaid resisted the call for an immediate troop withdrawal, saying it likely would increase sectarian violence. He added that any cap on U.S. troop numbers or timetables for withdrawal would limit U.S. military flexibility in addressing current challenges there. At the same time, however, he advocated relying more heavily on U.S. transitional military advisers embedded with Iraqi forces.
"I believe that the troop levels need to stay where they are. We need to put more American capacity into Iraqi units to make them more capable in their ability to confront the sectarian problem," Abizaid said.
"Iraqi forces can take more control faster, provided we invest more manpower and resources into the coalition military transition teams, speed the delivery of logistics and mobility enablers, and embrace an aggressive Iraqi-led effort to disarm illegal militias," Abizaid said.
Reflecting the current U.S. and Iraqi government positions, he also rejected Republican Senator John McCain's call to increase the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, saying, "It's easy for the Iraqis to rely upon us to do this work. I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis...from taking more responsibility for their own future."
The State Department's Satterfield agreed that troop levels should not be reduced. Redeployment "would be interpreted as a withdrawal of U.S. support," he said. "It would encourage even greater hedging behaviors by all actors in Iraq as they began to negotiate for position." Satterfield added that troop levels should not be viewed in isolation from existing political and strategic realities.
The Iraqi government has asked the U.N. Security Council to extend the soon-to-expire mandate (December 31) for coalition forces to remain in Iraq. Satterfield said Iraq's request "underscores the transitional nature of that extension."
Satterfield rejected the idea of partitioning Iraq into autonomous Sunni, Shia and Kurdish areas. "Partition in Iraq could only be achieved at an expense of human suffering and bloodshed and forced dislocation that would be both profound and wholly unacceptable," he said.
Both witnesses emphasized the Iraqi government's responsibility to take charge quickly. Abizaid called for Iraqi security forces to supplant sectarian militias. Satterfield said the Iraqi government must engage all parties, including former members of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist Party, to stamp out violence and corruption and to deliver on promises of law and order and the delivery of services if national reconciliation is to occur.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)