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Democrats Debate Political and Military Strategy for Iraq

On the day U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for patience regarding a deadline for troop withdrawal from Iraq, Democratic senators Biden and Reed discuss possible exit strategies.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    As sectarian violence continues unabated in Iraq, in Washington members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee turned to the American ambassador to Iraq with their concerns: the deteriorating security situation and when U.S. troops would begin coming home.

    Committee Chairman Richard Lugar.

    SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), Indiana: The people of Iraq desperately need their government to deliver tangible benefits. The government must begin to show progress in solving the vexing security situation that's produced daily violence, including ethnic killings and suicide bombings. The government must have a strategy for dealing with militias that are responsible for much of the ethnic violence.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Ranking Member Senator Joe Biden said the Shiite-led Iraqi government needed to do more to stem the violence.

    SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), Delaware: The government has to be willing, I think, to move against a Shia militia with the same intensity that it moves against the Sunni-based insurgency.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Ambassador Khalilzad was straightforward in his assessment of the challenges at hand. He stressed the progress Iraqis have made and the hurdles they have yet to conquer.

    ZALMAY KHALILZAD, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq: Terrorists have adopted by exploiting Iraq's sectarian fault lines, and sectarian violence has now become the significant challenge to Iraq's future. The security situation in Baghdad remains extremely difficult, as the capital has become the focal point of terrorists and sectarian violence.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Khalilzad said he was working with Iraqi leaders to defuse the sectarian violence, improve the effectiveness of Iraqi security forces, and curb government corruption, but he said the Iraqis couldn't do it all alone.

  • ZALMAY KHALILZAD:

    I urge that we be patient, because the issues that the Iraqis are dealing with are difficult, complicated issues that will take time to resolve and that we need to be agile and adapt and adjust as they move forward.

    And I believe that they are moving in the right direction, but there are also countervailing forces, both internal and regional, that would like this Iraq not to succeed.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska pressed Khalilzad for a time line.

    SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), Nebraska: Where is the strategic optimism when we talk about how does that translate into Iraqi governance?

  • ZALMAY KHALILZAD:

    This will take time. And the outcome in Iraq will be very important in shaping where this region goes.

    God forbid, if we were to abandon this effort, the threats that will emanate from that possibility from that scenario would create, in my judgment, bigger problems than we face now.

    And I believe that, for good strategic reasons, as well as for moral reasons — because we have had a role in bringing about this set of circumstances in which Iraqis find themselves, and we can't abandon them. And we need to help them stand on their own feet, because it serves our strategic interest, and we have a responsibility to see it through.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Wisconsin Democrat Senator Russ Feingold also wanted to know how long American troops will remain in Iraq.

    SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), Wisconsin: Mr. Ambassador, can you tell us when you believe, as our lead diplomat and chief of mission in Iraq, that a majority of U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq?

  • ZALMAY KHALILZAD:

    We want Iraq to succeed, to stand on its own feet. We do not want the country to disintegrate into a sectarian civil war that will bring other countries in.

    So we want Iraq to stand on its own feet as soon as possible, as I have said. So I don't think it's appropriate before we have started discussions with the Iraqis for me here to talk about a time line that you're asking for.

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