Military officials told a Senate committee Thursday that Iraq could descend into civil war. Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., review U.S. policy in the Middle East.
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Defense Secretary Rumsfeld came to the Senate Armed Services Committee this morning flanked by Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace and Army General John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East.
the spiraling sectarian violence in Iraq and the conflict in Lebanon between Israel and Hezbollah.
For the first time, these two top military commanders publicly acknowledged that there's a real risk of civil war in Iraq. Ranking Democrat Carl Levin first raised the subject.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), Michigan: The British ambassador to Iraq has warned that Iraq is descending towards civil war. And he said it's likely to split along ethnic lines, and he's reported as predicting that Iraq's security situation could remain volatile for the next 10 years. Do you agree, General, with the ambassador from Britain to Iraq that Iraq is sliding towards civil war?
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, U.S. Army:
I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it in Baghdad in particular and that, if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.
SEN. CARL LEVIN:
General Abizaid, when General Casey was asked at a press conference recently whether he still believed what he said last year, that he predicted that there would be troop reductions over the course of this year, he said that he still believes there will be such reductions this year. Do you personally share that view?
GEN. JOHN ABIZAID:
Senator, since the time that General Casey made that statement, it's clear that the operational and the tactical situation in Baghdad is such that it requires additional security forces, both U.S. and Iraqi. I think the most important thing ahead of us, throughout the remainder of this year, is ensuring that the Baghdad security situation be brought under control.
It's possible to imagine some reductions in forces, but I think the most important thing to imagine is Baghdad coming under the control of the Iraqi government.
Chairman John Warner expressed concern about the role of U.S. troops if full-blown civil war erupts.
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), Virginia: We need only look at the Baghdad situation. Baghdad could literally tilt this thing if it fails to be brought about a measure of security for those people, tilt it in a way that we could slide towards a civil war that General Abizaid recalled. What is the mission of the United States today under this resolution if that situation erupts into a civil war? What are the missions of our forces?
PETER PACE, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs: Sir, I believe that we do have the possibility of that devolving to a civil war, but that does not have to be a fact. I believe that U.S. Armed Forces today can continue to do what we're doing, which is to help provide enough security inside of Iraq for the Iraqi government to provide governance and economic opportunity for their citizens.
The weight of that opportunity rests with the Iraqi people. We can provide support. We can help provide security. But they must now decide about their sectarian violence. Shia and Sunni are going to have to love their children more than they hate each other.