Monday, August 20, 2007

Sens. John Warner (R-VA) and Carl Levin (D-MI) Travel to Iraq, Praise Surge Results


Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., left, and John Warner, R-Va.

WASHINGTON — After a brief trip to Iraq, Sen. Carl Levin said Monday that the Iraqi Parliament should vote no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki because of its sectarian nature and leadership.

"The Maliki government is non-functional," Levin, D-Mich., said in a conference call with reporters.

Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the panel's top Republican, just returned from a fact-finding mission to the country. The two reported that they are encouraged by the effects of the recent U.S. military surge there, but their enthusiasm is tempered by concerns about Iraq's political climate.

"We have seen indications that the surge of additional brigades to Baghdad and its immediate vicinity and the revitalized counter-insurgency strategy being employed have produced tangible results in making several areas of the capital more secure. We are also encouraged by continuing positive results — in al-Anbar Province, from the recent decisions of some of the Sunni tribes to turn against Al Qaeda and cooperate with coalition force efforts to kill or capture its adherents," the two said in a statement issued after leaving the country.

"We remain concerned, however, that in the absence of overall national political reconciliation, we may be inadvertently helping to create another militia which will have to be dealt with in the future," the two said.

Speaking with reporters, Levin said he hopes when the Parliament reconvenes in the next few weeks, it will dissolve the government, which he said "cannot produce a political settlement because it is too beholden to sectarian leaders."

Levin said "broad frustration" exists across Iraq and within the Bush administration with al-Maliki, and he noted that the Iraqi constitution provides that 25 members of Parliament can sign a petition to hold this vote.

In a separate event, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an on-again, off-again supporter of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told a British newspaper on Monday that the Iraqi government is on the brink of collapse.

"Al-Maliki's government will not survive because he has proven that he will not work with important elements of the Iraqi people," the cleric was quoted by The Independent as saying.

"The prime minister is a tool for the Americans, and people see that clearly. It will probably be the Americans who decide to change him when they realize he has failed. We don't have a democracy here, we have a foreign occupation."

The trip, which included an excursion to Jordan, gave the lawmakers a chance to see progress on the ground. The two met with a host of American and Iraqi officials, including Gen. David Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Forces-Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.

The senators also met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Deputy Presidents Adil Abd Al-Mahdi and Tariq Al-Hashimi and Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih.

The visit comes ahead of an expected September report from Petraeus that is to outline the 18 benchmarks laid out by Congress to measure progress in Iraq. The White House said Monday that report should be provided in open hearings on Capitol Hill on Sept. 11 or 12.

Levin and Warner said that during their meetings they had few reassurances that the Iraqi government will be able to cooperate in any meaningful way.

"In many meetings with Iraqi political leaders, of all different backgrounds, we told them of the deep impatience of the American people and the Congress with the lack of political progress, impressed upon them that time has run out in that regard, and told them of the urgent need to make the essential compromises," the lawmakers said. "In all of our meetings we witnessed a great deal of apprehension regarding the capabilities of the current Iraqi government to shed its sectarian biases and act in a unifying manner."

Levin said the Iraqi government is "stronger and more capable" than 10 months ago when Levin was last in Iraq. The Iraqis have trained 10 of 12 divisions — 163,000 troops. But he said that until U.S. troops pull out of Iraq, the country's army won't take the lead. Levin is still pushing for the U.S. to begin drawing down to well below pre-surge levels in the next four months.

Despite progress being made on the military side of the surge, Sen Levin said that without political progress the military successes won't add up to much

"There is consensus: there is no military solution to the conflict," Levin said.

While many of the military goals have been met, opponents of the Iraq war are using the failure for reconciliation on several key political goals as ammunition to call for a withdrawal.

Without a political compromise, a lasting calm seems unlikely. However, an additional 20,000 troops are expected to rotate in by December. This is not associated with the surge but would briefly increase the numbers of U.S. soldiers in the country.

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