02-27-2007, 07:40 AM
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A Cautious Optimism on Iraq
A Cautious Optimism on Iraq
Sen. Jon Kyl
Feb. 26, 2007 12:00 AM
I recently had the opportunity to lead a bipartisan, bicameral congressional delegation to the Middle East. Although such trips are short, they still provide more direct information than briefings back in Washington.
Based on face-to-face meetings with U.S. troops and our top military commanders on the ground, as well as Iraqi officials in Baghdad, I took away three key points.
First, both the Iraqi leaders and Americans we met expressed cautious optimism about the new Baghdad Security Plan, and all believed that it was already showing some signs of working. For example, violence by Shiite militias and death squads has significantly subsided. And the Iraqi government is now committed to a key part of the military plan, making sure that after an area of the city is cleared, the Iraqi army and police remain to keep it pacified.
The political part of the plan is also showing progress. For example, the Iraqi Parliament is close to passing a badly needed law to define how Iraq's oil resources will be shared with its citizens.
Two key Iraqi leaders noted a feeling among ordinary Iraqis, Sunni and Shia alike, that "something was different this time" - that this new strategy has a chance to succeed. All cautioned that there would be "bad days and good days" and that we wouldn't be able to pass judgment on the new strategy for months. But the sense of hope and optimism was still palpable.
The second message I took away from our trip was that we cannot micromanage this war from the U.S. Congress, either by cutting off funding for our troops or setting conditions on troop deployments.
Beginning with our first meetings at Camp Arijan in Kuwait, senior military leaders consistently emphasized to us the need for Congress to pass President Bush's supplemental spending request to carry out the mission over the next several months.
Threats from some in Washington to block the request for funding or impose onerous restrictions on how the money is spent have our military leaders worried that they won't have what they need to fight and win. The troops with whom I spoke are also carefully watching the debate back home and don't want to be undercut while their lives are on the line. I am convinced, now more than ever, that this "slow bleed" strategy that seeks to end the war by choking off funds and reinforcements is totally irresponsible. It would pull the rug out from under our troops just as they appeared to be making real progress against the enemy.
Finally, I left the Middle East with a growing concern over the pernicious role Iran plays in the region.
Whether we were meeting with U.S. military leaders or Iraqi government officials, the conversation always seemed to come back to Iran. Shiite militias in Sadr City and elsewhere are clearly being armed by Iranian agents.
The commanding general of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, showed us advanced IEDs, known as Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs), which had Farsi writing on them indicating they were made in Iran.
In Kuwait we had seen the damage EFPs can do when we walked through long rows of armored vehicles, including 70-ton Abrams tanks, ripped apart by these devilish weapons.
Part of the president's Baghdad Security Plan includes going after improvised explosive device networks and capturing those who bankroll them, regardless of their nationality. Some have criticized this approach as an "escalation against Iran" or a "prelude to war." It is not, but I believe we have an obligation to stop those who are responsible for killing our troops. And we do need to apply the appropriate pressure to get the Iranians to back off.
I returned home from this trip more convinced that stabilizing Iraq is the only acceptable outcome in this struggle, and that the president's new strategy is our best opportunity for achieving it.
We have an incredibly complex and difficult road ahead, but everyone I met in Baghdad - Iraqi or American, general or private - believed that we were finally moving in the right direction.
The writer, a Republican, represents Arizona in the U.S. Senate.