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Bipartisan Consensus Emerging For Change Of Course In Iraq

Only the Congress can approve declarations of war, Hagel reminded his audience, "and Congress should now assume its responsibilities in the process of restoring peace" to Iraq.

Washington (UPI) Nov 16, 2005
An emerging bipartisan consensus on Iraq is designed to remove the conduct of the war from the nothing-short-of-total-victory hawks in the administration, and place an exit strategy under the control of the Senate. So spoke Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., at a special meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington on Tuesday.

Hagel also said much thought was being given to building a new coalition of like-minded Arab nations that would place Iraq in a wider regional fabric. This, in turn, would allow U.S. forces to begin phasing out of their combat role before coming home.

"The time has come for creative diplomatic thinking," Hagel said, "with a view to reaching out to build new coalitions."

Only the Congress can approve declarations of war, Hagel reminded his audience, "and Congress should now assume its responsibilities in the process of restoring peace" to Iraq.

Hagel did not mention the Arab countries he has in mind to assist as peacekeepers as the U.S. withdraws. But they are believed to be Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Their government officials have frequently remarked privately the United States invaded Iraq "only to turn it over to Iran."

They are, of course, referring to the influx of Iranian agents that blanketed Shiite Iraq in the wake of the U.S. invasion and to the interim government's close relations with Tehran. Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, who hopes to become prime minister after the Dec. 15 elections, has taken the lead in the rapprochement with Iraq's eastern neighbor.

The resolutions crafted on the floor of the Senate are a stinging rebuke to President Bush's "stay the course" strategy.

"We have made every bad decision we could possibly make," said Hagel.

"The problem now," said the senator from Nebraska, a Vietnam War hero whose presidential ambitions are well known, "is how to get out without further destabilizing the Middle East. Hagel made clear he does not believe in the administration's "clear and hold strategy," because this cannot be done with a limited force structure.

"And they have done great damage to our force structure," he added. "For 30 years since Vietnam, our generals rebuilt our army and Marines to where they were the best fighting force in the world. No longer. The force structure now lies shattered. We simply cannot keep up the present tempo."

Asked if the administration was willing to listen to him, Hagel replied: "The force of events is dictating the outcome. The U.S. has to shift. What happened in the Senate Tuesday is highly significant. It is a critical turning point in congressional involvement in managing the shift.

"The last three years have seen the gradual emergence of new thinking in the administration. They don't all accept this, but Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice gets high marks. Colin Powell's well-known views are being adopted in absentia. The administration is shifting. They have no other choice. Will the American people stay the course? That's in the realm of great uncertainty."

The new Senate resolution, sponsored by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has now set timelines on progress and strategy. Key Democratic Senators like Joe Biden of Delaware and Carl Levin of Michigan have joined Hagel and Warner in ensuring that 2006 becomes the decisive year for a period of significant political and military transition in Iraq. Thus, they are creating the conditions for a bipartisan phased withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The intent of the Senators is to ensure Bush understands Congress wants U.S. troops to begin coming home in large numbers next year. Some of the wide authority lawmakers gave Bush in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, is being taken back piecemeal. Reined in are the extraterritorial and extralegal provisions that excluded Guantanamo prisoners, most of them al-Qaida and/or Taliban suspects, from due process. They can now challenge federal court procedures under which they were labeled "enemy combatants." Restrictions are also imposed on secret prisons overseas.

If sentenced to 10 years or more or death, a new bill now says they would be entitled to an automatic appeal to the federal appeals courts in Washington.

The Senate has now decided the Bush administration has to report every three months on whether Iraq has achieved "a sustainable political settlement that is essential for defeating the insurgency in Iraq," as well as the specific levels of training of Iraqi security and police forces.

Hagel conceded "one of the real dangers is that no one can predict the outcome in Iraq. The president says it is unpatriotic and bad for the morale of the troops to question policy. To which I say it is unpatriotic not to question fatally flawed policies. What Carl Levin proposed is very responsible resolution, which led to John Warner's very responsible resolution. We are now going to force the administration to listen and to act upon our recommendations."

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Five US Marines Killed In Iraq
Baghdad (AFP) Nov 16, 2005
Five US marines were killed in western Iraq on Wednesday, bringing the two-day American death toll to nine, as the government faced calls for an international inquiry into torture allegations at a clandestine Baghdad prison.

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