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Levin Pushes New Plan For Iraq

"I believe that we should tell the Iraqis that if they fail to reach a solution by the timetable that they have set forth, we will consider a timetable for the reduction of U.S. forces," Levin said, noting the draft constitution Iraqis voted on last Saturday was a "divisive document" that does not achieve the necessary compromises.

Washington (UPI) Oct 21, 2005
The United States must change course in Iraq and should use troop reductions as a bargaining chip in the country's political process, said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Although Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis have different visions for Iraq, one thing they can agree on is the need for U.S. troops in the country for now, Levin said in a speech Friday at the centrist Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

The United States should use its roughly 155,000-strong force in Iraq as "leverage" to pressure Iraqi leaders into finding a political compromise that will contain the insurgency that is crippling the country, said Levin, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The plan would also appeal to a U.S. public increasingly skeptical of the Bush administration's vow to "stay the course" in Iraq, according to Levin.

Indeed, President Bush's approval ratings are at an all-time low and there is much public criticism about his handling of the war in Iraq. A CBS News poll conducted Oct. 3-5 found 64 percent of the U.S. public disapproves of his handling of Iraq while 32 percent approve of it.

"I believe that we should tell the Iraqis that if they fail to reach a solution by the timetable that they have set forth, we will consider a timetable for the reduction of U.S. forces," Levin said, noting the draft constitution Iraqis voted on last Saturday was a "divisive document" that does not achieve the necessary compromises.

That constitution, however, was given last-minute approval by Sunni political groups after a compromise deal that allowed them to renegotiate large parts of it after legislative elections in December.

Levin also emphasized Iraqi leaders should set their own timetable for a political compromise, rather than trying to comply with one imposed by the United States.

The statements reflect concerns raised earlier this week by lawmakers in both political parties about the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq, as well as its accountability for that strategy. But in an appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would not put a time frame on the possibility of troop reduction.

"We want our timetable to be results-based rather than time-based," Rice said.

On Friday, Levin said the American public was so tired of the war in Iraq that "substantial troop reductions are likely to occur anyway" as a result of popular dissatisfaction. A U.S. threat to reduce troops would "insert a dose of mind-focusing reality to the Iraqis," he said.

During Rice's appearance Wednesday, Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., said giving Iraqi leaders a timetable of a possible troop reduction "would help our effort, not hurt our effort."

But experts disagreed with Levin and Biden and said setting a timetable for U.S. withdrawal or using troop reductions as a bargaining tool would not undermine the insurgency.

"The terrorists that are inspired by al-Qaida want to see nothing more than us leave," said Helle Dale, a U.S. foreign policy analyst at conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. "If we really were to go ahead and make a very tight timetable, I think we would do devastating damage to the work we have already done in Iraq."

Steven Cook, an analyst with the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, said insurgents "will carry on regardless of if there are 15 U.S. soldiers or 150,000 in Iraq."

Rice, in her testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee, stressed the positive developments in Iraq in the past year. She cited the referendum - and the vote of approval she expected it to receive - as a sign Iraqis want "a modern and unified, democratic Iraq."

But she received sharp rebukes from legislators on both sides of the aisle who were skeptical of a constitution largely opposed by the Sunni minority and who demanded more accountability from senior Bush administration officials.

Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., questioned the administration's assessment of the situation on the ground after Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal recently said Iraq was "hurtling toward disintegration."

Rice responded strongly, dismissing al-Faisal's statement as "not his intention."

"The proper role for Saudi Arabia or for any other country in the region is to help (Iraqis), not critique them," she said.

The Bush administration has asked Iraq's neighbors in general and Syria and Iran in particular to do more to support nascent democracy in the country. It says Damascus and Tehran are not doing enough to stem the flow of insurgents from across the Muslim world who use their territory to cross into Iraq. On Wednesday, Rice refused to rule out military action against either country though most experts doubt if that means a full-blown invasion.

Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., said three of five steps laid out in a Bush administration plan to transfer power to Iraqi leaders - rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure, getting international support and establishing security - were failing.

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Iraqi Forces Coming Along, Slowly
Washington (UPI) Oct 21, 2005
A young Iraqi lieutenant in a maroon beret and immaculately pressed battle fatigues paced in front of 28 children at a school courtyard in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib neighborhood in early October, smoking a thin cigarette, elegantly.

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