UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington DC (UPI) Jun 22, 2007
The Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Tuesday offered up a range of options for Iraq, from a total withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of 2007 to leaving behind an unspecified number to protect the U.S. embassy, train Iraqi forces, protect the Kurdish north and conduct operations against al-Qaida in Iraq.
Public dissatisfaction with the conduct of the war in Iraq and its cost in both lives and treasure -- more than 3,500 dead, 16,000 seriously wounded and nearly $500 billion spent -- is a primary reason Democrats won control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
The number of anti-war voters continues to grow. According to a poll conducted this month by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, 37 percent of respondents favor an immediate and orderly withdrawal. That is up from 27 percent a year ago. A solid majority of respondents -- 58 percent -- oppose an immediate withdrawal, but 59 percent want to see the number of U.S. troops reduced.
A separate poll conducted by the Los Angeles Times this month shows growing public frustration with the Democratic-controlled Congress, likely in connection with its failure to significantly shift course in Iraq. In January, 43 percent of liberal Democrats approved of Congress' performance. By June, that number fell to about 33 percent.
The party's anti-war base, expected to turn out to vote in large numbers during the primaries, is closely tracking the presidential contenders' Iraq policies.
At one end of the spectrum are New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who laid out their notional Iraq policy in separate appearances before the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees annual convention in Washington.
"I would withdraw all of our forces, without any residual troops, by the end of this calendar year," said Richardson, to cheers and applause.
He would cobble together an all-Muslim international peacekeeping force and negotiate with Iran and Syria in an attempt to bring more stability to the region.
He would leave no U.S. forces in Iraq.
"We cannot do the hard diplomatic work in Iraq until our forces are withdrawn. When 61 percent of the Iraqi people say it's okay for troops in Iraq, American troops, to be shot, it is wrong. When 70 percent of the Iraqi people say they want Americans out -- Sunni and Shiite -- by the end of the calendar year, the time has come to withdraw our forces," he said.
Richardson criticized Congress for failing to take aggressive action to end the war and recommended the body withdraw the authorization for the use of military forces it approved in 2002.
"Too often we're looking at funding resolutions. Too often we're looking at timetables. What I would urge the Congress to do is press ahead with a major initiative to de-authorize the war, to stop the war by the end of this calendar year," he said.
Kucinich believes Congress should cut off funding for the war.
"That's why I'm in this race, to help the Democratic Party recover its soul, to stand for peace. Democrats right now should be telling President Bush: We're not going to give you another dime for the war; bring those troops home right now," Kucinich said.
He would also seek to build an international peacekeeping force that would replace U.S. forces.
"The occupation's fueling the insurgency. I'm calling for a whole new approach," Kucinich said.
Kucinich wants the United States to pay reparations to Iraqi people who have lost family members.
"Our presidency will be rejecting war as an instrument of policy. I am truly the candidate of peace, which will create security for our people because war has created insecurity," Kucinich said.
Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina is somewhere in the middle. He told the AFSCME conference he would pull 40,000 to 50,000 troops out of Iraq immediately, from the northern and southern provinces, bringing troop levels to about 100,000 -- leaving a substantial force in Anbar province and in and around Baghdad.
"I would continue to draw combat troops out of Iraq over the course of about the next 10 months. I would get the Sunni and the Shiite leadership engaged in serious discussions to see if they can reach some kind of political solution, political reconciliation. Because without that, there's never going to be peace in Iraq," Edwards said.
The withdrawal of forces would ease regional problems, particularly Iran and Syria's tacit and active support for insurgents and militias, he said.
"They have no interest in stabilizing Iraq as long as America's an occupying force there," Edwards said.
Edwards believes if Iran is faced with the possibility of a destabilized Iraq, it will play a more constructive role.
"They don't want to see a broader Middle East conflict between Shiite and Sunni because they're a Shiite country in a Sunni-dominated Muslim world, so they have an incentive to stabilize Iraq once America is not occupying Iraq," Edwards said.
Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois offered fewer specifics on a withdrawal timetable other than it should start immediately.
"We need to bring our combat troops home from Iraq starting right now. I would not wait. I would begin to get them out of the multi-sided sectarian civil war that they are part of," Obama said.
He would also cut off financial support to the Iraqi government if it fails to live up to its own benchmarks -- agreeing to an oil revenue sharing law and political reconciliation.
"If they don't do that, we should begin cutting aid to them. We cannot continue to support them if they're not going to do the job that they have to do," Obama said.
Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York, the current front-runner, talked more about the troops that should remain rather than those she would withdraw.
"If the Iraqi government does get its act together, we may have a continuing training mission. But that's a limited number of troops with very specific missions -- no permanent bases, no permanent occupation," she said.
"We may still have remaining vital national security interests that are important to America. You know, we cannot let al-Qaida have a staging ground in Iraq," she said.
Clinton said U.S. forces are likely to continue to be needed in Anbar province, where a large number of tribes are now cooperating with the American military in fighting against al-Qaida.
"That doesn't take a lot of American forces, but I think we have to look carefully about continuing that," she said.
She also expressed concern that the Kurds in northern Iraq are not abandoned or left exposed to attacks from Sunni insurgents or Shiite death squads. Clinton said Iran's "influence" in Iraq also needs to be countered but said regional diplomacy is probably the best way to handle that rather than troops.
"I think diplomacy and trying to get the rest of the region involved is the best way to go there," she said.
Source: United Press International
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Washington (UPI) June 20, 2007
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