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US Not Winning In Iraq Says Incoming Defense Chief

Iran seeks timetable for US troop exit from Iraq
Dubai (AFP) Dec 5 - A timetable for a US troop withdrawal from Iraq would be a "positive sign" from Washington, a top official from neighbouring Iran said on Tuesday. Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, said during a visit to Dubai that a resumption of dialogue between Tehran and archfoe Washington was inconceivable without a "change of strategy" by the United States in the Middle East.

"A clear sign... could be a departure of American troops from the region," he told a press conference. "If there was such a timetable, that would definitely be a positive sign." His comments came after the leader of a powerful pro-Iranian Shiite party in Iraq urged senior US officials not to withdraw troops but to to transfer more military authority to the government in Baghdad.

by Charlotte Raab
Washington (AFP) Dec 05, 2006
US defense secretary nominee Robert Gates admitted Tuesday the United States is not winning the war in Iraq, and said he was open to all options to stop the conflict spiralling into regional chaos. Gates, President George W. Bush's pick to replace tarnished Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, also cautioned against any attack on Iran expect as an "absolute last resort" and also came out against a strike against Syria.

"Mr. Gates, do you believe that we are currently winning in Iraq?" asked Democrat Senator Carl Levin early in his Senate confirmation hearing.

"No, Sir," replied Gates, in remarks which contrasted sharply with Bush's own comment in a press conference on October 25, that "we're winning and we will win" in Iraq.

Gates also said any military operation against the Iran, with which Washington is locked in a nuclear showdown, would have a "dramatic" impact on US security.

"Military action against Iran would be an absolute last resort," Gates said when questioned by Democratic Senator Robert Byrd.

"We have seen in Iraq that once war is unleashed it becomes unpredictable, the consequences of a military conflict with Iran could be quite dramatic," he said. "Therefore, I would counsel against military action except as a last resort."

Asked by Byrd whether he would endorse an attack against another US foe, Syria, he said "No, Sir."

The hearing opened a critical week for US policy on Iraq, as the long-awaited report by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group on US strategic options in the conflict was due to be made public on Wednesday.

Though he said he was open to change in strategy in Iraq, Gates stressed the final decision would rest with Bush, the commander in chief of US armed forces.

"Of course, it is the president who will decide what, if any, changes are made in our approach," Gates, said in his opening statement.

"I am open to alternative ideas about our future strategies and tactics in Iraq," Gates, a former CIA director said.

"All options are on the table," he said, when asked what strategies were possible in Iraq, following Bush's vow American troops will stay until the mission is complete, and Democrats calls for a phased withdrawal.

"We need to work together to develop a strategy that does not leave Iraq in chaos and that protects our long-term interests in and hopes for the region," Gates said.

Gates also warned that the coming months were crucial to bringing peace to the troubled country.

"My greatest worry, if we mishandle the next year or two, and if we leave Iraq in chaos, ... a variety of regional powers will become involved in Iraq and we will have a regional conflict on our hands."

Before he headed into the lion's den, Bush predicted Gates, would do an "excellent job" if approved by the committee and, likely later this week, by the full upper chamber to take over from embattled Donald Rumsfeld.

After meeting Gates at the White House, Bush said his nominee, a former CIA director, "respects those who volunteer to serve our country."

Bush nominated Gates to replace Rumsfeld the day after the November 7 election, in which Republicans, facing voter discontent over the war in Iraq, lost control of both houses of Congress to the opposition Democrats.

Democrats, who take over control in January, and some Republicans were expected to use the Gates hearing to criticize Bush policy in Iraq, but are not expected to block the nominee, owing to their keenness to oust Rumsfeld.

The committee chairman, Republican Senator John Warner, opened the hearing by reprising remarks he made several months ago that the situation in Iraq was drifting "sideways."

"You have been nominated for one of the most important positions in government," Warner said.

"You simply have to be fearless in discharging your statutory obligations as principal assistant to the president in all matters relating to the Department of Defense."

An expert on the United States' Cold War adversaries, Gates inherits a military mission in Iraq that is entangled in a deepening sectarian conflict and another in Afghanistan that has heated up again over the past year.

Until he was nominated, Gates was a member of the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former secretary of state James Baker and Democratic former lawmaker Lee Hamilton.

According to information leaked to the press, the panel favors withdrawing the bulk of US combat troops from Iraq by early 2008.

Gates served as deputy CIA director during the presidency of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, then as deputy national security adviser from 1989 to 1991.

He then served as CIA director under president George Bush -- the current president's father -- from 1991 through January 1993.

If confirmed, Gates will take over from Rumsfeld, 74, who has been at the Pentagon since Bush first took office in January 2001.

earlier related report
Gates Speaks Hard On Iraq Realities
by Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent Washington (UPI) Dec 05, 2006 The man nominated to replace Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday he does not believe the United States is winning the war in Iraq. Robert Gates, a former CIA director and currently the president of Texas A and M university, also warned of a regional conflagration if the United States leaves Iraq in chaos and said the country has one or two years to get it right.

"Developments in Iraq over the next year or two will, I believe, shape the entire Middle East and greatly influence global geopolitics for many years to come. Our course over the next year or two will determine whether the American and Iraqi people, and the next president of the United States, will face a slowly, but steadily improving situation in Iraq and in the region, or will face the very real risk, and possible reality, of a regional conflagration," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee at his nomination hearing.

If the committee was looking for indications Gates would be a very different defense secretary from Rumsfeld, they got them.

Rumsfeld is known for his tough - some say autocratic - management style. Gates said he would defer to military officials in matters of warfare, a lesson he learned from President George H.W. Bush.

"I think that that kind of deference, when you get past the debate about what the policy should be, the great deference should be extended to the professionals who are going to have to carry out the action. And I think President Bush did that, first President Bush did that in the Gulf War, and that certainly would be my instinct if I'm confirmed as secretary of defense, he said."

He said the first thing he intends to do if confirmed is meet with top military commanders to find out their views on how to solve the Iraq problem.

"The first thing that I want to find out is what do the commanders think about this, what do they think about these different options, and what do the chiefs think? I'm not smart enough and I'm not well enough informed at this point, I think, to make a useful judgment," Gates said.

He also spoke with humility of learning "the hard way" to respect and court the civil servants in government, and to reach out to Congress for its wisdom and advice.

Where Rumsfeld is known for his fierce loyalty to President George W. Bush, Gates pledged his independence and honesty.

He began his potential tenure with a few doses of the promised honesty.

Gates said he concluded the United States is not winning the war in Iraq only this summer as a member of the Iraq Study Group, which will report its recommendations for stabilizing that country on Wednesday.

He also told the committee he does not believe the United States had enough troops to establish order in Iraq after the successful invasion, and suggested it still does not have the "overwhelming force" he believes is required for the colossal task at hand.

"I suspect in hindsight some of the folks in the administration probably would not make the same decisions that they made, and I think one of those is that there clearly were insufficient troops in Iraq after the initial invasion to establish control over the country," Gates said.

Gates said when he was in Iraq with the Iraq Study Group, the military commanders told him they had adequate troops for their mission. He said he expects he might get a different answer if he poses the question as defense secretary.

"It may be that a secretary of defense might get a more candid answer than an outside study group that was visiting them. But we certainly -- the response that we received in Baghdad was that they had enough troops," he said.

He acknowledged that he supported Bush's plan to invade Iraq in 2003 based on the intelligence then and the likelihood that Saddam Hussein was going to get the economic sanctions against him lifted.

Given the current chaos in Iraq, Gates said he is not certain that it was the right decision.

"So was the decision to go in right? I think it's too soon to tell. And I think much depends on the outcome in Iraq," he said. "I think that's a judgment that the historians are going to have to make."

However, he offered three specific criticisms of the Bush administration's decisions in Iraq.

First, he said, the White House did not have an adequate understanding of Iraq's crumbling infrastructure and societal fabric after 35 years of Saddam Hussein and 12 years of crippling sanctions.

"Even if our soldiers had been greeted uniformly with flowers in their gun barrels, the cost of reconstructing Iraq would have been fairly staggering. And I don't think there was that realization or the expectation that we would have to reconstruct Iraq," he said.

He also criticized the dissolution of the Iraqi army.

"I think if we had widely advertised the fact that soldiers who returned to their barracks would continue to be paid, they would have a way to take care of their families, that we wouldn't have had several hundred thousand people who knew how to use weapons, had weapons and were unemployed, out on the streets," he said.

He also criticized the "extreme" de-Baathification policy.

"It seemed to me that perhaps we had forgotten the lessons of our denazification strategy in Germany in 1945 and 1946 and didn't really appreciate the fact that every schoolteacher and power plant operator, for the most part in Iraq, had to be a member of the Ba'ath Party to get the job," he said. "And so a few more hundreds of thousands of people were thrown out of work, people who actually knew how to make some things work and who might have had a stake in keeping things together.

"Based on a very short-term perspective, those seem to me to be some of the concerns that I would have had," he said.

However, Gates is lock-step with the administration on the need to win the war in Iraq -- as much for Middle Eastern stability as for American national interest.

He believes that a U.S. failure there to establish a stable country will lead to a regional conflict, as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria all are drawn directly into the fight to protect their own interests in a destabilized Iraq.

"It would be very surprising if the other Sunni countries in the Middle East would allow the Sunni population in Iraq to be the victims of an ethnic cleansing. I think that the Turks would not sit by idly if they saw Iraq beginning to fall apart. So I think that you could have Saudi Arabia, you could have Turkey, Syria, Iran -- all would be involved. We're already seeing Hezbollah involved in training fighters for Iraq. I think all of that could spread fairly dramatically," Gates warned.

"Regardless of how we got here, we are in a situation where it sounds like most of the bad guys in the Middle East are active in Iraq right now," Gates said. "My worry is, left unconstrained, it begins to approach ... chaos."

Source: Agence France-Presse

Source: United Press International

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