By Anushka Asthana
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 25, 2006
Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), once an ardent supporter of the war in Iraq, said yesterday that the Bush administration should set a time frame for withdrawing U.S. troops. He added that most of the withdrawal could take place next year.
Shays, who faces a tough reelection campaign because of his previous support for President Bush's war policies, made his comments after completing his 14th trip to Iraq this week.
He said he found a "noticeable lack of political will" among Iraqis "to move in what I would call a timely fashion" and concluded that Iraqi officials would act with greater urgency if the United States this fall set a timetable for withdrawal.
"My view is that it may be that the only way we are able to encourage some political will on the part of Iraqis is to have a timeline for troop withdrawal," Shays said from London in a conference call with reporters. "A timeline of when the bulk of heavy lifting is in the hands of the Iraqis."
Shays is one of only a few congressional Republicans supporting a timetable for ending U.S. involvement in the Iraq fighting, which has claimed the lives of more than 2,600 U.S. troops and an estimated 40,000 to 45,000 Iraqi civilians. Bush reaffirmed this week his opposition to the withdrawal of U.S. troops. "Leaving before the job was done would be a disaster," he warned.
Shays said it is essential to signal to the Iraqi government that there is no open checkbook or indefinite time frame.
Shays, chairman of the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security, emerging threats and international relations, plans to outline a time frame for withdrawal next month, after he holds three hearings titled "Iraq: Democracy or Civil War."
Critics said Shays is significantly modifying his stand because he is facing a tough challenge from an antiwar opponent in a state that has become a center of opposition to the war. "Americans have known for a long time that Iraq was a mess, and the only thing that changed is proximity to Election Day," said Bill Burton, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Diane Farrell, Shays's Democratic challenger, said: "I think it is unfortunate it took him 14 trips and three years to recognize that Iraq has been in a constant state of turmoil since the day that Baghdad fell." She added that Shays's timetable may not meet the "expectations of the American public."
Shays said that while a timetable can and should be set, having one does not necessarily mean the withdrawal would be quick. He said it would be an outrage to leave Iraq before the Iraqis have the security they need. Some forces would have to remain to provide logistical support to the government and its armed forces. "It may be a timeline Americans don't want to hear," he said.
Shays criticized what he called the "huge mistakes" made by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, in particular the disbanding of the former Iraqi army, police and border patrols shortly after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. "I haven't had faith in the secretary in a long time," Shays said. He said Bush should let go of those who consistently offer bad advice.