|Page 2 of 2 <|
Abizaid Says Withdrawal Would Mean More Unrest
"General Abizaid, is al-Anbar province under control?" McCain asked.
"Al-Anbar province is not under control, Senator," Abizaid replied. He said he recently released a Marine expeditionary unit of more than 2,000 troops from the Middle East to reinforce troops in Anbar. Still, he said that Baghdad and not Anbar will remain the main military effort, and that Iraqi forces will have to do more.
"I regret deeply that you seem to think that the status quo and the rate of progress we're making is acceptable. I think most Americans do not," McCain concluded. Abizaid disagreed, saying his new emphasis on training is "a major change."
Other Republicans showed a new skepticism about U.S. policy in Iraq. "It's taking us a lot longer than we thought," said Saxby Chambliss (Ga.). Even John W. Warner, the courtly Virginian who chairs the committee, opened by noting that on Nov. 26, U.S. troops will have been fighting in Iraq longer than they fought in World War II.
On the broader debate over Iraq strategy, Abizaid said partitioning the country, as some analysts have suggested, is "not viable." "I can't imagine in particular how a Sunni state could survive," he said, predicting it would devolve into an al-Qaeda terrorist haven. A Shiite state would fall under domination by Iran, he said.
Amid widespread criticism by lawmakers of the Iraqi government's leadership, Abizaid stressed he has confidence in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and had urged him in a meeting this week to disarm Shiite militias "soon." By that, Abizaid testified, he meant in four to six months.
The Iraqi army will take the lead in pacifying militias, he said, emphasizing that is one reason the U.S. military should redouble efforts to train Iraqi forces. That option is said to be favored by several members of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan panel led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former representative Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), which is expected to make recommendations next month.
Teams of U.S. military trainers embedded with Iraqi units "need to be substantially expanded" so they can reach down to the company level, Abizaid said. He indicated he will try to find troops for that expansion from the existing U.S. force in Iraq but said he is not sure whether that is possible.
Abizaid said adding U.S. troops to Iraq would discourage Iraqis from taking the lead in their own security -- something he predicted they may be ready to do in as little as 12 months. He acknowledged the current U.S. force level in Iraq of 15 brigades is already three to five brigades -- or 10,000 to 20,000 troops -- higher than what he projected it would be before sectarian fighting erupted in Iraq in the spring.
Staff writer Josh White contributed to this report.