Gates Ties Iraq Push to Drawdown
Saturday, January 13, 2007
President Bush's new operation to secure Baghdad will begin in earnest with a push by thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops in the first week of February, and its chances of success should be evident within a few months, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told lawmakers yesterday.
If the plan works, the United States could begin drawing down troop levels by the end of the year, Gates said. If the Iraqi government does not deliver troops and political and economic support, he said, the United States could withhold many of the 21,500 additional troops Bush has ordered to secure the most violent parts of Iraq.
Gates and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also assured members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that there are no plans to take military operations into Iran, clarifying remarks Bush made on Wednesday in announcing the new Iraq package.
"From a military standpoint," Pace said while responding to questions, there is "no need to cross the Iranian border."
Gates said a brigade of several thousand Iraqi troops is expected to arrive in Baghdad in about three weeks to beef up security, part of an effort to bring in 8,000 more Iraqi troops to quell sectarian violence. The first additional U.S. brigade is expected to arrive in Baghdad in the coming days to support Iraqi forces as they clear and hold neighborhoods throughout the city.
"I think that what's perhaps the newest part of this is that it really does put the onus on the Iraqis to come through," Gates said. He later acknowledged that the Iraqi government's "record of fulfilling the commitments is not an encouraging one" but said that Iraqis "really do seem to be eager to take control of this security situation."
Gates said it will be easy to tell if Iraqis live up to their end of the bargain, prompting members of the committee to point out that the Iraqi government sent only two of six promised battalions for an operation in Baghdad last summer.
Gates and Pace said that they think they have assurances from the Iraqi government, but that there is no specific deadline for success or clear benchmarks for progress.
Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), the committee's new chairman, sharply criticized sending more U.S. troops into Iraq and said the move reinforces a "flawed strategy" that has failed thus far.
"Deepening our involvement in Iraq would be a mistake, but deepening our involvement in Iraq on the assumption that the Iraqis will meet future benchmarks and commitments, given their track record, would be a compounding of that mistake," Levin said. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) urged the administration to put it to a congressional vote.
Some Republicans questioned the immediate need for thousands of U.S. troops, with Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) saying he would rather send in a small complement of troops to see if the Iraqis become full partners.
"My point being, it seems to me, shouldn't we walk a few steps along this line and then see how quickly, hopefully, the Iraqis begin to take up their responsibilities, rather than this massive plan pushing forward all at once?" Warner asked. Gates replied that the phased introduction of troops over the coming months will have the same effect.