In Surprise Iraq Visit, Pelosi Promises ‘Intense Political Involvement' by U.S.

By Anthony Shadid and Nada Bakri
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 11, 2009

BAGHDAD, May 10 -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pledged Sunday that the United States would maintain "intense political involvement" in Iraq, even as the American military withdraws tens of thousands of combat troops by next year.

Pelosi, an opponent of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, arrived for a surprise one-day visit to Baghdad for talks with Iraqi officials aimed in part at charting a changing relationship -- one in which the United States seems sure to exercise decisive influence, but with less sway than it had in the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein's government.

The talks focused on challenges in that relationship: the U.S. role in helping broker boundary disputes between Iraq's Arab and Kurdish regions, cooperation in intelligence to fight a lingering insurgency as the U.S. military presence diminishes, and efforts to combat sometimes spectacular corruption that has undermined faith in the Iraqi government.

"We will have intense political involvement as we go forward," Pelosi (D-Calif.) said at a brief news conference that followed a 45-minute meeting with Ayad al-Samarraie, the new parliament speaker and an influential Sunni leader.

Pelosi last visited Iraq in May 2008, when the country was emerging from a brutal sectarian conflict. Iraq remains remarkably violent, but the bloodshed pales compared with what Iraq witnessed in 2006 and 2007, and already there is a sense here that the United States has begun disengaging militarily and politically. Along with the pullout, staffing at the sprawling U.S. Embassy, stretching over 104 acres, will be reduced over the year.

Some Iraqis blame that disengagement for a spate of attacks last month. While the U.S. presence remains deeply unpopular, many fear the aftermath of the troops' departure.

"Security will deteriorate if they withdraw. The second day after they leave, militants will take over the Green Zone, they will take over everything," said a merchant who identified himself as Abu Nour, sitting inside his dry-cleaning shop in Baghdad.

Pelosi was careful not to signal any long-term military commitment in Iraq, saying the United States intends to "help economically and culturally."

She expressed hope that "all of this struggle will be worth it in the end." But she warned against thinking "there's a guarantee there might not be some continued violence."

She cited the need for cooperation on the issue of corruption, too.

On Friday, Iraqi police arrested the trade minister's brother, who was wanted with several other officials for embezzling millions of dollars. He was caught in the town of Ozeir in southern Iraq with $150,000, $50,000 of which he tried to use to bribe a policeman to let him go, said Gen. Habib al-Musawi, the head of the Iraqi army's 10th Division in the south. Under an agreement reached between Iraq and the United States in November, all U.S. troops must leave the country by the end of 2011. By June 30, the agreement stipulates, U.S. troops are to depart from Iraqi cities, although U.S. military leaders say troops may remain in the northern city of Mosul, where the insurgency remains strongest.

President Obama has said he plans to end U.S. combat operations in Iraq by August 2010, although he intends to leave behind a residual force of 35,000 to 50,000 soldiers. In the past, Pelosi has called for the troops' mission to be "clearly defined and narrowly focused," so as to require as small a presence as possible.

"If we are going to have a diminished physical military presence, we have to have a strong intelligence presence," Pelosi said at the news conference.

Pelosi also met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who played down the need for a significant U.S. presence in the country. But echoing Pelosi's statement, Maliki said the two countries need to focus on sharing intelligence as the U.S. military withdraws.

"We don't need large numbers of troops anymore inside the cities, which we are capable of controlling. Our efforts now focus on developing our intelligence apparatus, so that a responsible withdrawal won't affect security," he said.

Special correspondent Qais Mizher contributed to this report.

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