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Time for the Iraqi People to Assert Control Over Their Political Destiny

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Location: Washington, DC


TIME FOR THE IRAQI PEOPLE TO ASSERT CONTROL OVER THEIR POLITICAL DESTINY -- (House of Representatives - April 25, 2006)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from California (Mr. Schiff) is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, the Iraq war is now in its 4th year, and I, like many of my colleagues and millions of my fellow citizens, are troubled about the direction the conflict is taking.

I have been to Iraq three times to visit our troops there, and I have spent time with our wounded here and in Germany. They have done everything we have asked of them, and they have done it magnificently. While we have a moral obligation to do whatever we can to avoid having Iraq spiral into an all-out civil war, now is the time for the Iraqis themselves to decide if they wish to be one country. And, Mr. Speaker, it is time for us to take steps that will ensure that 2006 is a year of significant transition to full sovereignty for the people of Iraq.

This is a conflict that has come to grief in many ways. In the fall of 2002, I voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq because of the threat that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and because I was concerned that he had an active nuclear weapons program. If you go back and look at the debate in the House and Senate, this was a decision taken by the Congress to prevent Iraq from acquiring or using or transferring nuclear weapons.

Months later, as American forces pushed across the Kuwaiti frontier and into Iraq, we were on a hunt for weapons of mass destruction. Delivering the Iraqi people from the brutality of Saddam Hussein was a noble act, but the promotion of democracy in Iraq was not our primary reason for going to war. Similarly, we knew the Shiite majority had suffered terribly under the Ba'ath regime, and freeing them from the oppression of the Sunni minority was an added benefit of the invasion. But reordering the ethnic balance of political power in Iraq was not our primary purpose for going to war.

Soon after the fall of Baghdad, it became clear that many of the pre-war assumptions that had guided the President and his advisers were wrong. There were no chemical or biological weapons, there was no nuclear program, and while many Iraqis celebrated the ouster of Saddam Hussein, they did not line the streets of Baghdad to greet our troops with flowers. In fact, within days, there emerged the beginnings of what would become an organized and deadly insurgency that would quickly put an end to General Tommy Franks' plan to pare down the 140,000 troops in April 2003 to about 30,000 by September 2003.

In recent months, even as our military has become more adept at combating the insurgency, the nature of the struggle in Iraq has changed yet again. Long-simmering ethnic tensions, which had been suppressed under Saddam's totalitarian regime, have threatened to tear the country apart. While the full-scale civil war that many feared in the wake of the bombing of the Askariya mosque in Samarra has not yet come to pass, most observers believe the country is currently in the grip of a low-level civil war that could erupt into a full-scale conflict at any time.

The ongoing sectarian strife has been exacerbated by the protracted struggle among and inside Iraq's political factions over the formation of a permanent government. Last week's decision by the Shiite parties that make up the largest block in parliament that was elected 4 months ago to replace Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari with Jawad al-Maliki paves the way for the formation of a broad-based government. The question is now whether this hopeful development will be enough to pull Iraq back from the precipice.

There is a broad census among experts here and abroad that Iraq's future will be determined by politics and not by force. The formation of a permanent Iraqi Government, one that will have the power of legitimacy and vision to assume primary responsibility for securing and governing the country, is a necessary precondition to ending the insurgency, preventing a civil war, and allowing large-scale reconstruction to begin.

Consequently, our role in Iraq must become more political and less military. For if there is one thing that Iraqis of every ethnic, religious, and political stripe can agree on, it is that they do not want foreign troops in their country indefinitely.

I support a responsible redeployment of our troops during the course of 2006 so we are not drawn into sectarian conflict and so Iraqis are forced to take primary responsibility for securing and governing their country. A responsible redeployment of American coalition forces will have to be done in stages to build greater Iraqi sovereignty and control over security, not civil war. We should also publicly declare that the United States does not seek to maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq, and I have cosponsored legislation to prevent the establishment of permanent bases, which can only serve as a catalyst for the insurgency and for foreign jihadis.

Devising and implementing a successful end-game in Iraq will be difficult, but an open-ended commitment to remain in the country is untenable and unwise. The American people want Iraq to succeed and for a representative government there to survive and to lead to a better future for the Iraqi people. But it will ultimately be the Iraqi people who must decide whether they wish to live together in peace as one country or continue to murder each other in large numbers. We cannot decide that for them.

In the fight against the malicious al Qaeda in Iraq, foreign jihadis bent on destroying a government chosen by the Iraqi people, we are in solidarity with the Iraqi people who want a better life for their children. But, Mr. Speaker, we will not stand as a shield between Iraqi sects bent on killing each other. The new prime minister and leadership have the next 30 days to form a strong unity government. We hope they will be successful in that task, and we hope that the Iraqi leaders understand that the patience of the American people is running out.

* [Begin Insert]

Mr. Speaker, the Iraq war is now in its fourth year and I, like many of my colleagues and millions of our fellow citizens, am deeply concerned about the direction that the conflict is taking.

I have been to Iraq three times to visit with our troops there and I have spent time with our wounded here and in Germany. They have done everything that we have asked of them and they have done it magnificently.

Tragically, these American heroes are still being killed and wounded daily. Over 2,300 troops have been killed and thousands more have been injured. American taxpayers are paying approximately $194 million a day for the war according to the Congressional Budget Office--that's more than a billion dollars a week. A new CRS report puts the current costs of continued operations in Iraq and Afghanistan at close to $10 billion a month, with most of that money going to Iraq.

While we have a moral obligation to do whatever we can to avoid having Iraq spiral into all-out civil war, now is time for the Iraqis themselves to decide whether they wish to be one country. And, Mr. Speaker, it is time for us to take steps that will ensure that 2006 is a year of significant transition to full sovereignty for the people of Iraq.

This is a conflict that has come to grief in so many ways. In the fall of 2002 I voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq because of the threat that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and because I was convinced that he had an active nuclear weapons program. If you go back and look at the debate in the House and Senate, this was a decision taken by the Congress to prevent Iraq from acquiring and using or transferring nuclear weapons.

Months later, as American forces pushed across the Kuwaiti frontier and into Iraq, we were on a hunt for weapons of mass destruction. Delivering the Iraqi people from the brutality of Saddam Hussein was a noble act, but the promotion of democracy in Iraq was not our primary reason for going to war.

Similarly, we knew that the Shiite majority had suffered terribly under the Ba'ath regime and freeing them from the oppression of the Sunni minority was an added benefit of the invasion. But reordering the ethnic balance of political power in Iraq was not our primary purpose for going to war.

Soon after the fall of Baghdad, it became clear that many of the prewar assumptions that had guided the President and his advisors were wrong. There were no chemical or biological weapons; there was no nuclear program; and, while many Iraqis celebrated the ouster of Saddam Hussein, they did not line the streets of Baghdad to greet our troops with flowers. In fact, within days there emerged the beginnings of what would become an organized, deadly insurgency that would quickly put an end to General Tommy Franks' plan to pare down the 140,000 troops in Iraq in April 2003 to about 30,000 by September 2003.

In recent months even as our military has become more adept at combating the insurgency, the nature of the struggle in Iraq has changed yet again. Long-simmering ethnic tensions, which had been suppressed under Saddam's totalitarian regime, have threatened to tear the country apart. While the full-scale civil

war that many feared in the wake of the bombing of the Askariya mosque in Samarra has not yet come to pass, most observers believe that the country is currently in the grip of a low-level civil war that could erupt into full-scale conflict at any time. I am especially concerned by media reports that Shiite militias have been deploying to Kirkuk, Iraq's third largest city, in a bid to forestall any attempt by Kurds to assert control over this major center of Iraq's oil-rich north.

The ongoing sectarian strife has been exacerbated by the protracted struggle among and inside Iraq's political factions over the formation of a permanent government. Last week's decision by the Shiite parties that make up the largest bloc in the parliament that was elected four months ago to replace Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari with Jawad al-Maliki paves the way for the formation of a broad-based government. The question now is whether this hopeful development will be enough to pull Iraq back from the precipice.

There is a broad consensus among experts--here and abroad--that Iraq's future will be determined by politics and not force. The formation of a permanent Iraqi government--one that will have the power, legitimacy and vision to assume primary responsibility for securing and governing the country--is a necessary precondition to ending the insurgency, preventing a civil war and allowing large-scale reconstruction to begin.

Consequently, our role in Iraq must become more political and less military; for if there is one thing that Iraqis of every ethnic, religious and political stripe can agree on, it is that they do not want foreign troops in their country indefinitely.

I support a responsible redeployment of our troops during the course of 2006 so that we are not drawn into sectarian conflict and so that Iraqis are forced to take primary responsibility for securing and governing their country. While the process of training Iraqi security forces has gone more slowly than many had hoped, recent reports have indicated that we are making progress and that every week more Iraqi units are capable of taking a greater role in combating the insurgency.

A responsible redeployment of American and coalition forces will have to be done in stages to build greater Iraqi sovereignty and control over security, not civil war. In the first phase of the redeployment, our forces should be gradually withdrawn from insecure urban centers and moved to smaller cities where reconstruction is supported by the local population, and to remote bases where our troops will be able to support Iraqi units if necessary. Over time, these troops will be withdrawn from Iraq altogether and redeployed outside the country, either in the region or back to the United States. We should publicly declare that the United States does not seek to maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq and I have co-sponsored legislation to prevent the establishment of permanent bases, which can only serve as a catalyst for the insurgency and for foreign jihadis.

Devising and implementing a successful endgame in Iraq will be difficult, but an open-ended commitment to remain in the country is untenable and unwise. The American people want Iraq to succeed, and for a representative government there to survive and lead to a better future for the Iraqi people. But it will ultimately be the Iraqi people who must decide whether they wish to live together in peace as one country or continue to murder each other in large numbers. We cannot decide that for them.

In the fight against the malicious Al Qaeda in Iraq, foreign jihadists bent on destroying a government chosen by the Iraqi people, we are in solidarity with the Iraqi people who want a better life for their children. But we will not stand as a shield between different Iraqi sects bent on killing each other. The new Iraqi prime minister and leadership have the next thirty days to form a strong unity government. We hope that they will be successful in this task. But our hopes in Iraq have too often led to disappointment, and the Iraqi leaders must understand that the patience of the American people is running out.

* [End Insert]

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