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Democrats Plan for a Way Forward in Iraq

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Location: Washington, DC


DEMOCRATS PLAN FOR A WAY FORWARD IN IRAQ -- (House of Representatives - June 08, 2006)

Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, there have been too many dark days in Iraq of late, but today is not one of them. The removal of Abu Musab al Zarqawi is a welcome event.

Zarqawi was a blood thirsty thug and an indiscriminate killer of innocent men, women and children. All Americans join in congratulating the American military and the Iraqi people for their success in tracking, finding and eliminating the most vicious terrorist in Iraq.

It is too early to predict what the effect of the elimination of Zarqawi will have on the counterinsurgency effort that the Iraqi and coalition forces are engaged in.

On the one hand there is ample historical evidence that eliminating terrorist and insurgent leaders does not necessarily cripple their movements. New leaders rise up to take their places. In the Iraqi case, however, Zarqawi's form of jihad, which has resulted in the slaughter of so many innocent civilians has alienated most Iraqis and helped to foster reported back-channel negotiations between the U.S., the Iraqi Government and some of the insurgent groups over the past few months.

Whether the confluence of Zarqawi's death and the completion of the new Iraqi cabinet can accelerate the prospects for some kind of more open negotiations remains to be seen. Especially as the sectarian violence that Zarqawi sought has continued to grow in recent months.

Even as we celebrate Zarqawi's death and recall the horrors he perpetrated, the videotaped beheadings of helpless hostages, the mass casualty suicide bombings of Shiite mosques, and the horrific destruction of the UN headquarters, we cannot turn away from the grim reality, that the war the President declared over in the spring of 2003 has been bloodier, costlier, longer and more difficult than the administration anticipated or planned for.

We need a new way forward in Iraq, and that is what we would like to talk about tonight. The Democratic ideas for a new way forward in Iraq are part of an overall effort to reconfigure America's security for the 21st Century, a plan we call Real Security.

Earlier this spring, Members of our party from both the House and the Senate unveiled a comprehensive blueprint to better protect America and restore our Nation's position of international leadership.

Our plan, Real Security, was devised with the assistance of a broad range of experts, former military officers, retired diplomats, law enforcement personnel, homeland security experts and others, who helped identify key areas where current policies have failed and where new ones were needed.

In a series of six special orders, my colleagues and I have been sharing with the American people our vision for a more secure America. The plan has five pillars, and each of our special order hours have been addressing them in turn: Building a 21st Century Military, Winning the War on Terror, Providing for Our Homeland Security, A Way Forward in Iraq, and the Achievement of Energy Independence.

Tonight we address a New Course in Iraq, to make 2006 a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with the Iraqis assuming primary responsibility for securing and governing their country with a responsible redeployment of U.S. forces.

Democrats will insist that Iraqis make the political compromises necessary to unite the country and defeat the insurgency, promote regional diplomacy and strongly encourage our allies and other nations to play a constructive role.

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. Whatever success we have had in Iraq, every village that was secured, every public works project that was completed, every school that was reopened, is due to the efforts of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

But, Mr. Speaker, these heroes are still being killed and wounded daily. Over 2,450 American 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 CBO. That is more than $1 billion a week.

A recent Congressional Research Service report puts the current cost of continued operations in Iraq and Afghanistan at close to $10 billion a month, with most of that money going to Iraq.

This is a conflict that has come to grief in so many ways. In the fall of 2002, Congress 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 we were told 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 told by the President that our troops 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'athist 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 be an organized, deadly insurgency that would quickly put an end to General Tommy Frank's plan to pare down the 140,000 troops in Iraq in April of 2003 to 30,000 by September of 2003.

In recent months, 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 Askariya mosque in Samarra has not come to past, not yet, most observers believe the country is currently in the grip of a low-level civil war that could erupt into full-scale conflict at any time.

As first, much of the sectarian violence was perpetrated by Sunni insurgents who saw continuing violence and instability in Iraq as their best hope to gain power in a country dominated by Shiia Muslims.

Shiite political factions have responded by creating militias, and these have become more active in targeting Sunnis over the past few months. In recent weeks I have been 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.

In Baghdad, Shiite units, some of them nominally under the control of the Ministry of Interior, have acted as death squads, and the streets of the capital have become a dumping ground for bodies.

We have a moral obligation to do what we can to avoid having Iraq spiral into all-out civil war. But now is the time for Iraqis themselves to decide whether they wish to be one country. That is the decision we cannot make for them.

Accordingly, the first element of the Real Security Plan for Iraq calls for the United States to take the necessary steps to ensure that 2006 is a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty.

There is a broad consensus among experts here and abroad that Iraq's future will be determined politically and not by force. The formation of a permanent Iraqi government, one that will have power, legitimacy and vision, to assume primary responsibility for securing and governing the country is a necessary precondition to ending the insurgency, preventing 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 religious, political and ethic stripe can agree on, it is that they do not want foreign troops in their country indefinitely.

The second element of the Democratic Real Security plan for Iraq is 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. The process of training Iraqi security forces has gone more slowly than many had hoped and few Iraqi units are capable of taking a leading role in combating the insurgency and remain almost wholly dependent on coalition forces for logistical support.

We must redouble our efforts to train Iraqi forces in order to allow for the responsible redeployment of American troops without a consequent loss of security in the areas we leave. 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.

In the first phase of redeployment, I believe our forces should be gradually withdrawn from urban centers where their mere presence in large numbers has earned the animosity of the local population. Our troops should be 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 but will not become a buffer between warring sects bent on killing each other.

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 U.S. does not seek to maintain a permanent military presence in Iraq and many of us have co-sponsored legislation to prevent the establishment of bases which can only serve as a catalyst for the insurgency and for foreign jihadis.

A redeployment of American troops cannot succeed if the Iraqis themselves are not willing to find the political solution to counter the forces that threaten the unity of the country. There is to doubt that Iraq's ongoing sectarian strife has been exacerbated by the protracted struggle among and inside Iraq's political factions over the formation of a permanent government.

The real key to a better future for the Iraqi people and the third element of the Democratic Real Security plan for Iraq is the promotion of political compromise to unite the country. The recent formation of a national unity government by the prime minister is a positive step. While Zarqawi's death has grabbed most of the headlines today, the prime minister's announcement that he has filled the crucial vacancies in the interior defense and national security ministries may prove more important to Iraq's future, which will be determined politically and not by force.

The Iraqi government must demonstrate to its people that it can actually bring Iraq's rival factions together in a common effort to confront the foreign jihadis and bring the insurgents into the political process. This is the best hope for maintaining the unity of Iraq. But Mr. Speaker, we can not do it alone.

American soldiers, American diplomats and American reconstruction experts are shouldering almost the entire burden in Iraq. This is unfortunately a problem wholly of our making. The President made little effort to bring others on board before we went into Iraq. And after the fall of Baghdad, he rebutted an offer by the United Nations to assume a central role in rebuilding the country.

Finding a way to internationalize the struggle to stabilize Iraq is the fourth element of the Democratic Real Security plan for Iraq. It is not surprising our allies and others are reluctant to send their solders and contractors to help us. It is dangerous and we have not been amenable to listening to the suggestions of others. Unfortunately, the situation in Iraq has deteriorated to the extent that the world must reengage if only because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate. At a minimum, our allies should be willing to assume a greater role in training Iraqi security forces, as well as provide long-promised economic support.

Finally, the last element of the Real Security plan is the need to hold the administration accountable for its conduct of the war. More than any other variable under the control of Congress, our failure to perform this oversight has been a major factor contributing to the difficult situation in Iraq.

The failure of oversight and the need to hold accountable people that are responsible for those failures has plagued the Iraq war from the beginning. And because this Congress, this Republican-controlled Congress refuses to hold the President to account, we keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

For years, the administration and majority tried to cow into silence anyone who dared to question the conduct of the war by calling them unpatriotic. It is not disloyal to ask these questions. Oversight is a core responsibility of Congress. The great strength of a democratic system with built-in checks and balances is that mistakes are caught and corrected. Every Member of this House, Republican and Democrat, wants a stable and representative Iraqi government. But, Mr. Speaker, we cannot hope to change course in Iraq until and unless we are willing to acknowledge mistakes, until we hold the administration accountable and force change.

Devising and implementing a successful end game in Iraq will be difficult, but the President's 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 that success requires a new direction.

I now yield to two of my colleagues, my fellow co-chairs of the Democratic Study Group on National Security their thoughts on the way forward in Iraq. First, I would like to turn to Mr. Israel of New York who has been a great leader on this issue, who is the Chair of the Democratic Task Force on National Security. I yield to the gentleman from New York.

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Mr. SCHIFF. I thank the gentleman for yielding and for sharing the experience of your constituent. I think each of us has sat down with troops returning from Iraq and heard the stories of the lack of lifesaving equipment that they have had to cope with. I had lunch with a guardsman from my district a couple of weeks ago who told me during the year he was in Iraq, the Humvees they were riding in had no doors, and they had to jerry-rig sheets of plywood separated by sacks of sand or concrete, what we call hillbilly armor, to protect themselves as they went from base to base, asking each other, why are we having to do this?

And when we consider all of the misspent and unaccounted for billions of reconstruction dollars and how many coagulant bandages that would pay for or body armor or uparmored vehicles, I think it is the case of going to war with the leadership you have, not the leadership you would like. And I thank the gentleman. If the gentleman has time, we can have a colloquy later on but let me turn to my other colleague from Georgia, Mr. Scott, one of our great leaders on national security issues, and I yield to the gentleman.

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Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Georgia.

I think most of the American people really do not have a firsthand sense of the kind of sacrifice that our troops are making, which is nothing short of extraordinary, with the multiple deployments that you mentioned, with the uncertainty for their families of when they will come home, if they will come home and in what condition they will come home, the economic sacrifices the families make.

One of the concerns I have is not only the problem making sure that there is enough coagulant bandages while they are there, but what about when they come home? Our VA system is already over capacity. The administration is talking about closing Walter Reed. I do not know how that can be done. Every time I have been there it is been brimming with patients.

We, I do not think, have even begun to think about the demands on our health care system for veterans. This young Guardsman that I mentioned earlier, he told me that he still has to resist the impulse to drop to the deck when he hears someone close the door behind a Civic. There is something about the closing of a door behind a Civic that sounds a lot like a mortar going off at 2,000 meters. He said he was pretty well-off in Iraq; he was not one of the people who had to bust down doors every day and go through that kind of stress.

Imagine the mental health care needs, the physical health care needs. I do not think we are prepared yet to meet them, and I want to ask my colleague from New York, a member of the Armed Services Committee, someone who is a military historian and studied the kind of strain we are placing on our active duty and our reserve, what are your thoughts on this subject?

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Mr. SCHIFF. The gentleman and I were talking just this morning, all three of us, about the need to sacrifice, the need to have leadership in this country, and ask the American people to make a sacrifice.

Right now, the people sacrificing are the people in uniform and their families, but the rest of us can contribute, too. I know you have been at the forefront of calling for our national sacrifice, and we could start by balancing the budget so that these young soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen do not come back, in addition to having to try to put their lives back together, have that huge national debt hanging over their heads.

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Mr. SCHIFF. I am sure that both my colleagues have had the experience of visiting our troops in the hospital in Ramstein, Germany, and here in Washington. Their thoughts are with their colleagues they left behind. They want to get back to their troops to make sure they are there for their buddies.

I had one soldier who was so concerned, could I do something about the fact that one of the people in his battalion really deserved recognition for what he had done, and since he wasn't there to make the report this other soldier would not get the recognition they deserved. This is what he was worried about as he lay in the hospital.

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Mr. SCHIFF. I want to thank both my colleagues for joining me this evening and helping to further elucidate the Democratic plan for the way forward in Iraq, for talking about the sacrifice our troops are making, for being there for our troops, and also raising the call that this be a shared sacrifice in the war on terror; that we not force those who have borne the battle to look out for themselves and to pay off our national debt when they get back; that we heed the injunction of Lincoln that we ``look after him who has borne the battle and his widow and his orphan.''

I want to thank you again for all your leadership.

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