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US Lawmaker: Security in Iraq Depends on Political Progress


A senior member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee is urging Iraqi leaders to forge political compromise, warning that failing to do so could threaten the country's security. Senator Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, made his comments Friday upon returning from his eleventh trip to Iraq. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Senator Reed, a former Army captain, says security gains made as a result of President Bush's troop surge in Iraq could erode without progress toward political reconciliation.

"The security improvements are real, but reversible," he said.

At a news conference at the Capitol, Reed questioned the potential impact of a law adopted this month by Iraq's parliament that would allow former members of the Sunni-dominated Baath party back into government jobs and entitle them to pensions.

President Bush praised the Iraqi parliament for taking the action, calling it an important step toward reconciliation.

But Senator Reed says he is not so sure:

"It appears that it might cause a new purge of Sunnis, Baathist Sunnis within the government, that in fact, it could offer pensions to people, but could specifically bar some who are already working in the ministries of defense, information, finance, critical ministries," he explained. "So rather than being reconciliation, it could in fact turn out to be giving with one hand, the pension, and taking with the other, which is pushing even more Sunni Baathists out of power."

Another key Senate Democrat, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joe Biden of Delaware, agrees with Reed's assessment of political progress in Iraq.

"They are a long, long, long way from a political solution," he noted.

Biden recently dropped his bid for his party's presidential nomination and is resuming his committee chairmanship duties. He plans to continue his panel's close oversight of the administration's policies on Iraq.

Biden told a news conference Thursday that he will press the administration to adopt his proposal for a political settlement in Iraq based on a decentralized, federal system of government.

The plan calls for local control over police, jobs, education and government services, and central government control over border protection and distribution of oil revenues. The proposal is aimed at allowing U.S. troops to leave Iraq without leaving chaos behind.

The plan was detailed in a nonbinding measure passed by Congress last year as part of a defense policy bill. President Bush vetoed the bill for an unrelated reason. The measure was reworked, with Biden's provision intact, and approved by Congress this week. It awaits the president's signature.

At the White House, spokeswoman Dana Perino offered a mixed picture of the situation in Iraq.

"Clearly we've had some success in Iraq lately," she said. "There's a lot more work to do. It's a dangerous place. We still have a serious al Qaida problem."

Perino says Iraq will be among the issues President Bush discusses in his State of the Union address Monday night.

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