President Bush's decision to send more troops to U.S. forces in Iraq has met stiff opposition from most of Congress and triggered intense national debate on U.S. policy toward Iraq.
The first round of House and Senate hearings highlighted the misgivings most lawmakers have over the President's plan to send more troops to Iraq. Democrats, who now hold majorities in both houses of Congress, have frequently been criticized for not offering their own proposal for ending the violence in Iraq. And they have been seen by many as being reluctant to assume responsibility for the war.
But just a week after taking control of Congress on January 4th, Democrats convened several panels on which experts offered alternative plans for peace.
Veteran U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith spoke before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and made the case for partitioning Iraq into separate Kurdish, Sunni and Shi'ite areas.
Galbraith, who has called America's involvement in Iraq "a war without end", says the three groups cannot be forced to live in a state they no longer believe in or under a government that represents only one faction.
"The Maliki government is a sectarian one that is regarded as alien and even non-Iraqi by the Sunni Arabs and as irrelevant by the Kurds. Its conduct - - the protection of Shi'ite militias, its selective provision of government services, the manner in which it carried out Saddam's execution - - provide no evidence that it can transform itself into something different than what it is,” argues former ambassador Galbraith.
He also says Iraq's army and police reflect the country's divisions and are largely responsible for the ongoing violence.
"The Shi'ite police include the death squads that target Sunnis. In Sunni areas, the police are either insurgent sympathizers or insurgents. Iraq's army is divided into Shi'ite, Sunni and Kurdish battalions. They are ultimately loyal to their political party leaders, or in the case of the Kurds, to the Kurdistan regional government. Iraq's security forces are not neutral guarantors of public security. U.S. training has not and will not make these forces into Iraqis. It will only create more lethal combatants in a civil war,” says Galbraith.
He contends that the alternative is to accept that Iraq has broken up and work with its components.
Security Comes First_
But military expert Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, whose research was used by the White House to justify sending more troops to Iraq, disagrees. He told Senate lawmakers that he doubts that a partition of Iraq would be effective or even tolerable.
"Unfortunately, it is not the case that Iraq is now divided neatly into three zones, each of which can simply be given its own government. Although there has been sectarian cleansing going on in Baghdad and other cities in Iraq, Baghdad remains a mixed city. And actually, dividing the country into three zones will require de facto an enormous amount of more sectarian cleansing. Another word for this process, I believe, would be genocide," says Kagan.
He argues President Bush's proposed security operation in Iraq could reduce the violence to a level that Iraqi security forces can manage as they become more proficient. He says greater security is vital to the country's future, "It is the essential precondition for moving forward with the host of reconciliation initiatives, political development and economic development that will be vital in the end to resolving this conflict."
Kagan warns that unchecked violence in Iraq could spread throughout the region, destabilize Iraq's neighbors and possibly lead to regional conflict.
How Many U.S. Troops?
But according to defense policy analyst Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute, the planned U.S. troop increase may be too small to make a difference and may overburden American forces.
"In addition to the growing violence, there is mounting evidence that the majority of Iraqis no longer want U.S. troops in their country. The bottom line is that the United States is mired in a country that is already in the early stages of an exceedingly complex, multi-sided civil war. It is also a situation where all significant factions save one -- the Kurds -- want American troops to leave. That is an untenable situation," notes analyst Carpenter.
He says President Bush should immediately begin the process of withdrawing American troops. Carpenter argues it is better to admit failure in Iraq while the adverse consequences are manageable, "One of the advantages of being a super power is that the country can absorb the setback without experiencing catastrophic damage to its core interests and capabilities. Failure in Iraq does not even come close to threatening those core interests and capabilities. Most important, a withdrawal now will be less painful than withdrawing years from now, when the cost in blood, treasure and credibility will be even greater," says Carpenter.
In addition to promising more hearings and close oversight of the administration's Iraq policy, lawmakers in both Houses of Congress say they will hold a symbolic vote on President Bush's plan to send additional troops to Baghdad.
This story was first broadcast on the English news program,VOA News Now. For other Focus reports click here.