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Iraq Study Group Says Political Solutions in Iraq Crucial

A former U.S. defense secretary and member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group was among witnesses testifying Wednesday before Congress about the situation in Iraq. VOA's Dan Robinson reports William Perry and others provided lawmakers with tough advice on how to assess the situation in Iraq and how the United States should adjust its policy in coming months and years.

Last year, the Iraq Study Group commissioned by Congress described the situation in Iraq as grave and deteriorating and made a series of recommendations to decrease the role for U.S. combat forces and increase the role of political and diplomatic efforts.

Now, one month into President Bush's military surge aimed at securing Baghdad, former defense secretary Perry describes what he calls a disastrous security situation which continues to deteriorate.

Perry also says that without political progress, it won't really matter how long U.S. forces remain in Iraq. "As grim as this situation is it could be even worse when U.S. soldiers leave, as the administration has stated. But, in the absence of political reconciliation that could be true whether we leave a year from now or whether we leave five years from now," he said.

Perry offered a critical assessment of President Bush's approach in Iraq. "I believe that the president's diplomatic strategy is too timid, and his military strategy too little and too late, to effect what he calls the lasting and profound changes needed. His strategy is not likely to succeed, because it is tactical not strategic, because it does not entail real conditionality for the Iraqi government," he said.

But Perry says he agrees with the president's assessment that a rapid withdrawal would lead to disastrous results, adding that implementing Iraq Study Group findings would provide an opportunity to stabilize the situation before U.S. combat forces leave.

Fred Kagan, of the American Enterprise Institute, says the president has a political-military strategy, not just a change in tactics.

He points to successes by U.S. and Iraqi government forces against al-Qaida forces in Iraq, in Anbar province and elsewhere, and criticizes those calling for withdrawing U.S. forces. "Responsible people in this city understand and say repeatedly that we cannot simply abandon Iraq and allow it to become an al-Qaida safe haven, and advocate leaving U.S. forces behind to engage in counter-terrorism," he said.

Jessica Tuchman Mathews, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, questions whether Iraqis will move toward a political solution anytime soon.

Saying the United States has continued to pursue a possibly unachievable objective of unifying Iraqi factions based on benchmarks, she maintains the U.S. presence will prolong and delay an inevitable but understandable struggle for power in a political vacuum:

"What we are talking about here are fundamental allocations of political power, and I believe the Iraqis are not yet ready to make those choices themselves because they haven't yet tested each other's strength and will, and there are too many organized groups determined to do that. So I believe we are engaged in a rather elaborate exercise of self-delusion about the benchmarks," she said.

House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton repeated his view that with forces tied down in Iraq, U.S. counter-terrorism efforts elsewhere are suffering. "Iraq has proven to be a distraction from the war on those who attacked us on September 11th, and I believe that we must move to a more limited presence in Iraq so that we can dedicate more resources towards finally eliminating al-Qaida and posturing our forces to deal with future strategic threats," he said.

In other hearings on Capitol Hill, lawmakers heard from other experts, among them Daniel Byman, of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and the Brookings Institution.

"I regret to say that I believe the United States will not be able to bring peace and stability to Iraq in the next several years, and that even in the long term, ending the Iraqi civil war would require a far greater military and civilian commitment than we currently have, and even then I think the chances for success are far from certain," he said.

Byman advocates a substantial draw down of U.S. forces from their current levels, with what he calls a containment strategy to deal with any spillover from an all out Iraqi civil war, involving a force of some 20-thousand U.S. troops based in neighboring countries.

The numerous hearings, also including on a yet to be passed Iraqi government oil law, came a week after the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted for a resolution calling for an April first target for removing most combat forces from Iraq.

They also came as two Bush administration officials, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visited Capitol Hill to meet with Republican lawmakers, part of administration efforts to reassure members of the president's party nervous about administration strategies.