A prominent U.S. senator says a standoff with Shiite militants in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf must be brought to a prompt and decisive end.
Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel says the interim government of Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi faces a defining moment that will shape the country's future. Speaking on ABC's This Week program, Senator Hagel, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Select Intelligence Committee, said Mr. Allawi does not have the luxury of time when it comes to dealing with radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
"[Allawi] cannot defer this decision. He has to act. The people of Iraq are watching this, and the future of Iraq much hinges on this decision," he said.
It was a message echoed on CNN's Late Edition program by the former head of the U.S. Central Command, retired General Tommy Franks, who oversaw the U.S. invasion of Iraq last year. "Anyplace we see a gathering of these insurgents [we] got to go after them," he said.
Even as attention remained focused on the immediate situation in Najaf, Delaware Senator Joe Biden urged President Bush to provide a detailed blueprint for a successful transition to democracy in Iraq. Mr. Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the United States has made a series of mistakes in Iraq with no clear idea of how to accomplish the goals it has set out.
"The president, what is his plan? What are we going to do, Mr. President, beyond troops? In addition to troops? What are you going to do? He [Mr. Bush] was going to tell us what he was going to do in Iraq. I wish that someone would tell, at least me, what, in fact, he has in mind," he said.
A key question concerns U.S. troop strength in Iraq. Both President Bush and his Democratic challenger in the November election, Senator John Kerry, have spoken of eventually reducing the number of American soldiers in Iraq, but neither has ruled out the possibility of boosting troop strength, if the situation dictates doing so.
Republican Senator Chuck Hagel says it is time for military commanders in Iraq to give an honest assessment of what they believe is needed to complete their mission - not to say what they think politicians in Washington want to hear.
"I think we have to rely on our commanders' analysis on the ground. This is a time for our uniformed military to show some courage and say either we do or we do not [need more troops], but be honest. Because this is going to have tremendous consequences that go well beyond Iraq, whatever decisions we make. We cannot lose in Iraq, in the Middle East, because if we do, we will open up a generation of problems here," he said.
Meanwhile, the former spokesman for one-time Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, Dan Senor, says the security situation in Iraq is not all bleak. Also speaking on CNN's "Late Edition" program, Mr. Senor noted what he called "significant improvements" in the performance of Iraqi security forces in recent months.