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State GOP awaits Iraq update
Alabama lawmakers concerned about war strategy; some hoping for troop withdrawals

By Ben Evans
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — Alabama Republicans who have backed President Bush on Iraq return to Washington this week facing big decisions on how much progress has been made in the war and whether to begin withdrawing troops.

“The patience of the American people has obviously worn real thin,” said Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile. “I have told the White House ... that even though I come from a part of the country that is as red, white and blue as anywhere in the 50 states, there is a growing concern that we don’t have a clear end strategy. I certainly don’t have it.”

Democrats and Republicans have said President Bush’s decision earlier this year to send 30,000 more troops into Iraq has helped stabilize parts of the country. But they say the advances are of little long-term significance if Iraq’s divided political factions cannot reach a lasting settlement.

Returning from a monthlong recess Tuesday, Congress is slated to hear a long-awaited progress report next week. With Bush signaling that he intends to stick to his Iraq strategy, Alabama Republicans said they hope to see clear evidence that Iraqis are closer to taking over their country.

“They have made a lot of progress with the surge. It’s not definitive. It’s on the right track. But the danger here as I see it is the problem with the Iraqi government,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said last week shortly after his first visit to Iraq since the war began. “We all know that we’re going to be leaving Iraq. It’s a question of when.”

“I do believe that in the next six to eight months we will start bringing some troops home,” Shelby added.

Alabama’s delegation has split along party lines in recent votes to end the war, with Republicans consistently opposing Democratic proposals to begin gradually withdrawing troops.

Republicans have pointed to next week’s update from Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, as a potentially pivotal assessment.

Sen. John Warner, a Virginia Republican and former Navy secretary who last year chaired the Armed Services Committee, proposed recently that Bush withdraw a small portion of the U.S. military force by Christmas to send a signal to the Iraqi government.

Several Alabama Republicans said they would wait until hearing Petraeus’ report before deciding whether to support such a call. But they didn’t rule it out.

“I don’t think Sen. Warner’s comments were extreme in any way. That may be the best way to do it,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Mobile. “If you don’t hold these areas after they’ve been cleared, you’ve made no progress. And that’s so much better done by the Iraqis.”

Petraeus’ update comes after a series of other independent reports recently that have shown mixed progress in Iraq, often with more bad news than good.

A commission headed by the former commander of U.S. troops in Europe, retired Gen. James Jones, found that Iraq’s national police are so corrupt and influenced by sectarianism that the corps should be scrapped and replaced with a smaller force.

A draft assessment from the Government Accountability Office, the auditing arm of Congress, reported that the Iraqi government has generally failed to meet political and security goals.

A third report — by the nation’s intelligence agencies — found there has been some progress, but that violence remains high, the Iraqi government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months and its security forces have not improved enough to operate without outside help.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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