- The Washington Times - Monday, January 1, 2007

Two Democrats who have officially entered the 2008 presidential race yesterday criticized proposals for an immediate “surge” of U.S. forces to secure war-torn areas of Iraq.

Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and outgoing Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said the invasion of Iraq was a mistake and that the execution Saturday of former dictator Saddam Hussein would have little to no effect on the sectarian violence there.

“Hopefully, the next president will understand that what we’ve been doing is not working,” Mr. Edwards said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week.”

The 2004 Democratic vice-presidential nominee also took a swipe at Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who has established an exploratory committee for the 2008 presidential election. Mr. McCain has called a troop surge, which President Bush is reported to be considering, the “McCain doctrine.”

“He’s been the most prominent spokesperson for this for some time,” Mr. Edwards said. “I’m just telling you it’s his thing, and I know John McCain very well. He and I are friends, but I think he’s dead wrong about this.”

A poll conducted last week for KCCI-TV in Des Moines, Iowa, shows Mr. Edwards tied with Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois for the lead in the 2008 Democratic primary caucus with 22 percent each. Mr. McCain leads the poll for Republicans with 27 percent.

“I think the execution of Hussein basically ends a chapter in Iraq, and we need to look forward,” Mr. Vilsack said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

The two-term governor, who places third among Democrats in polls taken from his home state, also rejected suggestions for a troop surge.

“I sincerely hope that we don’t make a big mistake even bigger by suggesting a surge of troops in some way, shape or form is going to make Iraq safer or better,” he said. “I believe that the generals are right. We’ve got to put responsibility where it belongs: in the Iraqis.”

Meanwhile, the American death toll in Iraq reached 3,000 Saturday when three U.S. soldiers were killed. The Defense Department has not released their names. The figure, about equal to the number of civilians killed on September 11, does not approach the casualties from the protracted wars the United States fought in the 20th century, which range from 36,000 in the Korean War to more than 400,000 in World War II.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Mr. Bush “believes that every life is precious and grieves for each one that is lost” and will continue to prosecute the war on terror to “ensure their sacrifice was not made in vain.”

In his New Year’s message, the president vowed to “remain on the offensive against the enemies of freedom, advance the security of our country and work toward a free and unified Iraq.”

“Defeating terrorists and extremists is the challenge of our time, and we will answer history’s call with confidence and fight for liberty without wavering,” he said.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and outgoing chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he thinks the Saddam trial was conducted correctly but that his execution will not change the situation in Iraq.

“Ultimately, after the cheering in the streets or the curses, not much change; feeling that this all occurred three years ago and has played its way out,” Mr. Lugar said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

He said he has “very little confidence” in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ability to facilitate national reconciliation after the death of Saddam, but that he supports the Iraq Study Group’s call for negotiations with Iran and Syria.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, offered a more optimistic take on Saddam’s execution.

“The execution of Saddam Hussein was a triumph of justice over evil, and it was justice applied according to the rule of law by the people of Iraq,” Mr. Lieberman said during an appearance on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “Now he’s gone, and they know he won’t come back because he’s dead. Hopefully they will, in reaction, see all that they have in common, which is to try to build a better, freer Iraq.”

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