- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 7, 2005

Key Republicans yesterday were split on whether Iraqi forces in the Anbar province are able to conduct combat operations without the support of U.S. troops, rekindling debate among lawmakers on withdrawing troops by next spring.

The Washington Times reported last week U.S. commanders in Anbar admitted that no Iraqi unit could conduct combat operations independent of American troops.

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the field reports a “candid reflection” and “the kind of benchmark reporting [that] is going to be required.”

However, Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said there is a “growing core of strength in the Iraq military.”

“These guys are mad at the insurgents. They’re going to hold on. They’re tough, they’re disciplined, and they’re gaining leadership,” Mr. Hunter told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Insurgents operating in the most rebellious sectors along the Euphrates River in Anbar province killed 21 Marines last week. Some Marines say there are not enough allied troops in Anbar to patrol the numerous villages where insurgents operate.

“Clearly, the kind of forces the Iraqis are presenting that are confounding us, that are causing deaths of Americans, are tactics that we are not really prepared for,” Mr. Lugar told “Fox News Sunday.”

Pentagon officials said U.S. troops — numbering 138,000 — cannot withdraw until Iraqis can assume responsibility for the country’s safety. Gen. George W. Casey Jr. last week suggested that U.S. troops in Iraq could be greatly reduced next spring if internal forces are strengthened.

Gen. John Abizaid also has a plan to reduce troop numbers by 20,000 to 30,000 next year, the New York Times reported yesterday.

“As we stand up that Iraqi military, that allows us to draw down the American forces,” Mr. Hunter said.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, told CNN’s “Late Edition” that Iraqis are being trained “as quickly as we can.”

“It is hard to constitute a legitimate, well-equipped and also knowledgeable and capable security force in a country that has been under such repression for so many years,” he said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, defended U.S. training efforts and blamed Iraqi politicians for the foot-dragging.

“You know, it isn’t all on our side,” Mrs. Boxer told CNN. “I also met with the prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) when I was there, and he was very lackadaisical at that point about taking over the security.”

Mr. Hunter added, “You don’t hold their hands. You have to make sure that they pick up that responsibility.”

However, Mr. Allen also meet with Mr. al-Jaafari and said he is eager to help lead his new country.

“I think that the Iraqis definitely don’t want the United States there forever. They’re like all human beings. They like to control their own destiny, not rely on others,” he said.

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