- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 8, 2006

We do not need an artificial timetable for Iraq, especially not a political one, but we do need a plan from the White House on how and when we can succeed. Democrats support beginning a phased redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2006.

This proposal would protect American interests and give the commander in chief flexibility to bring our troops home in a safe and timely manner. It also recognizes a strong residual U.S. force will remain in Iraq to provide training and support, and Special Forces who can seek out and kill terrorists.

The days of young American soldiers manning most Iraqi checkpoints and getting caught in the cross-fire of sectarian violence must end. That mission can, should, and must be accomplished by the Iraqis themselves.

The Senate passed a similar measure last year — a nonelection year. Seventy-nine senators, from both sides of the aisle, joined together and urged the president to make 2006 a year of transition.

Though the Republicans backed off this commitment, it is highly likely significant numbers of U.S. troops will start redeploying from Iraq in 2006 and continue to draw down in 2007. America’s top military commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, recently stated: “I’m confident we’ll be able to continue to take reduction over the course of this year.”

Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak Rubaie offered a similar forecast: “Iraq’s ambition is to have full control of the country by the end of 2008,” Mr. Rubaie said in an op-ed article in The Washington Post. “In practice, this will mean a significant foreign troop reduction. We envisage the U.S. troop presence by year’s end to be under 100,000, with most of the remaining troops to return home by the end of 2007.”

It is imperative we support the Iraqi government and pay attention to what they say. Ultimately, the Iraqis will determine their country’s future and whether it succeeds or fails. America’s greatest chance to help Iraq become a stable nation that respects human rights, and not a harbor for terrorists, is through nonmilitary support for Iraqi reconstruction.

Several months ago, President Bush announced a proposal to develop and deploy reconstruction teams in all 18 Iraqi provinces. But today, there are still only four such teams operating in the entire country. They lack resources, personnel and meaningful support from the White House.

Unless we can fix the reconstruction, redevelopment and political mentoring process, our military efforts will buy time but not guarantee success. Americans know we need a new direction in our Iraq policy.

Democrats have offered a thoughtful plan — tactically, strategically, politically — that will change the course from the president’s failed policy. Republicans defeated this common-sense proposal. Now they must deliver a clear road map of their own, and a plan to pay for it.

The president must level with the American people and tell them he is committing more resources to Iraq, including personnel from our State and Justice Departments and our Agency for International Development. He must also be more candid about the cost. American taxpayers have already paid $320 billion for the Iraq war, and will be forced to spend hundreds of billions more.

Our national security demands we bring Iraq to a successful conclusion as quickly as possible. The timing and placement of our military forces is the president’s responsibility. He should step up and take on that responsibility, beginning today.

Our fighting men and women should not be left on the front lines of Iraq for one day longer than is absolutely necessary.

Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, is a member of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee and is a retired United States Army captain.

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