- The Washington Times - Monday, June 12, 2006

U.S. Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin yesterday said the United States should withdraw all its troops from Iraq by the end of next year.

“We should not announce a specific timetable, but it is right to expect that half of our combat troops can be home by the end of 2006, and all our combat troops can be home by the end of 2007,” said Mr. Cardin, the leading Democratic candidate for Maryland’s U.S. Senate seat.

The 10-term congressman from Baltimore spoke to students in the Maryland Leadership Institute, a summer program at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy in College Park.

Mr. Cardin criticized President Bush often in his speech, and said he has been an “outspoken critic of [the president’s] actions in Iraq.”

The president “didn’t care about the international community” when he chose to invade Iraq, and “there was never any evidence that Iraq was a direct threat to the United States,” he said.

Mr. Cardin said Iraq is in the middle of a civil war “between the Shi’ite and Sunni populations, and it’s not helpful for us to be in the middle of it.”

A U.S. withdrawal in the near future would send the message to the permanent Iraqi government “that they need to take responsibility,” he said.

Mr. Cardin noted that he voted against authorizing the use of force in Iraq in 2002, but did not mention that he later voted to approve $78 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has since voted for continued funding for the war.

About 130,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq.

Former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Kweisi Mfume — Mr. Cardin’s chief rival for the Democratic nomination — wants U.S. troops out of Iraq within a few months, a campaign spokesman said.

“We are glad Mr. Cardin has finally come around to our position to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq,” Mfume spokesman Mark Clack said.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, the leading Republican candidate, has said it is time to “accelerate” troop withdrawals, but a campaign spokeswoman knocked Mr. Cardin’s call for withdrawal by next year.

“You would expect a lifetime politician and Washington insider to call for a timetable, and then say he doesn’t want one,” said Steele spokeswoman Melissa Sellers.

Iraq’s new national security adviser said Sunday that all foreign troops could be out of the country by 2008.

Mr. Bush said last week that U.S. troops will leave when Iraq “is a country that can sustain itself, govern itself and defend itself.”

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