Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the insurgency in Iraq is losing steam as a political force, even as Democratic congressmen warned Sunday that violence jeopardizes plans for withdrawing some troops.
Rice, in an article appearing on Time magazine’s Web site, argued against viewing the war solely through the rising death toll. More than 1,820 American troops have died in Iraq, at least 30 of them in the last week.
“It’s a lot easier to see the violence and suicide bombing than to see the rather quiet political progress that’s going on in parallel,” Rice said.
“If you think about how to defeat an insurgency, you defeat it not just militarily but politically,” she said, adding that she believes the insurgents are “losing steam” politically.
Appearing on Sunday news shows, Democratic lawmakers expressed misgivings about plans for withdrawing some troops from Iraq. A leading Republican said that politics should not guide battlefield decisions.
Pentagon officials have been planning recently for a gradual withdrawal beginning early next year on condition that Iraqi political goals were met and the insurgency was under control. Last week the Defense Department set the number of trained Iraqis at 175,000.
Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, disputed that number on Sunday, saying fewer than 3,000 Iraqis troops have been trained for all kinds of combat.
A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Americans should prepare to be involved with Iraq for a long time.
“The insurgents are thinking in terms of years. It took 10 years in Afghanistan to evict the Soviets. We’re thinking in terms of months, and that causes problems,” Reed said on “Face the Nation” on CBS.
“We have to be prepared for a long involvement. We have to do it not just rhetorically. We have to have the resources, we have to expand our army, our Marine Corps, we have to provide them with the best equipment possible,” Reed said. “There’s lots of things we can do.”
Reed said that the congressional elections next year might be an indirect factor in the discussion of troop withdrawals, but a greater factor, he added, is the growing concern among Americans about the U.S. role in Iraq. An AP-Ipsos poll released last week showed that only four out of 10 Americans approved of President Bush’s handling of Iraq.
“My fear is that there’s pressure in the United States that is forcing us to re-evaluate our position rather than what’s happening on the ground in Iraq,” Reed said.
The Bush administration has set goals of establishing a democracy in Iraq and training enough Iraqis to defend their country, pledging to bring home U.S. forces only when those goals are met. Iraqi officials are working toward drafting a constitution by Aug. 15, and a national referendum to approve the constitution is set scheduled for mid-October.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he thought withdrawing some troops in Iraq by next spring was feasible. Reports and analysis, including those from critics of the administration’s policies, indicate a “growing strong core of strength” in the Iraqi military, he said.
“There are always going to be insurgents in Iraq … and there’s always going to be bombs going off. That’s the nature of that neighborhood,” Hunter said on CBS. “The key is: Can this military defend its civil government and be accountable and responsible to it? I think they’re going to hold.”
While acknowledging that insurgents are confounding U.S. forces and using tactics for which American commanders are not prepared, Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said progress is being made.
“The fact is that we are proceeding with the reconstruction of the country, with the building of a constitution. And the time that we are devoting to that also is time for training with a lot of adjustments made on the basis of our experience,” Lugar said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Biden repeated his contention that the U.S. has too few troops committed to the war and questioned Defense Department reports of Iraqi troop training. In addition to those trained for all kinds of combat, 25,000 to 30,000 require significant U.S. support, but another 10,000 to 15,000 are incapable of performing military tasks, he said.
“They’re still not leveling with us,” Biden, appearing on Fox, said. “There’s this race against time. Can we get a government up and running _ can they get a government up and running that has the capacity to maintain order before we lose the support of the American people?”
Hunter said leaders in Congress and the administration have to remain strong and resist political pressures, supporting the withdrawal of troops at the pace recommended by battlefield commanders.