Iraq sends lobbyists to influence Congress

Desperate Iraqi officials, worried the United States might pull out and let them fight their civil war on their own, dispatched lobbyists to Capitol Hill this week to try and convince Congress to waste more American lives and taxpayer money to fund President George W. Bush's failed war.

The effort comes as public sentiment against the war continues to mount and Bush faces rebellion within GOP ranks over his war policies.

Writes Ann Flaherty of The Associated Press:

Worried Congress' support for Iraq is deteriorating rapidly, Baghdad dispatched senior officials to Capitol Hill this week to warn members one-on-one that pulling out U.S. troops would have disastrous consequences.

The lobbying push targeted Republicans and Democrats alike, but focused primarily on those considered influential on the war debate. On Thursday, hours before the House voted to limit funds for the war, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh met with more than 30 House Republicans and more than a half-dozen senators, including Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., John Warner, R-Va., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.

"He understands that American patience is waning," said Sen. Norm Coleman, after eating lunch with Saleh, Iraqi Ambassador Samir Shakir al-Sumaidaie and Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

Baghdad's ability to sell members like Coleman, R-Minn., and Chambliss, R-Ga., on the war effort is critical if the Iraqi government wants U.S. troops to stay. Coleman in recent months has become deeply skeptical of the president's decision to send additional troops to Iraq and says patience on the war in general is limited.

Chambliss and Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., who met separately with Saleh, will be up for re-election next year — facing voters who have grown tired of a war in its fifth year and that has killed more than 3,380 troops. While Republicans have been reluctant to intervene, many say President Bush has until September to tell if the troop buildup in Iraq is working before they demand another approach.

With the clock ticking, Saleh — a Kurdish politician highly regarded by U.S. officials and who speaks impeccable English — said he came to Capitol Hill to convey the "imperative of success" in Iraq.

"Iraq is a central battleground in this historic conflict" against terrorism, he said in a brief interview after meeting with Reid, the Senate majority leader.

His trip came on the heels of a visit by Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, along with three other senior advisers, according to the Iraqi embassy. The New York Times first reported al-Rubaie's visit on Tuesday.

The timing of these meetings is no mistake. This month, Congress is expected to send Bush legislation that funds the war in Iraq but requires the Baghdad government meet certain political and security reforms. In question is what consequences the Iraqis should face if they fail. Democrats want U.S. troops to leave, Republicans say they don't want to force redeployments, but some say they would be open to withholding more than $5 billion in foreign aid.

The House voted 221-205 Thursday for a stronger measure that would fund the war only through July, giving Congress the option of cutting off money after that. The bill is unlikely to survive in the Senate, although it indicates the war's unpopularity among members and their frustration with the lack of progress in the Iraqi parliament.

The most recent irritant among U.S. lawmakers was a report that Iraqi officials would break for two months this summer.