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Rep. Larsen votes to bring troops home

U.S. forces demonstrate tactics used to enter homes by the Iraqi counterterrorism force comprised of coalition and Iraqi forces in Baghdad in this June 26 photo. On Wednesday, at least two U.S. soldiers were killed, bringing the total number of deaths up to 3,898. More than 20 attacks on  military, security forces and civilians were reported from across Iraq. Gunmen killed at least 11 people when they locked them inside a house in the town of Garma, west of Baghdad, and then blew it up. Police found 200 suicide belts and packs of explosives on a truck that had entered Iraq from neighboring Syria. In Samarra, the mayor was shot dead. - U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael B.W. Watkins
U.S. forces demonstrate tactics used to enter homes by the Iraqi counterterrorism force comprised of coalition and Iraqi forces in Baghdad in this June 26 photo. On Wednesday, at least two U.S. soldiers were killed, bringing the total number of deaths up to 3,898. More than 20 attacks on military, security forces and civilians were reported from across Iraq. Gunmen killed at least 11 people when they locked them inside a house in the town of Garma, west of Baghdad, and then blew it up. Police found 200 suicide belts and packs of explosives on a truck that had entered Iraq from neighboring Syria. In Samarra, the mayor was shot dead.
— image credit: U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael B.W. Watkins

White House report notes progress in Iraq

A progress report with good grades and bad on the state of Iraq can’t mask the fact that U.S. soldiers are unnecessarily stuck in the middle of a civil war, Congressman Rick Larsen said Thursday.

“What we’re doing in Iraq is interfering with fighting terrorists and interfering with the readiness of our military,” said U.S. Rep. Larsen.

“The United States needs to end our military involvement in Iraq’s civil war and re-focus our efforts on killing terrorists wherever they are, including Iraq,” the 2nd District Democrat said.

The White House released the initial report on benchmarks to progress in Iraq Thursday.

The report came as polls show public support for the war is continuing to slip and news reports said al-Qaida was now as strong as it had been in the days before the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

The benchmark report itself was a mixed bag, with “satisfactory” progress being made on eight benchmarks, including ones such as training Iraq Army troops to patrol Baghdad and reducing the level of sectarian violence.

Work on benchmarks such as a scheme to share oil revenues among the country’s factions, or having Iraqi security forces that could operate independently or apply the law even-handedly, was deemed “unsatisfactory.”

While the report said progress has been made on some of the benchmarks for progress in Iraq, Larsen said those milemarkers weren’t the ones that mattered most.

“Unfortunately, the places where they are moving forward have little to do with the security of the country,” Larsen said.

Larsen said two pieces were critical.

“Political reconciliation, and quality and effort of the Iraq Security Forces are the two main areas where the American people expect satisfactory if not exemplary progress.”

“Political reconciliation is part of what can take the air out of the civil war in Iraq. If they do not move forward on political reconciliation and we make no changes to our conditions there, then our military will continue to be in the middle of the civil war,” Larsen said.

Larsen voted Thursday on a plan that calls for a troop pullout by April 1, 2008. The vote passed the House of Representatives on a 223-201 party-line vote.

He stressed that the proposal was not a complete pullout, but one that could focus the U.S. military on fighting al-Qaida, training Iraqi security forces and protecting Iraq’s borders.

Larsen said the shifting of some soldiers to other areas shouldn’t be seen as a complete withdrawal – the country still has national interests in the region, and security concerns – but foot-dragging by Iraqi officials is keeping American boots on the ground longer.

“They’re dithering is resulting in a prolonged deployments of our troops,” Larsen said.

“Right now our foreign policy is Iraq, instead of Iraq being a part of our foreign policy,” he added. “I wasn’t elected to represent the people of Iraq.”

Earlier this year, Pres. Bush ordered a surge of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq. And earlier this week, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said the final troops in the surge of additional forces had just arrived in Iraq roughly three weeks ago and more time was needed to see if the strategy is working.

The benchmark report warned that violence in Iraq will continue, despite the troop buildup: “Tough fighting should be expected through the summer.”

Petraeus will deliver a second report in September.

Larsen also pointed to recent reports that said al-Qaida is making a comeback.

Combined with the interim progress report, Larsen said the reports “undermine the president’s argument that, one, the war in Iraq is being successful, and second, that the Iraq war is the central front on fighting terrorists.”

In the last 30 years, the military has been called out a dozen times, from Lebanon, to the Gulf War, to Somalia and Haiti, Larsen said.

“We have to change the mission to focus on fighting terrorists so we can redeploy some of the troops out of Iraq and have a military that is rested and ready for any future contingencies,” he said.

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