Calls for Iraq US troop pullout renewed

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Opposition Democrats on Tuesday used President George W. Bush’s secret visit to Iraq as an opportunity to renew their calls for speedy end to America’s military involvement there.

“I hope the president will deliver a clear message in Baghdad: Now that a democratic government has been elected and the Al Qaeda leader in Iraq has been killed, it’s time for American troops to begin to come home,” Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy said in a statement.

“Our overwhelming military presence and our open-ended military commitment have fuelled the insurgency and made America a crutch for the Iraqi government,” the Massachusetts senator said.

“If America really wants the new Iraqi government to succeed, we must begin to disengage from Iraq, and they from us,” he said.

“The Iraqi government must begin to make its own decisions, make necessary compromises to avoid full-scale civil war, and take responsibility for its own future,” said Kennedy. His remarks came as the Senate debated legislation on Pentagon funding, including money for US miltary operations in Iraq.

Another Senate Democrat, John Kerry, whom Bush defeated in the 2004 presidential election, said at a rally on Tuesday that the president’s presence in Iraq did not change his view that the US military venture there is counter-productive.

“No matter how brave our soldiers are, no matter how valiant, no matter what their caring … our soldiers cannot bring democracy to Iraq at the barrel of a gun,” said Kerry, who planned to introduce legislation Tuesday calling for a quick withdrawal of US forces.

“The Iraqis themselves must build democracy. And it will never be done if Iraqis’ leaders are unwilling to make the compromises necessary that requires.

Kerry derided the president’s “quick and now not-so-secret trip to Iraq,” saying the US military role there increasingly resembles the US military debacle in Vietnam.

“For a long time, we’ve been told that Iraq and Vietnam were different. But in telling and very tragic ways now, they are converging,” he said. He added: “We need a deadline now for the Iraqis to understand they must stand up and fight for their own country.” “The goal for standing up Iraqis is 272,000 combined police and military forces. Well, we have now trained and equipped, according to the administration, if they are telling the truth, 250,000-plus,” Kerry continued.

“We’re only 20,000 shy of the 272,000. And my question is: Where is the standing down of American forces?” US Senator Charles Schumer agreed that the adminstration has had recent successes in Iraq with the completion of the government last week and the killing of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Mussab Al Zarqawi, but said those successes don’t warrant staying in Iraq. “These new developments are ones that I welcome, but they don’t remove the cloud of incompetence that hangs over this administration,” Schumer said at a press conference.

“The president today went to Iraq, I’m glad he went to Iraq. He got a first hand look. Maybe he’ll come out finally with a plan that will show us a way out of this quagmire.” Schumer added: “What the American people are looking for is very simple: Some light at the end of the tunnel, a concrete plan, and the administration hasn’t really offered one yet.” Republicans, for their part, said such statements reflect what they call the opposition party’s fecklessness when threatened with challenges like international terrorism.

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