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Iraq Timetable Debate Resurfaces

Prepared by: Robert McMahon, Editor
Updated: June 19, 2006

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Congress is set to continue the partisan debate over the course of the Iraq war this week with Democrats in the Senate proposing a "phased redeployment" that sets a timetable for a U.S. troop drawdown (CNN). A White House spokesman says a pullout would be disastrous (Bloomberg). For their part, Iraqi leaders have stressed the importance of the U.S. military presence in maintaining security while acknowledging the need to assume more responsibility. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told a meeting at CFR on Friday that a chief priority of the new government in Baghdad is to assume control of security matters.

The Senate debate, starting Tuesday, picks up from a sometimes rancorous discussion in the House of Representatives that ended in a vote for a nonbinding resolution rejecting a timetable for withdrawal (NYT). Last week's session offered the first chance for the House to formally debate military operations in Iraq since before the war. But Democrats cried foul, saying the resolution provided cover for administration mistakes in Iraq (LAT). In the Senate last week, Republicans sought to preempt Sen. John Kerry's (D-MA) plan to propose a withdrawal from Iraq, offering a resolution testing that idea. The measure was overwhelmingly defeated, but Kerry said he would formally introduce his plan this week. Separately, two Democratic senators proposed a resolution urging President Bush to oppose amnesty for Iraqis who have killed American soldiers (Miami Herald). Republicans charged it was an attempt to embarrass the administration, which has been touting the formation of an Iraqi national unity government.

The debates did reveal concerns about the Iraq campaign from both parties and put elected officials on the record in a big election year. Democrats, eyeing electoral gains because of public dissatisfaction over the war, face internal divisions as well, says Ivo Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. He tells CFR.org's Bernard Gwertzman that Democrats are split between those who think the United States can still play a positive role and those who advocate an early withdrawal. But Republicans remain vulnerable because of the consistently low opinion Americans have the administration's moves in Iraq.

In Iraq, meanwhile, U.S. forces are seeking to build momentum after the killing of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, mounting more than 450 raids on insurgents since then (KnightRidder). But despite a security crackdown launched by the new Iraqi government, suicide attacks continued (VOA). This new online debate by Foreign Affairs examines policy options for helping Iraq avert full-fledged civil war.

Few experts see Zarqawi's death as a turning point militarily. Former CFR Fellow Mary Anne Weaver tells Bernard Gwertzman that Zarqawi was only responsible for "about 10 percent of Iraq's internal violence." His death, she says, while significant, "is not decisive." While some, including the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby, see such statements as infuriatingly defeatist, on balance they reflect expert opinion. Zarqawi's death last week led his terrorist group, al-Qaeda in Iraq, to announce a successor, Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, a pseudonym for a previously unknown figure the U.S. military has identified as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, an Egyptian who trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan (NYT).

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