Thursday, January 24, 2008

Good news and bad from Iraq

From Congressman Adam Schiff:

Thank you for contacting me regarding the War in Iraq. I appreciate hearing from you and welcome your input.

In December, I traveled to Iraq with a Congressional delegation to assess the situation on the ground firsthand. It was my fourth trip to Iraq since 2003. These trips are always enlightening—it is deeply moving to meet and speak to the men and women serving in our armed forces. It's such an important reminder of the sacrifices they are making and courage they display every day. We had a lengthy meeting with General David Petraeus and other military commanders, as well as State Department personnel. The trip also gave me a chance to speak to the troops actually patrolling the streets of Baghdad, Anbar Province and elsewhere in Iraq to get their sense of the security situation and how it has evolved.

It was apparent to me in speaking to soldiers and commanders in Iraq that the security situation in the country has significantly improved over the past six months. The "Sunni Awakening," the turning of Sunni Sheiks against al Qaeda in Iraq, seems to be the primary cause of the decline in violence. Sunni leaders who had been deeply involved in supporting and sheltering the insurgents who were attacking U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians have found common cause with our coalition against al Qaeda. The brutality and indiscriminate violence of al Qaeda in Iraq seems to have convinced many local leaders that assisting U.S. forces is their best option. The security situation has also improved because of a decision, however temporary, by Iran to curtail the supply of some of the more lethal improvised explosive devices (IEDs). And finally, the terrible ethnic cleansing of many Baghdad neighborhoods has resulted in a de facto separation of some of the warring Sunni and Shia tribes.

The increased number of U.S. troops have worked hard to consolidate the security gains, but unless political progress is made soon, none of these gains may be sustainable in the long term. I have maintained for the past three years that any lasting solution in Iraq will come from political progress, not military force alone. The hope was that the improvement in security would create breathing room for political change, allowing the sort of hard bargaining and compromise that is inherent to true democratic government. Tragically, however, there is precious little evidence that Iraqi leaders are willing to make those concessions, and little evidence of progress towards reconciliation.

Our military is doing its job, but we face an endless occupation unless the ethnic and sectarian groups that make up Iraq—the Sunnis, the Shia, and the Kurds—agree to negotiate through the political process rather than through armed conflict. When I met with State Department officials privy to high level discussions within the Iraqi government, they had very little good news to report. A budget measure and minor reform of the de-Baathification process were all they could point to—almost all of the the political benchmarks set by the President and Congress are yet unfulfilled.

While my time in Iraq was eye-opening and inspirational, it did not fundamentally alter my understanding of the situation on the ground, or my support for an orderly drawdown of our combat forces. The indefinite presence of U.S. troops will not force Iraqi political leaders to make the compromises necessary for lasting peace and stability. We can and have created the conditions in which reconciliation can take place, but we cannot force the Iraqis to live peacefully as one nation. Moreover, if we commit to stay in Iraq for years to come, the Iraqi people will have little incentive to work out their differences on their own, knowing that U.S. troops will always be there to tamp down the violence and discourage mass reprisals. Serving as a permanent police presence in Iraq is not in our national security interest.

We had to cut our trip short to rush back to Washington, D.C. for a vote on a bill that would provide another $70 billion in unconditional funding for the War in Iraq. I support funding measures for Iraq which set out our plans to draw down our combat forces, but opposed this "blank check." The House approved the unrestricted funding on a vote of 272-142, and it was signed by the President. I will continue to fight to change our course in Iraq at every available juncture, including the appropriations process.

It is my most fervent hope for 2008 that we will see continued reductions in violence in Iraq , and that the political deadlock will be broken. It remains clear to me that we should be planning for our withdrawal, not making plans to stay for years to come. Please be assured that I will fight for change and accountability in the weeks and months to come. Finally, I encourage you to visit my website,, to read my account of the trip on my blog, and to view photos from Iraq. Thank you for your thoughts, I will keep them in mind as this debate continues in the House.

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