Minorities key in Iraq, Obama says
The Illinois senator also seeks a realistic time frame for pulling out American troops
BAGHDAD, Iraq » Sen. Barack Obama yesterday said the United States will not be successful in Iraq unless the political landscape better represents the country's minorities.
Obama, the nation's only black senator and a 1979 graduate of Punahou Schools, met with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani yesterday. He said before his two-day trip to Iraq that he wanted to ask U.S. commanders for a realistic time frame on bringing troops home.
"What I'm fully convinced of is if we don't see signs of political progress ... over a relatively short time frame -- let's say six months or so -- we can pour money and troops in here till the cows come home, but we won't be successful," said Obama, D-Ill., who noted he opposed the war before it began.
Talabani predicted yesterday that a new government could be formed within weeks.
Obama said he was confident a new government could be formed but was skeptical of Talabani's time frame.
"My suspicion is it's going to take a little longer than that," he said. "Creating not just a majority government but a government that actually incorporates in a meaningful way Sunni interests may take a little longer."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who is also visiting Baghdad, said yesterday he believes Iraqis remain optimistic about the future despite suffering through a particularly violent week.
Obama, who last year called for a phased troop withdrawal from Iraq, said he is "constantly impressed and proud of the outstanding work" of American troops, but that he still questions the overall U.S. policy in Iraq.
"In my mind, at least, there's a difference between the discrete successes on the ground and whether the overarching policy will ultimately be successful," he said. "The fundamental policies that led to us being here were flawed and not well thought through, and the odds of our long-term success is hard to assess at this point."
He said, however, that he understood Iraq was too fragile for an immediate withdrawal.
Obama, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, plans to travel to Jordan today. He is scheduled to arrive in Israel tomorrow and will spend the rest of the week there and in the Palestinian territories.
The senator, who was elected last year, has criticized the Bush administration for questioning the patriotism of people who speak out against the war.