U.S. should prepare for Iraq withdrawal
A White House report found satisfactory progress in reaching only eight of 18 security benchmarks.
A GLOOMY interim White House report about the progress in Iraq follows a surge of Republican senators dropping their support of the administration's policy. Unless a report due in September shows dramatic improvement, the policy should concentrate on when U.S. troops should be withdrawn in an orderly way that prevents chaos.
President Bush tried to put an optimistic face on the report. However, it found satisfactory progress by the Iraqi government on only eight of 18 security and political benchmarks set by Congress.
Progress toward getting Iraqi armed forces to operate independently of U.S. units and achieving legislation central to eliminating sectarian violence was reported to be unsatisfactory. A lack of progress was reported for de-Baathification, blocking members of Saddam Hussein's party from returning to positions in government.
A discussion of when and how to start withdrawing troops "is not the real debate," Bush insisted. "The real debate over Iraq is between those who think the fight is lost, or not worth the cost, and those who believe the fight can be won."
Unless a report due on Sept. 15 by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the new field commander, and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker notes a remarkable turnaround, the debate should be precisely when to begin bringing troops home.
What Bush has called a "precipitous" withdrawal would be disastrous. Taking all U.S. forces and equipment from Iraq reportedly would take 10 to 14 months in order to pack and clean sand -- potential carriers of bacteria -- from vehicles and other equipment before returning them to the United States. The Iraq government would have time to continue working toward goals of stability and security.
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