Commentary

Iraq - Time To Change The Mission - San Francisco Chronicle

The killing of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is truly a positive development, and U.S. forces who accomplished this feat deserve enormous credit and appreciation.

Late last year, Congress approved, and President Bush signed into law, a Defense Department authorization bill for fiscal year 2006 that read: "Calendar year 2006 should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraqi security forces taking the lead for the security of a free and sovereign Iraq, thereby creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq."

We have now been in Iraq for more than three years -- and we believe the time has come for that phased redeployment to begin. It is also time for the Bush administration to provide a schedule and timetable for the structured downsizing and redeployment of U.S. forces in Iraq.

Our concern -- and that of many Americans -- is for Iraq to become increasingly more self-reliant and for our troops to be back on our soil or deployed elsewhere in the world where they are most needed to protect our national security by combatting global terrorism. Our hope is that the multiple and murderous conflicts that bloody Baghdad and other larger cities in Iraq today can, at long last, be reduced and eventually eliminated by the Iraqis themselves.

There is a storm of conflicting forces overshadowing life in Iraq. Questing for dominance are al Qaeda, nationalistic Baathists remaining from the days of Saddam Hussein's tyranny and an array of rival religious armies. The battle lines are as uncertain and diverse as are the competing objectives of the various combatants.

True, there are some other positive developments: Iraq finally put a constitutional government in place last month -- five months following the Dec. 15, 2005, election -- and that government, after extensive deliberation and debate, is beginning to function. But much work remains to be done by the Iraqi people and their elected leaders. Only they can ultimately defeat the forces that have left their nation on the brink of civil war.

Too many brave American men and women in uniform have lost their lives serving our nation with honor and distinction. The Iraqi people have also suffered significant loss of life. More than 2,500 Iraqis were killed during March and April alone; another 700 in May. More than 85,000 Iraqis have had to flee their homes to avoid the bloodshed and mounting sectarian violence. Daily bombings continue. Each week, we hear of mass graves being discovered that hold the bodies of individuals executed because of ethnic hatred.

According to the Pentagon, there are now more than 260,000 Iraqi military and police personnel who have been trained and equipped and 62 Iraqi battalions are now believed capable of taking the lead in the security effort. Priorities for the new Iraqi government must include:

  • Using the Iraqi military and police to stop the violence;
  • dissolving the sectarian militias and roving death squads;
  • Taking responsibility for rebuilding the infrastructure -- bringing more electricity online, keeping schools open, making sure water and sewage systems are working;
  • ending the widespread graft and bribery; and
  • bringing the country under the rule of law.

As the Iraqis increasingly assume the reins of control, it is critical that the United States transition its mission in Iraq to one of logistical support and training of Iraqi military and police. Our goal should be to work with Iraq's neighbors to develop a regional security initiative to enhance stability. As part of that process, the Bush administration should prepare, and present to Congress and the American people, a plan outlining the steps needed to proceed with the redeployment of our troops, either back to the United States, or to critical areas of potential terrorist conflict around the globe.

This is the right thing to do for our troops, who have sacrificed so much, and for their families, who anxiously wait for them to return home. This strategy is supported by the overwhelming majority of the American people, who clearly have stated their desire for a change of course in Iraq.

As a nation, we have had enough slogans and reassurances that are meaningless amid the continuing blast of roadside bombs and the rattle of automatic gunfire. No longer should "we will stand down when they stand up" suffice as American policy. Three years ago, the United States may have been misguided into war in Iraq, but today, the world looks different. The country must not be misled about the realities in Iraq and the need to change our mission.

Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, represents California in the U.S. Senate. Christopher J. Dodd, a Democrat, represents Connecticut.