State Dems push Iraq pullout
Democrats in the state's congressional delegation are seizing on two Iraq reports released this week to bolster their arguments for withdrawal...
Seattle Times Washington bureau
WASHINGTON — Democrats in the state's congressional delegation are seizing on two Iraq reports released this week to bolster their arguments for withdrawal of U.S. troops.
But they are still being overshadowed by one of their own — Rep. Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, who now supports continuing the increased U.S. troop presence in Iraq, a position he announced two weeks ago.
Baird voted against the war in 2002 and for a Democratic plan in March to bring combat troops home next year.
A review released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says Iraqi leaders had failed to meet 11 of the 18 political, security and economic goals Congress had set for them before this year's troop escalation.
A separate report released Thursday by what's called the Jones Commission, led by former Marine Commandant James L. Jones, concluded that Iraqi national police and security agencies are so corrupt that they "as a whole cannot yet defend the territorial integrity of Iraq."
"There's nothing in these reports that supports continuing the surge" of U.S. troops, said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, vice chair of the House Appropriations Defense Committee.
"Their analysis is a very different picture from what the White House is saying," he said.
Dicks attended briefings and hearings on the GAO audit and the Jones Commission report and said, "The Iraqi government is still not functioning."
Baird, however, stands by the new assessment he made after visiting Iraq in mid-August.
"I think things are getting better," he said.
Baird said he agreed the benchmarks have not been met. But the GAO report's premise is wrong, he said.
"The GAO doesn't say what happens if we withdraw," he said. He has said that sectarian conflict is likely to increase if the U.S. leaves Iraq.
He also said there have been improvements in the political situation there since the GAO draft was finished. The report is dated Aug. 30 and includes information collected during visits there by auditors through Aug. 1.
Baird finds himself alone on the Iraq issue among the state's congressional Democrats.
Reps. Dicks, Adam Smith of Tacoma, Rick Larsen of Lake Stevens, Jim McDermott of Seattle and Jay Inslee of Bainbridge Island, along with Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, all support some form of withdrawal of U.S. troops.
Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, supports the troop escalation.
Congress awaits another major update Monday, when Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, is scheduled to brief lawmakers.
Meantime, Baird has so many requests for interviews that he already has offered a two-hour media availability Monday, after Petraeus and the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, testify before the House.
Democrats opposed to the war held their tongues about Baird last week. But on Thursday, Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., told Congressional Quarterly: "I'll give Brian a gun and let him go to Iraq and shoot whoever he wants."
When asked about Stark's comment, Baird said, "What was that all about?"
For his part, Baird said, "I take a fair bit of umbrage at folks who voted so confidently for this war and said I was wrong, and are saying I'm wrong now."
Dicks, Smith and Cantwell voted for the war in 2002.
Few of Baird's colleagues have talked with him in detail about his recent visit to Iraq, he said.
Among those who haven't is McDermott, who opposed the war in 2002 and has visited the area several times since.
"How we can continue the military escalation in the face of this (GAO) report is beyond my comprehension," he said.
Alicia Mundy: 202-662-7457 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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