Senators press Iraqis to stop 'dawdling' on government
Sen. John Warner, left, pushed Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, right, to form a new government.
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A delegation of U.S. senators visiting Iraq said Tuesday they told transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to stop "dawdling" and reach a prompt political settlement.
That message accompanies a steady domestic drumbeat of impatience with the U.S.-led operation in Iraq.
Sen. John Warner of Virginia and Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the Republican chairman and the ranking Democrat of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said al-Jaafari told them he is hopeful a government would be formed sometime next month, with the entire process possibly extending past April.
The senators were heartened by political light at the end of the tunnel.
At the same time, the senators -- making comments reflecting the growing concern among Americans over the obstacles and setbacks in establishing democracy in Iraq -- told reporters they stressed the urgent importance of establishing a new government. The process has been delayed by political infighting since the December 15 elections.
"Our continuing presence here is dependent upon their reaching a prompt political settlement," Levin said.
"Those who are negotiating a new government, it seems to me, have now got to put into their calculus that there's a understandable expectation on the part of the American people that the dawdling will end. There's been too much dawdling while Baghdad is burning, too much debating while Iraq is in turmoil."
He said political leaders must make the "compromises" needed for the establishment of a national unity government.
'There is a limit'
"Unless they make those compromises, they cannot expect that we're going to have a continuing military presence here in Iraq," said Levin, who added that the U.S. commitment has been "too open-ended."
He said it is important to apply "pressure" to the Iraqi political leaders and "make it clear to them that there is a limit."
Levin made reference to a recent letter he and other senators sent to President Bush saying "there is a consensus among our senior military commanders that a political settlement involving the three main Iraqi groups is essential for defeating the insurgency."
In that letter, the senators -- Levin, Sen. Susan Collins, the Republican from Maine and Sen. Jack Reed, the Democrat from Rhode Island -- urged Bush "to make it clear to the Iraqis how important it is to us that they achieve a political settlement, form a unity government, and make the necessary amendments to their constitution."
Warner said Bush has been correct in not establishing a timetable for a drawdown of troops.
However, he said, "I do join Sen. Levin in saying that the American people do expect this government to come about swiftly, and I think some assurance was given in response to my question that April would be the deadline."
Warner said he told al-Jaafari "that the American people have a very, very strong voice in how we conduct this war over here and the timetable of our troops, because they've made an enormous sacrifice -- loss of life, loss of limbs, and have deeply gone into their pocketbooks to enable Iraq to have this government, which I hope will be formed in April."
Role of Iraqi forces
Warner said U.S. military officials are hoping that Iraqi security forces will take over "perhaps as much as three-quarters" of security responsibility "both in geographic metrics and population metrics" by the end of the summer.
Also, he also stressed that Iraqi forces should be in the forefront of the fight to "quell any sectarian violence" and that the United States should only be in support roles.
"We were very forceful and very pointed in our comments to him," referring to al-Jaafari.
But Warner said the senators said they didn't broach a major obstacle in the development of a new government -- al-Jaafari's role.
Sunnis, Kurds and secularist oppose al-Jaafari's nomination as prime minister in the new government, citing poor performance.
The Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance nominated al-Jaafari to continue his work as prime minister, but al-Jaafari received the nomination only by a vote, thanks to backing from supporters of firebrand Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
"We carefully did not involve ourselves into suggesting what his political future might be," Warner said, referring to al-Jaafari.
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