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GOP senator: 'No good options' in Iraq

Rice acknowledges difficulty, but confident in 'young democracy'
Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, shown in February, said the war is "decimating" the Army.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


Chuck Hagel
United States

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has "no good options" left in Iraq, and the war "is not going to turn out the way that we were promised," an increasingly outspoken Republican critic of the war said Sunday.

Sen. Chuck Hagel said the United States needs to convoke a regional conference with Iraq's neighbors and the major players in the Middle East to find an end to the 3-year-old conflict, rather than leave U.S. troops in a "hopeless, winless situation" by trying to reinforce Baghdad.

"Unless you come at it that way, we're going to be leaving Iraq. And it's not going to be the way we intended to leave Iraq, because that is the direction this is going," he told CBS' "Face the Nation."

The senator from Nebraska is the second-ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and a member of the Intelligence Committee. He is considered a potential candidate for president in 2008.

He has broken with President Bush and his advisers on the Iraq war and on Israel's campaign against Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas in recent weeks, urging Bush last week to call for an immediate cease-fire. (Full story)

Hagel, a decorated Army sergeant in Vietnam, voted for the October 2002 congressional resolution that authorized Bush to launch the invasion of Iraq the following March.

But the senator said Sunday the Iraq war was "decimating" the Army, and that it was time for the Iraqi government to assume responsibility for its own security.

Sectarian killings between Sunni and Shiite Muslims have escalated greatly since the bombing in February of the Shiite Askariya Mosque in Samarra. A U.N. report issued recently said nearly 6,000 people died in Iraqi violence in May and June alone -- an average of about 100 per day.

The often-grisly killings have spurred American commanders to launch a new push against the Iraqi "death squads" blamed for many of the deaths, and to move thousands more troops into the capital city to quell the violence. But Hagel predicted that move would have little effect.

"To pour more American troops into Baghdad, reversing a policy of five years or five weeks ago, is wrong," he said. "This isn't going to stop it. And I think where we go from here, with all the problems and inconsistencies, is a cold, hard assessment that Iraq is not going to turn out the way that we were promised it was."

Rice: 'A far better Iraq'

But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the country "is a far better Iraq today, despite its many difficulties, than an Iraq that relied on repression to resolve differences between their various groups" under former leader Saddam Hussein.

"Yes, there are violent people who want to use sectarianism and sectarian violence to stoke a sense of insecurity," she said.

"They are going right at Baghdad because they recognize that that has a special significance to the country. There are large parts of the country that are stable and functioning. But the government, the new leadership, has focused its efforts very heavily on Baghdad."

Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, told a Senate committee Thursday that sectarian violence could push the country into civil war. (Full story)

And William Patey, Britain's former ambassador to Baghdad, reported back to London after his tenure that civil war and partition along ethnic and religious lines "is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy."

That might leave Iran as the dominant power among Iraq's Shiite majority, while a U.S. withdrawal could lead to a bloodbath, Hagel said.

"I hope the president and his people are starting to ask themselves this question: Then what is the alternative?" he said.

"Are we going to put our troops in the middle of a civil war? Who are they going to fight? This will be slaughter of immense proportions. The American people will not put up with it. The leadership in Congress will not put up with it."

Rice said she disagreed with Patey's assessment of the Iraqi government, but said it was "an extremely young democracy in a very difficult circumstance."

"They need to concentrate on building the confidence of their people in their reconciliation efforts, their reconstruction efforts and in bringing security to Baghdad," she said. "That's what we want them to concentrate on."

Rice rejected suggestions that Iraq's government "is something akin to Iran."

"I have no doubt that this is an Iraqi government and an Iraq that is going to be a fierce fighter in the war against terrorism because they themselves are experiencing the effects of terror," Rice said.

On CBS, Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut said the conflict in Iraq "is a civil war."

"I think the generals, the other day, were cautious in their language. But I think they were telling us something loud and clear to anyone who wanted to listen," he said.

"I, frankly, don't believe that U.S. military people can necessarily play referee in that kind of a situation."

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