Here's what our local member of Congress had to say about the recent update on the 'progress' made in Iraq.
Congressman Richard Neal said at a press conference in his Springfield office on Wednesday that he intends to work in the upcoming weeks on lobbying his colleagues to find a bipartisan solution to redeployment of the American troops in Iraq.
"It's time to withdraw the troops and force the Iraqis to take responsibility," Neal said.
Neal's comments came after the congressional testimony of General David Patraeus, the commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq on whether or not benchmarks set for progress in winning the war and with the development of the Iraqi government have been met.
Although Neal said the general's presentation was "very professional," he was not impressed with its content.
"What he proposed is much more of the same," Neal said.
Neal noted the general's proposed withdrawal of troops would only return the American fighting force back to levels before this year's escalation or "surge."
Neal said this plan amounts to "an unlimited commitment" and " a change of course is absolutely necessary."
He believes there has to be a time-table for re-deployment of the troops. In their place he suggested the United Nations organize a peacekeeping force that would be composed in part by soldiers from other Arab nations.
Neal said that one way to force the Bush Administration to re-assess its strategy would be to deny the supplemental funding request for the war that is pending. Neal said he believes the House will "put the brakes on it," but the Senate might take a different tack to the issue.
"I hope that everyone would acknowledge that more of the same is not acceptable," he said.
Neal pointed out the latest National Intelligence Assessment on the war runs counter to statements made by Patraeus. The report, which was released in August, reads in part: "There have been measurable but uneven improvements in Iraq's security situation since our last National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in January 2007. The steep escalation of rates of violence has been checked for now, and overall attack levels across Iraq have fallen during seven of the last nine weeks. Coalition forces, working with Iraqi forces, tribal elements, and some Sunni insurgents, have reduced al-Qa'ida in Iraq's (AQI) capabilities, restricted its freedom of movement, and denied its grassroots support in some areas. However, the level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high; Iraq's sectarian groups remain unreconciled; AQI retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks; and to date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively. There have been modest improvements in economic output, budget execution, and government finances but fundamental structural problems continue to prevent sustained progress in economic growth and living conditions."
Neal added that according to studies conducted by the General Accounting Office, "Iraq is not closer to self-governing than it was three years ago."
The cost of the war so far has been 4,000 Americans killed, 30,000 wounded and a cost of $650 billion, Neal said. He added estimates to pay for medical services through the Veterans Administration might reach $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion.
Neal was one of the members of Congress who did not vote for authorizing the war.
© 2007 by Gordon Michael Dobbs