AP: The Bush administration cast a wary eye Monday on signs that Iran and Syria were taking a more active diplomatic role in Iraq, even as debate in the U.S. centered on how many troops to keep in the war. Associated Press
By LOLITA C. BALDOR
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Bush administration cast a wary eye Monday on signs that Iran and Syria were taking a more active diplomatic role in Iraq, even as debate in the U.S. centered on how many troops to keep in the war.
Just days after reports that U.S. officials were discussing a broader role for Iran and Syria, Iraqi lawmakers said Iranian leaders had invited the Iraqi and Syrian presidents for a weekend summit. A State Department official said that while strong relations between the three countries were encouraged, actions would speak louder than words.
In the past, said deputy spokesman Tom Casey, “while there have been positive statements from the Iranian government about wishing to play a positive role in Iraq, those statements haven’t been backed up by actions.”
He offered a similar assessment of Syria, saying the problem “is not what they say; the problem is what they do. … What we would like to see the Syrians do is take actions to, among other things, prevent foreign fighters from coming across the border into Iraq.”
At the same time, there have been indications that a special U.S. advisory commission is considering recommendations that could include a broader role in the region by Syria and Iran. The Iraq Study Group, led by Bush family friend and former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, is expected to issue its report soon.
One military official close to the group’s discussions said that one option could combine encouraging talks with Iran and Syria with shifting the U.S. military focus away from combat and toward training the Iraqi forces.
But members of the commission have expressed concern that working with Iran and Syria could require America “to enter into a de facto partnership with them,” with possible trade-offs, said the official, who requested anonymity because the group’s discussions have not been made public.
U.S. leaders, meanwhile, continue to debate how long and how many troops to keep in Iraq.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter said Monday that the U.S. needs to push more Iraqi security forces to the front lines. Other Americans, including some military officials, have suggested boosting U.S. troop levels to help train the Iraqis.
President Bush said Monday he wasn’t ready to decide between the rival calls for more or fewer U.S. troops on the ground.
Referring to the Iraqi security forces, Hunter told The Associated Press, “We need to saddle those up and deploy them to the fight” in dangerous areas, primarily in Baghdad. Hunter, a California Republican who is interested in his party’s 2008 presidential nomination, took a different tack from Sen. John McCain, a front-running 2008 hopeful who has urged that additional U.S. troops be sent.
Separately, a study of options for U.S. military action in Iraq is under way by a Pentagon group set up by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Washington Post on Monday quoted senior defense officials saying the review is looking at three options – injecting more troops into Iraq, shrinking the force but staying longer or pulling out.
Senior Pentagon officials said Monday that Pace has indicated all options are on the table, ranging from boosting the number of troops in Iraq, even on a temporary basis, to withdrawing a substantial portion of the roughly 141,000 there now.
Pace has asked a group of about 16 military members, largely colonels who have recently served in the Gulf region, to look at what is going right or wrong in the war and to discuss options for progress. The group is not expected to submit a report, but Pace will use any thoughts and options coming out of the review to help develop his own recommendations for the defense secretary and the president.
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, a military spokesman in Iraq, said Monday that adding more U.S. forces would “achieve a short-term solution, but it’s not going to achieve a long-term effect. … The key to this thing is we have got to get the Iraqi security forces able to operate in an independent manner, on their own.”
Also on Monday, Rep. Charles Rangel, a New York Democrat, pushed anew for his idea that the military draft should be reinstated. And he said in a speech at Baruch College that he wants to hold hearings into current troop levels and future plans for Iraq and other potential conflict regions.
House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi said reviving the draft would not be on the early legislative priority list for the 110th Congress. Incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer added, “The speaker and I discussed scheduling and it did not include that.”
Associated Press writers Barry Schweid and Anne Plummer Flaherty contributed to this report.