May 03 2007

Shelby: It's too early to pull troops

Florence Times

By Dana Beyerle

MONTGOMERY -- U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby said Wednesday that it's too early to pull the plug on the American military effort in Iraq.

Shelby, an Alabama Republican, urged waiting until Thanksgiving before re-assessing the American military progress and the Iraqi government's status of self-protection and self-governance.

Then it could be time to start an orderly troop withdrawal, he said.

Shelby is the second U.S. senator from Alabama this week to reveal his opinion of U.S. involvement in Iraq and whether the United States should establish a withdrawal timeline.

"It's about 10 minutes to 12 on the clock," Shelby said. "There has to be great progress on the ground militarily and a lot of progress by the Iraqi government. If not, the administration and us have to re-assess it. We have to see where we are and are we making great progress or only marginal.''

On Tuesday U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said Congress needs to wait to see if the new military strategy will work.

"It would be disrespectful to (disengage) prematurely and in a spasmodic fashion not related to the situation on the ground and undermine everything they worked to achieve,'' Sessions said.

Both Shelby and Sessions said it's important to continue support for American troops, which both said still have high morale primarily because they haven't lost militarily in Iraq.

Shelby's comments came after President Bush vetoed congressional Democrats' resolution to limit troop funding, with the purpose of bringing troops home.

"(The resolution) tied our armed forces to an arbitrary (withdrawal) date and a message of surrender,'' Shelby said.

Shelby said congressional Democratic leadership have injected "raw politics."

"They're trying to undermine the whole effort,'' he said.

Shelby acknowledged mistakes in Iraq, especially fore--casting the insurgency, but-said troops need time to-succeed and the Iraqi government needs to show rapid progress toward self-protection and governance.

"We can get back into negotiations and talk about a lot of benchmarks and goals, and we have to realistically look at the progress made by the Iraqi government,'' Shelby said.

"The Iraqi government has to be committed, and I'm not sure they are.

"We have to re-assess how well the (military) surge is doing,'' Shelby said. "If there's not a lot of progress, we'll know by Thanksgiving, somewhere in that area. I think that will persuade the Congress and the president to say where are we."