May 03 2007

Shelby: Iraqis need to show progress

Dothan Eagle

Searching for compromise with Democrats on the Iraqi war spending bill vetoed by President Bush, U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., outlined benchmarks he wants to see the Iraqis achieve over the summer.

“This is Washington. There is room for compromise, but we can't compromise our principles and our troops,” Shelby said Wednesday during a conference call with Alabama reporters.

Shelby said he supported the veto and voted against the bill because it set arbitrary deadlines for withdrawal of American troops. However, he said Congress should never have an “open commitment” to the war. The U.S. House of Representatives failed to override Bush’s veto Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s 10 minutes to 12 on the clock (for the Iraqis),” Shelby said. “May through September are crucial months — not only for us — but for the Iraqi government.”
Shelby said he and other Republicans would try to find areas of compromise with Congressional Democrats, who primarily pushed the bill through the House and Senate. Although he said he believed Congressional Democrats were trying to undermine the war, he said areas of compromise could be found.

“It’s just common sense that the Iraqi government is going to have to do a lot more than they've been doing,” Shelby said when asked what benchmarks he would be looking for in Iraq this summer. “You look at commitment, the training of troops and just stepping up.”

Shelby said the key to a cohesive, functioning government in Iraq would be the willingness of the different factions to work with each other.

“You have to look at a lot of things internally, like the sharing of revenue with the Sunnis, the Kurds and the Shias,” he said. “Those are three distinct groups that are not exactly the best of friends. Is this just going to be a government with the Shias?”

Shelby also said the success or lack of success in the U.S. troop surge in Iraq is an important factor. He said many of the surge troops have not been marshaled yet and military commanders may not know the success of the surge until after August.
Shelby said he believed there had been several mistakes made since the war began, but the two biggest were not predicting the rush of insurgents from other countries into Iraq and the underestimation of how long it would take for the Iraqis to take control of their country.

“You can’t just change cultures overnight,” Shelby said. “Spreading democracy in a place where they have never known democracy is challenging.”