GOP Senator: Iraqi Government Not Meeting 'Basic Responsibilities'

TV cameras, special network news reports, and hoards of reporters awaited news from House Speaker Dennis Hastert in Illinois and members of the House Committee on Standards of Conduct (the House ethics committee) as they returned to Washington from campaigning today to begin an inquest into the Internet proclivities of now-former Rep. Mark Foley and the possibility that GOP leaders covered the scandal up.

There were less TV cameras in the room down the hall in the Senate as bipartisan leaders of the Armed Services Committee returned to Washington from a quick trip to Iraq and offered up their assessments, both of which were bleak.

Sen. John Warner of Virginia, the Republican chairman of the committee, was extremely critical of the fledgling Iraqi government and said if Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki was not able to improve the situation in the next 60 days to 90 days, that the United States should consider taking "bold action."

The news conference by a senior Republican, while largely obscured by the Foley scandal, is notable because he is breaking with the White House in calling, potentially, for a major change in course in Iraq.

"We did not have freedom and ability to travel to places I had been in years past," said Warner, who has been to Iraq seven other times since 2003. "The press accurately describes a very serious situation. There is progress being made in certain areas: Oil production is up, reconstruction is going forward, you find so many communities don't have drinking water or sanitation."

"In some areas, there are steps forwards, and others, steps backwards," he said. "The situation is simply is drifting sideways. I believe the government is trying, Maliki, the departments. And agencies of the government are not able to meet fundamental responsibilities of a government."

Assessing Leadership

Warner did not explain what bold action he thought should be taken. But he did say that if there was no change, "At that point, we'll have assert own leadership."

While he did say that there should be a reassessment in the next several months, Warner said it was important for American troops not to leave the country right away.

"If the government fails and Iraq goes to civil war," Warner said. "The consequences are frightful for region and the world. It would be viewed by terrorists as victory. We are going to deny them victory."

The ranking Democrat on Warner's Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin of Michigan, agrees with Warner's bleak assessment of the Iraqi government, but they disagree on what should be done and when.

At his own news conference, several hours before Warner's, Levin called again for an immediate change of course. He is one of the Democrats in the Senate to call for a "phased redeployment" of U.S. troops out of Iraq because he says the Iraqi government, however frail, must begin taking more responsibility for the country.

"Iraqi leaders don't want us to even think about U.S. reducing troops -- they don't want to discuss it," he said. "Unless they face up to the fact that they must make political compromises, this will be an endless quagmire for U.S. troops. The more the Iraqis don't want to talk about reduction, the more I told them we must force them to take responsibility for their own country."

During their trip, which included a stop in Jordan, the Iraqi president described to the senators a four-point plan he was going to pursue to bring the leaders of disparate Iraqi militias into the political fold and cut down on the sectarian violence.

Warner said that Maliki's written description of the plan lacked the "gravitas" he wanted to see.

On this, Levin said, "Previous agreements have failed. We have to be very cautious about optimism. It gave us hope that it could be a step to reverse the violence."