House Panel Split Over Iraq Troop Levels

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - As President Bush prepares to announce his new approach to Iraq, members of the House Armed Services Committee remain divided about what course the United States should pursue.

Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the committee's new chairman, said Monday that while U.S national security interests demand a successful and stable Iraqi government, "it must be up to the Iraqis to do it."

They must "chart their own course," Skelton said during an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. "If they do not, success will not be able to come to pass."

President Bush plans to address the nation on Wednesday evening, amid reports that he will announce a "surge" of up to 20,000 additional troops to be sent to the conflict zone.

"A great deal has been said about the so-called military surge in Iraq," Skelton said, adding that he had "some real serious concerns" about any such plan.

"I think our overarching goal should be that of redeployment from that country, turning it over to the Iraqi forces, having given them as much solid training as we can," he said. "It is their country to either win or not."

Skelton added that the appearance of a drawdown is vital to the independence of Iraq as a nation.

"Even if it's a battalion [of troops that is pulled out]," he said, "it should be done in the near future."

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), another committee member, said Congress should work towards "broader bipartisan policy" on Iraq.

"In the past Republicans have been too protective and compliant with the administration's witnesses [during congressional hearings], and I suspect that most of us would agree that Democrats have been too willing to find differences to be used as partisan attacks," he said.

Thornberry disagreed with the Democrats' plan for troop withdrawal.

"I know of no one who thinks that the [Iraqi] government has done a good or even adequate job," he said, adding that a withdrawal of U.S. forces would merely "embolden terrorists" in the country.

"Of course we cannot be beaten militarily in Iraq," Thornberry said. "Roadside bombs and explosive devices are not military weapons - they are political weapons, and the true target of those weapons is here at home.

"If they can convince a few hundred people in Washington that it's not worth sticking with it, then they are going to win," said Thornberry.

Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.) disagreed, saying American conventional forces were unable to "be particularly effective in this kind of fight."

"Ultimately, it doesn't matter what size force of Americans you put over there, the key to these kind of engagements lies with Iraqis, lies with the indigenous population," Marshall said.

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