Limited Iraq Mission Would be 'Impossible' to Carry Out, Top Soldier Says

By Mark Finkelstein | July 7, 2008 | 8:18 PM EDT

( - Sen. Hillary Clinton says U.S. troops in Iraq should no longer be used to protect Iraqis caught up in sectarian strife, but the most senior American enlisted soldier in Iraq believes it would be "impossible" to limit the mission along those lines.

The New York Times last month cited Clinton as saying that, if elected president in 2008, "she would keep a reduced military force there to fight al-Qaeda, deter Iranian aggression, protect the Kurds and possibly support the Iraqi military."

However, "the scaled-down American military force that she would maintain would stay off the streets in Baghdad and would no longer try to protect Iraqis from sectarian violence -- even if it descended into ethnic cleansing," the report said.

During a conference call Wednesday, Cybercast News Service asked Jeffrey J. Mellinger, Command Sergeant Major of the Multi-National Force in Iraq, to comment on the practicality of such a proposal. He was also asked how the military would carry out orders to pursue such a limited mission.

Speaking from Iraq, Mellinger -- the highest-ranking enlisted U.S. military member in Iraq -- said "it would be impossible. That would be like asking the Chicago police to never mind the gang warfare, just go after burglars."

"Think back [to] when Al Capone and his guys were running things in town. Never mind gang warfare, we're just going to stick with average street crime. How do you know what you're looking at? Right is right, wrong is wrong. When you see things that are wrong, you've got to deal with them, and that's what we have to continue to do here," he said.

"That would be like proposing that we stand by and watch another Bosnia and do nothing, we watch another Kosovo and do nothing, watch another Rwanda and do nothing. I don't know how we could not do that," Mellinger said.

"You've got to give me a mission and then get out of the way. And if the mission is to provide safety and security in Iraq, then that means that we stop bank robbers, we stop burglars, we stop murderers, we stop thieves, we stop black-marketeers, we stop insurgents -- al-Qaeda or otherwise. We can't differentiate or delineate because safe is safe, and there's no in-betweens here."

In other comments, Mellinger told Cybercast News Service that the policy is for Iraqi forces to take the lead in providing security to the greatest extent possible.

"We're having a great deal of success in some areas of the country with that, and unit by unit, that ability to conduct combat operations without us varies," he explained.

"There aren't that many [Iraqi] units, quite frankly, that can do it without us at all. But there's more and more of them that can do it without that much help from us whatsoever."

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