HELENA (AP) – Political reconciliation isn’t progressing quickly enough in Iraq and congress needs to develop incentives to “give Iraq a good nudge,” Sen. Max Baucus said Saturday.
“The clock is ticking as far as I’m concerned,” Baucus, D-Mont., said in a conference call from Iraq.
It was Baucus’ first trip to Iraq, where he was meeting with U.S. military officials, Iraqi political leaders and soldiers from Montana.
He said American troops are professional, competent and dedicated to the mission, but in talking to a couple servicemen individually, “I was significantly picking up there’s got to be a change. The United States can’t keep going on like this.”
Baucus was traveling with Democratic Sens. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Ken Salazar of Colorado, and Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine. The delegation met with President Jalal Talabani on Saturday and planned to meet with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Sunday.
“I do believe more pressure needs to be put on the leadership. They need a bigger nudge. They could stand a greater dose of reality to move them,” Baucus said. “We’re going to make that point even more clearly, more strongly, to Prime Minister al-Maliki.
On Monday, al-Maliki told the Iraqi parliament that Iraqi forces needed more time before they could take over security duties from the U.S. military. Hours later, top U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus recommended rolling back much of the troop buildup President Bush announced in January.
“I’m going to try to ask questions to help me determine the degree to which (al-Maliki) can do what needs to be done,” Baucus said.
“The leadership is trying. They voice the right words, but if you just kind of read between the lines and listen to the music, it’s not very comforting that they’re doing what they need to do,” to end the sectarian violence in Iraq.
Baucus said he didn’t know what that “nudge” would entail. He noted that some members of congress are talking about setting benchmarks or timelines, setting limits on numbers of troops and cutting funding for the war.
“Maybe I’ll have a more clear answer to that question at the end of tomorrow,” he said.
Baucus said he did not believe the United States’ troop surge worked.
“It was supposed to give breathing room for the Iraqi government to reform and reconcile the various factions and it did not work,” he said.
Baucus has said he regrets his 2002 vote to authorize force in Iraq and has called it a mistake. Last year, his nephew Marine Cpl. Phillip Baucus, 28, was killed in Iraq while serving with the U.S. Marines.
“I suppose Phillip’s death has encouraged me to think even more intently about this, bear down even more to find out what’s right,” Baucus said. “It really sharpened my focus on trying to figure out what American policy should be today.”
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