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Powell says U.S. losing Iraq 'civil war'
San Francisco Chronicle
Karen DeYoung, Washington Post
December 18, 2006

(12-18) 04:00 PST Washington -- Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sunday that the United States is losing what he described as a "civil war" in Iraq and that he is not convinced that an increase in U.S. troops there would reverse the situation. Instead, he called for a new strategy that would relinquish responsibility for Iraqi security to the government in Baghdad sooner rather than later, with a U.S. drawdown to begin by the middle of next year.

At the same time, incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid offered qualified support Sunday for a plan to increase U.S. troops in Iraq, saying it would be acceptable as part of a broader strategy to bring combat forces home by 2008.

Powell's comments broke his long public silence on the issue and placed him at odds with the administration. President Bush is considering options for a new military strategy -- among them a "surge" of 15,000 to 30,000 troops added to the current 140,000 in Iraq, to secure Baghdad and to accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and others have proposed; or a redirection of the U.S. military away from the insurgency to focus mainly on searching for al Qaeda terrorists, as the nation's top military leaders proposed last week in a meeting with the president.

But Bush has rejected the dire conclusions of the Iraq Study Group and its recommendations to set parameters for a phased withdrawal to begin next year, and he has insisted that the violence in Iraq is not a civil war.

"I agree with the assessment of Mr. Baker and Mr. Hamilton," Powell said, referring to the study group's leaders, former Secretary of State James Baker and former Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton. The situation in Iraq is "grave and deteriorating, and we're not winning, we are losing. We haven't lost. And this is the time, now, to start to put in place the kinds of strategies that will turn this situation around."

Speaking on CBS' "Face the Nation," Powell seemed to draw as much from his 35-year Army career, including four years as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as from his more recent and difficult tenure as Bush's chief diplomat.

The summer surge of U.S. troops to try to stabilize Baghdad failed, he said, and any new attempt is unlikely to succeed. "If somebody proposes that additional troops be sent, if I was still chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my first question ... is what mission is it these troops are supposed to accomplish? ... Is it something that is really accomplishable? ... Do we have enough troops to accomplish it?"

Although he said he agrees with Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, that there should be an increase in U.S. advisers to the Iraqi military, he said that "sooner or later, you have to begin the baton pass, passing it off to the Iraqis for their security and to begin the drawdown of U.S. forces. I think that's got to happen sometime before the middle of next year."

Before any decision to increase troops, he said, "I'd want to have a clear understanding of what it is they're going for, how long they're going for. And let's be clear about something else. ... There really are no additional troops. All we would be doing is keeping some of the troops who were there, there longer and escalating or accelerating the arrival of other troops."

He added: "That's how you surge. And that surge cannot be sustained."

The "active Army is about broken," Powell said. Even beyond Iraq, the Army and Marines have to "grow in size, in my military judgment," he said, adding that Congress must provide significant additional funding to sustain them.

Reid, whose party campaigned in the November congressional elections on changing course in Iraq, said he would be open only to a short-term increase of U.S. troops in Iraq.

"If the commanders on the ground said this is just for a short period of time, we'll go along with that," said Reid, D-Nev., citing a time frame such as two to three months. But a period of 18 to 24 months would be too long, he said.

Other Democrats disagreed Sunday with Reid's position on the additional troops.

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said that if it were a short-term increase, "won't our adversaries simply adjust their tactics, wait us out and wait until we reduce again? So I think you'd have to ask very serious questions about the utility of this."

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said, "I respect Harry Reid on it, but that's not where I am."

Kennedy, like Reed a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said there will be widespread opposition by members of his committee if Bush proposes a troop increase.

Reid spoke on ABC's "This Week," Kennedy was on "Fox News Sunday," and Reed was on "Late Edition" on CNN.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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