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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

US Commander in Iraq to Testify Before Congress

By Dan Robinson
Capitol Hill
29 September 2009

The U.S. commander in Iraq, Army General Ray Odierno, is scheduled to testify before members of Congress on Wednesday about the military situation in Iraq and the transition of security responsibilities to the country's military. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, where concern has grown amid a spate of bombings that have targeted Iraqi security forces and police.

General Odierno's testimony to the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee comes as members of Congress are increasingly worried about the ability of Iraq's military and police to handle the security burden on the way to a planned U.S. combat force withdrawal next year.

Under President Barack Obama's plan and a Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, concluded with Iraq by the Bush administration, all U.S. combat forces are to leave Iraq by August 2010, with all advisors and training forces out the following year.

Congressional concern was evident during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing this month where the only witness was U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill.

He heard from lawmakers such as Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee, who questioned whether Iraqi military forces have matured enough to shoulder the security burden.

"I would say to you that they [Iraq's government and military forces] have been an enormous disappointment," said Sheila Jackson Lee. "You have to put a good face on it. But as far as I am concerned, they are complete failures. Why? They pushed us out [under the U.S.-Iraq agreement]. I am glad because not enough of us [U.S. troops] are gone. And they have done nothing but create havoc, tolerate bombings and spew venom on us."

In a precursor of the kind of questions General Odierno might face on Wednesday, Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen asked Hill what planning is underway to deal with a potential deterioration of conditions in Iraq as the United States transitions from a largely military operation to a diplomatic and aid mission.

"What set of contingency plans and options for dealing with serious crises is the State Department developing, particularly as our ability to respond diminishes steadily as our forces drop and Iraqi politics dominate events?," asked Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Ambassador Hill told the House committee that violence represents an effort to undermine Iraqi government authority as U.S. forces draw down. But he expressed confidence in the capabilities of Iraq's military.

"We are holding to this timetable," said Christopher Hill. "We worked very closely with Iraqis [and] we do believe their institutions can stand up."

Hill said that stopping all of the violence in Iraq would be difficult, adding that Iraq's military would have to reexamine its tactics on the ground.

When he appears before the House Armed Services Committee, General Odierno will likely be asked for his assessment of Iraq's military capabilities as well as such things as Arab-Kurdish tensions in the northern part of the country.

Speaking during his third visit to Iraq earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden described General Odierno as "optimistic" for thinking that Iraqi forces will be ready to take over from U.S. troops.

"General Odierno is very optimistic - very tough-minded, but very optimistic," said Vice President Biden. "He believes we will be able to meet the letter of the SOFA, that there will be no need to alter that in any way that the Iraqis will be able to handle their own security."

Members of Congress are also likely to ask General Odierno about the relationship he has with Ambassador Hill, and parallels between Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Iraq, a U.S. military surge ordered by President George Bush is credited with bringing about a period of stability, particularly in Baghdad and other cities.

Although President Obama is still reviewing an assessment of Afghanistan, the U.S. commander there, Army General Stanley McChrystal, might request as many as 40,000 additional U.S. troops to deal with a resurgent Taliban.

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