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Senators, military experts debate Bush's plan to increase troops

WASHINGTON—Three retired American generals told a Senate committee Thursday that they see problems with President Bush's new plan for Iraq, but a fourth general, who helped develop the plan, said it would be the key to an eventual U.S. exit.

The four testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as Congress examines Bush's plan to add some 17,500 troops to help quell sectarian violence in Baghdad and 4,000 more to fight Sunni Muslim terrorists and insurgents in Iraq's Anbar province.

"Too little, too late," retired Marine Corps Gen. Joseph P. Hoar said.

The generals' testimony echoed skepticism in Congress about whether Iraq's Shiite Muslim prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, will stop Shiite militias from killing Sunni Iraqis and find a way to share political power and oil revenues equitably.

Hoar said that more troops shouldn't be considered unless al-Maliki first disarmed the militias and purged their supporters from the police. "If he's not committed to make hard choices early on, there's no chance in pulling this thing off," Hoar said.

Hoar said Iraq needed a political—not military—solution, backed by diplomacy with countries in the region, including Iran and Syria. Bush has ruled out direct talks with Iran and Syria.

Retired Gen. Jack Keane, who devised the buildup plan and urged Bush to use it, told the senators that al-Maliki's goals aren't clear but that supporting him is still the best way to proceed. Keane's plan calls for the United States to target Sunni insurgents so that Shiites can pull back.

Keane said the U.S. troop increase would buy time to develop Iraqi forces. "They are our exit strategy," he said.

But retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom said that neither Shiites nor Sunnis appeared to be committed to national reconciliation.

Some senators pounced on Keane's uncertainty about al-Maliki.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said the United States was "rolling the dice" and risking American lives and dollars for a plan whose outcome was too unclear.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the committee's chairman, opposes Bush's troop increase, but he said the part of the plan that concerned him most had to do with Iran.

Bush said when he unveiled the Iraq plan Jan. 10 that the United States would stop the flow of support from Iran and Syria to terrorists and insurgents in Iraq. Officials later said that didn't mean that U.S. forces would cross into either country.

But Biden said that in 34 years in Congress, "I've learned to read between the lines."

Hoar said that recent White House decisions to put an admiral at the head of Central Command for the first time and to send a second aircraft-carrier battle group to the Persian Gulf and Patriot batteries to the region "would all indicate to me that there's something moving with regard to Iran."

Other suggestions from the retired generals:

_Begin withdrawing American forces as a way to convince U.S. allies in the region that they no longer can sit on the sidelines but should help find a political solution, Odom said.

_Equip the Iraqi armed forces over the next two years as part of a $10 billion-per-year economic aid plan over five years, and gradually withdraw about half of U.S. combat forces while moving the rest to bases, retired Army Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey suggested.

McCaffrey said that without building up Iraqi forces, the Bush plan would be a "fool's errand," because 17,500 more American troops arriving over several months wouldn't be enough to stop sectarian killings in Baghdad. Still, he warned the Senate panel not to give "steering instructions" to wartime commanders.

For further information about hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee online, go to www.foreign.senate.gov and click on "Hearings."

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(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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