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An independent commission created by Congress is strongly recommending downsizing U.S. forces in Iraq and changing their mission. The commission made its report to the Senate Armed Services Committee today. It's just four days before the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, is to present lawmakers with his own assessment of the security situation there.
To nobody's surprise, congressional supporters and opponents of the war alike seized on today's report to bolster their own positions.
Here's NPR's David Welna.
DAVID WELNA: Retired Marine General James Jones, who's a former NATO commander, took the lead today presenting the Armed Services panel with the conclusions of the 20-member independent commission. Jones' take on the Iraqi Security Forces, or ISF, was mostly upbeat.
General JAMES JONES (Retired, U.S. Marines): The commission's overall assessment of the ISF is that there has been measurable, though uneven, progress.
WELNA: The shining star in this report card was the 152,000-member Iraqi army. Jones said while logistical problems plagued a force the commission judged not yet up to protecting Iraq's borders, it did find a greater capacity to deal with internal threats. The report recommended that U.S. forces shift from internal security to protecting Iraq's borders and infrastructure.
But it was much harder on the 26,000-member national police force. It said the Shiite-controlled force should be disbanded immediately. And former Washington, D.C. police chief Charles Ramsey agreed.
Mr. CHARLES RAMSEY (Former Washington, D.C. Police Chief): I have never in 38 years of policing experienced a situation where there was so much negativity around any particular police force. It was unbelievable. The amount of negative comments we got, whether we were speaking with Iraqi army, with Iraqi Police Service, it didn't seem to matter - with community members. There was almost a universal feeling that the national police were highly sectarian, were corrupt, had been accused of having death squads and the like.
WELNA: And while General Jones noted that there have been what he called tactical successes with the U.S. troop surge, Iraq remains torn by sectarian strife.
Gen. JONES: The consensus opinion of the commission is that the most positive event that can occur in the near term to influence progress in Iraq is a government-led political reconciliation, which leads to an end or a dramatic reduction in sectarian violence. Everything seems to flow from this point, to include the likelihood of a successful conclusion to our mission.
WELNA: The committee's Democratic chairman, Carl Levin, put Jones on the spot about a conclusion that would seem to bolster Levin's own push for a U.S. troop drawdown in Iraq.
Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan; Chairman, Senate Armed Forces Committee): You say that significant reductions, consolidations and realignments would appear to be possible and prudent. Is that your finding?
Gen. JONES: That's correct.
WELNA: Retired General George Joulwan, also a commission member, added that Iraq's security forces should be given more responsibility.
General GEORGE JOULWAN (Retired, U.S. Army): I think we need to start transitioning to an Iraqi lead, not a U.S.-coalition lead OVER whether it's six months or 12 months. I think the signs are there to do that, and we have to reduce that dependency.
WELNA: But Arizona Republican and presidential contender John McCain, a staunch supporter of the war, scored a political point of his own by asking General Jones about troop pullout deadlines.
Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Presidential Candidate): Do you believe that if we just set a timeframe for withdrawal that that would be in the United States' interest in the region?
Gen. JONES: Senator, I'll speak for myself on this. But I think deadlines can work against us. And I think a deadline of this magnitude would be against our national interest.
WELNA: Jones also cleared up what the commission meant when it wrote that if progress continues, the Iraqi security forces can bring greater security to the provinces in 12 to 18 months. That, he said, was simply in response to a question posed by lawmakers. Jones allowed that many of those forces can already provide such security.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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