Canton Repository

January 23, 2007

Voinovich to oppose surge in soldiers going to Iraq

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON Republican Sen. George Voinovich plans to oppose President Bush's surge of troops into Iraq unless Bush demonstrates in tonight's State of the Union address that the United States will hold the Iraqi government's feet to the fire.

While the maverick lawmaker vowed not to deprive troops of funding, he left the door open to voting for a congressional resolution opposing increases in U.S. troops sent to the conflict.

Voinovich, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, insisted during a meeting with reporters Monday that Bush present a list of benchmarks that the Iraqi government must meet to merit additional U.S. support.

Bush went on national television Jan. 10 to announce his plan to send more than 20,000 additional troops to Baghdad as part of a fresh effort to bring order to the country.

WAITING ON STATE OF UNION

Voinovich said, when Bush revisits the subject in the State of the Union, "I would hope that he might talk about some benchmarks he would put in place prior to sending in the rest of the troops."

The former Ohio governor and Cleveland mayor is skeptical that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a member of the Shia sect of Islam, is willing to crack down on powerful Shia militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

If the president fails to convince Voinovich in the speech, the senator said he will oppose the surge.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is set to consider at least two resolutions this week opposing the surge, including one authored by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, D-Del.

Voinovich said he is likely to vote for one of those resolutions unless he is persuaded by the president's address.

BUSH PLAN

Bush has blamed the failure to establish order in Iraq on not having enough U.S. and Iraqi troops to secure and hold violent neighborhoods after they have been cleared of insurgents and terrorists.

The president said the additional troops will work with Iraqi soldiers to help them protect the local population.

"It's really important that the word goes out in the Muslim community that this is not just more of the infidels occupying the place," Voinovich said. "We are looked upon as occupiers and infidels by the people that are there. And most of them would like to see us leave."

PRESIDENTIAL EXPECTATION

Voinovich said he would like to see al-Maliki stand up in public and say, "This is what I want the United States to do. This is not the United States telling me what to do."

He said al-Maliki "tells some of our people that go over there that have talked to him (that) we don't want the United States. We want you out of here."

Voinovich was not specific about what benchmarks he expects from the president.

But he said they should demonstrate "that there's some sincerity here (from the Iraqi government).

And that our guys are not going to end up - being in the middle of a civil war or having it interpreted that we're in there helping the Shia get rid of the Sunnis."

In his speech, Bush laid out what he said were benchmarks the Iraqi government has promised to meet.

These include deploying 18 Iraqi army and national police brigades in Baghdad and giving them a "green light" to enter neighborhoods where Shia militias are fomenting violence.