San Diego Union Tribune

November 21, 2006

Iraqi soldiers need to be better used, Hunter says

COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON – More Iraqi troops should be committed to the fight against the insurgency and sectarian violence in Baghdad and Anbar before any decisions are made on the use of U.S. forces, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter said yesterday.

Hunter, R-Alpine, said thousands of trained and equipped Iraqi soldiers are stationed in areas where there is little or no violence and they should be sent where the fighting is. He was reacting to reports that a Pentagon study group created by Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was suggesting three options for Iraq:

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To increase U.S. troop strength to end the violence quicker;

To reduce American forces but prepare for a longer stay;

To pull out now.

“The real answer is to go Iraqi,” Hunter, who recently announced he would seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, said at a Capitol news conference.

Hunter said he and 32 other House Republicans sent a letter to President Bush on Oct. 24, and he has spoken to Pace, urging them to press the Iraqi government to commit more of its troops to the deadly battle in Baghdad.

A number of news stories reported yesterday that the Pentagon study group's options included substantially increasing the more than 140,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq.

“I think it's a mistake to do that without deploying the Iraqi forces that we have stood up, trained, equipped and paid for,” Hunter said. “The idea of having Iraqi battalions 20 miles away in barracks while mobilizing more American troops to send makes no sense.”

Hunter said that 27 of the 113 battalions of Iraqi soldiers that are reported to be trained and equipped are in provinces that average less than one attack a day. “They could be sent to the contested areas of Baghdad. And they should be sent,” he said.

The underutilized Iraqi troops also should be sent to Anbar province, Hunter said, where the battle against a stubborn Sunni insurgency and foreign fighters has resulted in dozens of U.S. casualties every month.

Word of the options under consideration by the Pentagon stoked a lively debate several weeks before the independent Iraq Study Group is set to release its recommendations. The White House is mulling options of its own.

Hunter yesterday rejected a Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel's call for restoring the draft, arguing that conscription would erode the “ethic of patriotism” that is filling the military's ranks with volunteers. He noted that earlier this year, the House voted 402-2 against the proposal.

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