Ruppersberger pitches new plan on Iraq to the Pentagon after visit

A Democratic congressman who accompanied House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) on a whirlwind visit to Iraq last week said yesterday that he urged U.S. military commanders to pull American and coalition troops out of Iraq’s urban areas to “show the Iraqi people and the American people that the Iraqis have to take care of their own country.”

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), who returned Sunday from his fourth visit to Iraq, said the troops should be moved to the perimeters of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, “where they can be ready to assist Iraqi forces but make the Iraqis realize they can’t be dependent on us.”

Declaring that insurgents and foreign jihadists “are killing us with [improvised explosive devices (IEDs)] and suicide bombs because we’re on their turf and are not able to protect our troops,” Ruppersberger said that patrolling the perimeter of urban areas “would break the dependency the Iraqi military has on the American military.

“This never will happen until we do that,” he said. “I don’t see any reason to keep patrolling the cities.

“We’ve been training the Iraqi military for two and a half years, and now that they have their own government they’ve got to provide their own security.”

At the same time, Ruppersberger said he called on Iraq’s new government to order its 300,000-man army to take responsibility for patrolling the cities, where the bulk of deadly attacks on the U.S. military, Iraqi forces and civilians have occurred.

Ruppersberger, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, proposed the new strategy in meetings with top U.S. commanders and American Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as well as with leaders of the recently elected Iraqi government during an 18-hour visit to Baghdad. Hastert and two other Republicans, Reps. Ray LaHood (Ill.) and Adam Putnam (Fla.), also attended the meetings.

Ruppersberger said both the U.S. commanders and Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki, reacted favorably to his proposal.

“The generals told me that they can start implementing this except for certain areas,” which he declined to identify. He also declined to say whether Hastert and his other colleagues agreed with his plan

Ruppersberger, in his second term, was not in Congress when it voted to approve the use of force in Iraq.

He said his views on pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq’s urban areas were reinforced after visiting Iraq in March with a delegation headed by Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

He said his proposal, which he has also communicated to the White House and the Pentagon, “could have a lot of positive consequences. We have the best intelligence in the world. We could go after al Qaeda and focus on where the IEDs and suicide bombs are being made and who’s bringing them in.

“It would also allow us to bring American troops home and tell the American people we’re not doing the same old, same old thing. We can be anywhere in Baghdad in 15 minutes with our Black Hawks [helicopters] and serve as their 911 call, but to have our troops continue to patrol the streets, the American public is losing confidence in that approach.”

Ruppersberger added he was encouraged after he and his colleagues met with Iraqi leaders at a dinner at Khalizad’s home, noting that all three of Iraq’s ethnic groups — the majority Shiites and minority Sunnis and Kurds — are represented in the new government.

“A month and a half ago, the Sunni leaders were not at the table at all,” he said. “Now they’re there arm to arm, hip to hip, talking nationally and saying we’re going to make this one country.”

While Ruppersberger conceded that the Iraqis still haven’t been able to agree on two cabinet positions considered critical to the new government’s ability to function, he said he’s confident “it’s going to be done soon.”

But he also warned that insurgents and warring factions within Iraq are certain to continue and even step up their violent attacks in the coming months.

“I think you’re going to see these horrific incidents, like cutting people’s heads off, continue,” he said. The insurgents “are trying to take down the new government and they’re going to use every tool a technique. They’re also playing to the American public, believe me.”

Hastert has not commented publicly on his first visit to Iraq since his return, but he told reporters in Baghdad that “the birth of this historic government represents a new day of hope for the Iraqi people.” He also said he wanted to assure U.S. forces that he would push for quick approval by House-Senate conferees of the nearly $100 billion emergency supplemental spending bill, most of which is to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, when he returned.

Hastert and his delegation left for Baghdad last Thursday, the day he became the longest-serving Republican Speaker in history. The crew of the Air Force plane that took him to Iraq surprised him with a cake.

LaHood, who was also making his first trip to Iraq, told reporters in Peoria on Sunday that the new Iraqi government is making progress and is more stable than television reporting of the war would indicate.

While in Baghdad, LaHood visited his son Sam, who has been doing public-relations work for the U.S. government since September.