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Mon, Dec. 09

Renzi supports troop increase

U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi said Friday that this country has only two choices in the Iraq War: Make one last effort to win with an increase of troops, or make a slow retreat and concede defeat. He prefers the former.

Renzi talked to The Daily Courier Friday just hours after a summary of a much-delayed National Intelligence Estimate about the war became public. The nation's 16 spy agencies released the estimate after working on it for about seven months, Renzi said.

While members of the House Intelligence Committee had asked repeatedly for the report, the military leaders wanted to take their time so they wouldn't make a major mistake, such as their earlier conclusion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, said Renzi, who sits on that committee. President Bush was not purposely holding back the report, Renzi said.

After Bush told Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki he was losing the support of himself as well as the American people, they worked together on a plan to secure nine sectors in Baghdad, related Renzi, whose rural Arizona district includes Yavapai County. Renzi believes that dissatisfaction with the war was the main reason his party lost its majority in Congress last November.

Renzi has made five trips to Iraq and has participated in meetings with Bush about the war twice in recent months.

"He absolutely has a grasp of the situation on the ground," Renzi said of the president.

After Bush and al-Maliki made plans, military leaders calculated how many troops they'd need to secure those nine Baghdad sectors in two daily shifts, Renzi said. That added up to about 17,000 troops, along with a request for another 4,000-5,000 troops for the Shiite hot spot of Sadr City.

The U.S. isn't fighting millions of people, Renzi said; it's fighting about 40,000-50,000 insurgents and locals.

U.S. and Iraqi troops were able to clear Baghdad before, but then the Iraqi troops couldn't hold the city, Renzi said. On his latest visit, Iraqi troops assured him they will "clear and hold" this time instead of "clear and fold." Renzi does worry about whether the Iraqi troops will be ready for the challenge in time, however.

He agrees with the National Intelligence Estimate that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war. It's been going on ever since the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra that led to vicious fighting between the Sunni and Shiite people, he said.

"We don't have to pick a side" in the civil war, Renzi said. "We're defending the government."

Al-Maliki needs to show that he can control his own army and the corruption in the Ministry of Interior, Renzi added.

And he needs to share oil revenues with the Kurds so they feel they are part of the nation, Renzi said. The Kurds then might help secure Baghdad.

Renzi believes Iran is more of a problem than the National Intelligence Estimate indicates. He visited Al-Kut on the border of Iraq and Iran, where many insurgents are entering the country.

"I think the Iranians are a huge problem," Renzi said. "Iran, to me, is the head of the snake."

Iran is using its oil cash wealth to help the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who wouldn't have any power without that support, Renzi said.

In one of his meetings with Bush, Renzi said he suggested that the same surveillance technology that could help fight illegal immigration along the Arizona-Mexico border could help catch insurgents crossing into Iraq at the Iranian border.

Renzi said he's concerned that insurgents simply will lie low during the troop increase.

"It's going to happen," he said. "It's absolutely going to happen."

It might be a good idea to offer them amnesty if they turn in their guns and come work for the Iraq government, he suggested.

Renzi doesn't think it will be up to the next president to finish the war.

"We're going to know sooner than that what the outcome is going to be," even before the increase is complete in the coming months, Renzi predicted.

Military leaders have told him they'll know in six to seven months if the increase is working.

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