Kennedy Says U.S. Presence in Iraq Is Fueling Insurgency

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Byline: Stephen Dinan, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy yesterday said U.S. troops, instead of defeating the insurgency in Iraq, are spawning it, and he called for immediate withdrawal of 12,000 troops after this weekend's election and a complete pullout by early next year.

"There will be more serious violence if we continue our present dangerous and reckless course. It will not be easy to extricate ourselves from Iraq, but we must begin," said the Massachusetts Democrat and leading liberal voice in the Senate, who is the highest-profile lawmaker to call for withdrawal.

Speaking at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in the District, Mr. Kennedy said that U.S. troops and officials are seen by Iraqis as an occupational force, rather than a means to peace, and they are the reason violence is escalating.

"The men and women of our armed services are serving honorably and with great courage under extreme conditions, but their indefinite presence is fanning the flames of conflict," he said.

About 150,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq. More than 1,400 have been killed since the Iraq invasion, and an additional 10,000 have been wounded - numbers that Mr. Kennedy said were comparable to Vietnam in 1965.

"We must learn from our mistakes," he said. "We must recognize what a large and growing number of Iraqis now believe - the war in Iraq has become a war against the American occupation."

President Bush's supporters are hoping that the insurgency will falter after this weekend's historic elections, but Mr. Kennedy said the administration has been wrong every time that it has predicted better times just around the corner.

"Saddam's capture was supposed to quell the violence. It didn't," he said. "The transfer of sovereignty was supposed to be the breakthrough. It wasn't. The military operation in Fallujah was supposed to break the back of the insurgency. It didn't."

He also said the insurgency has grown in recent months - from 5,000 fighters in mid-2004 to more than 20,000.

His call for withdrawal did not gain much support among his colleagues yesterday.

"What we need, in my judgment, in the interests of the United States, is to stabilize Iraq," Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat, told CNN's "Inside Politics." "If we turn tail and pull out, the place would erupt into civil war, there would be all kind of chaos."

And a spokesman for Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, said the situation calls for resolve.

"Senator Warner believes that this is not the time to cut and run in Iraq and that our presence there should be dictated by events, not by arbitrary timetables," said John Ullyot, the senator's spokesman. …