McCaskill: Mixed picture on progress in Iraq violence

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

WASHINGTON -- The quality of Iraqi military forces is showing signs of improvement, but local police are still far from being able to control the violence in Iraq, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill said Monday.

A weekend meeting with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih did not leave the Missouri Democrat with much confidence in the government's ability to improve matters.

"I don't get the sense they're close to doing the things that must be done politically to bring this country together," McCaskill said in a telephone conference with reporters.

McCaskill spoke from Kuwait as she prepared to return home from her first visit to Iraq, where she traveled to focus on reports of waste and fraud in defense contracts.

Despite her concerns, McCaskill said she is not prepared to co-sponsor a Senate measure that would cut off money for combat operations in Iraq after March 2008. That measure won just 29 votes that last time it was considered in the Senate.

But she continues to support drawing down U.S. combat forces and wants to focus troops more on a counterinsurgency mission.

"I do think a dramatic, quick withdrawal could be dangerous to the men and women who are serving bravely here," McCaskill said.

McCaskill said she hopes to introduce amendments this year that would streamline military oversight to make it more difficult for contractors get away with kickbacks, embezzlement and other actions that have plagued the mission in Iraq.

She also disagrees with Missouri's Republican Sen. Kit Bond, who last week railed against the media for harping on negative news out of Iraq.

"You can't deny that there are difficult and negative parts to what's going on in Iraq and if you've been here, you see it," McCaskill said.

While she agrees with Bond that violence is down in Iraq's Anbar province, there are still "incredible struggles" in Baghdad, she said.

"Senator Bond, I think, understands, as I think most people do that are in the United States Senate, that the media covers conflict and the media covers negatives," McCaskill said. "There are not many front-page stories about how great the weather was yesterday."

As for Bond's oft-repeated remarks that soldiers are frustrated with the media, McCaskill said her meetings with troops, including those from Missouri, showed a wide variety of comments and complaints, both for and against the war.

Some troops who have been deployed a second or third time told McCaskill they are "very discouraged and do not believe that we are making meaningful progress," she said.

"I will tell you that anyone who has come over and spent time talking to the troops and comes home and says they all think what we're doing is great and we need to stay here as long as it takes is not honestly talking to the troops and having a heart to heart," McCaskill said.

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