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McCain says U.S. must deploy thousands more troops to stabilize Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Sen. John McCain took his controversial proposal for curbing Iraq’s sectarian violence to Baghdad on Thursday, calling for an additional 15,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops and joining a congressional delegation in telling Iraq’s prime minister he must break his close ties with a radical Shiite cleric.
    The lawmakers’ trip came as the bloodshed showed no signs of abating. At least 74 more people were killed or found dead, including 65 bullet-riddled bodies bearing signs of torture. And gunmen in military uniforms kidnapped as many as 70 shopkeepers and bystanders from a commercial area in central Baghdad in what was apparently an attack against Sunnis; at least 25 were later released, police said.
    McCain’s position puts him at odds with American public opinion and with the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which recommended withdrawing substantial number of U.S. troops over the coming year. The Army in recent days has been looking at how many additional troops could be sent to Iraq if President Bush decides a surge in forces would be helpful.
    Army officials say only about 10,000 to 15,000 troops could be sent and an end to the war would have to be in sight because the deployment would drain the pool of available soldiers for combat. Further, many experts warn, there is no guarantee a surge in troops would work to settle the violence.
    ‘‘We would not surge without a purpose,’’ the Army’s top general, Peter J. Schoomaker, told reporters Thursday in Washington. ‘‘And that purpose should be measurable.’’
    McCain said he realizes that few Americans favor deploying more U.S. troops to Iraq, and that if such a move proved unsuccessful in the unpopular war it could hurt his presidential ambitions.
    But the Arizona Republican said Americans must realize that if U.S. troops leave Iraq in chaos, groups such as al-Qaida ‘‘will follow us home and that we will have a large conflict and greater challenges than those that we now face here in Iraq.’’
    ‘‘The American people are confused, they’re frustrated, they’re disappointed by the Iraq war, but they also want us to succeed if there’s any way to do that,’’ McCain told reporters in Baghdad.
    He said conditions in some areas of Iraq have improved since his last visit in March, but ‘‘I believe there is still a compelling reason to have an increase in troops here in Baghdad and in Anbar province in order to bring the sectarian violence under control’’ and to ‘‘allow the political process to proceed.’’
    Two other senators in the delegation, Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said they agreed.
    ‘‘We need more, not less, U.S. troops here,’’ Lieberman said.
    Another senator in the group, moderate Republican Susan Collins of Maine, disagreed.
    ‘‘Iraq is in crisis. The rising sectarian violence threatens the very existence of Iraq as a nation,’’ she said. The current U.S. strategy in Iraq has failed, but ‘‘I’m not yet convinced that additional troops will pave the way to a peaceful Iraq in a lasting sense,’’ Collins said.
    ‘‘My fear is that if we have more troops sent to Iraq that we will just see more injuries and deaths, that we might have a short term impact, but without a long-term political settlement,’’ she said.
    Collins’ remarks appeared to reflect the findings of the Iraq Study Group, which concluded that sustained increases in U.S. troops would not solve the fundamental problem and that violence would renew once those forces left the area.
    While the senators were meeting with U.S. and Iraqi officials in Baghdad, Iraq’s Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, was in Washington, where he called on the Bush administration to set a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops. Al-Hashemi said the timetable should be ‘‘flexible’’ and depend on development of an Iraqi security force.
    ‘‘You’ve done your job,’’ al-Hashemi, who met with Bush this week, said at the United States Institute of Peace, a U.S.-financed think tank. Currently, however, ‘‘there is across-the-board chaos in my country,’’ he said.
    Graham said he was shocked by the situation in Baghdad.
    ‘‘The first time I came here with Sen. McCain we went rug shopping. Yesterday, we moved around in a tank. It’s one of the most dangerous places on the planet,’’ he said.
    The congressional delegation, which also included Republicans Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and Rep. Mark Kirk from Illinois, left Baghdad on Thursday to tour the southern port city of Basra and Ramadi, the insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad.
    Lieberman said the senators met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, and urged him to break his ties with Muqtada al-Sadr and disarm the anti-U.S. cleric’s Mahdi Army militia, which has been blamed along with Sunni Arab insurgents for the sectarian violence and ruthless attacks on U.S. forces.
    Al-Sadr controls 30 of the 275 parliament seats and is a key figure in al-Maliki’s coalition.
    Lieberman said the delegation left its meetings with al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and other Iraqi officials believing ‘‘there is a force of moderates within the context of Iraqi politics coming together to strengthen the center here against the extremists.’’
    He said the delegation was ‘‘quite explicit’’ about ‘‘how important it is that the Iraqis themselves begin to take aggressive action to disarm the militias, to stop the sectarian violence and to involve all the people in country to governance,’’ including promised provincial elections.
    But the senator also said moderates in parliament may look for another leader if al-Maliki fails to do that.
    ‘‘What the U.S. needs and wants, and has to demand, is that in return for all that we’re putting on the line here is that they take on the extremists,’’ Lieberman said. ‘‘That’s what this battle is all about.’’
    ———
    AP writer Anne Plummer Flaherty contributed from Washington.

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