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A dispatch from the Lipinski-Kirk Iraq forum Monday at the City Club of Chicago

A report from the September 10 Lipinski-Kirk event:

Monday, September 10, 2007

A group of experts participating in a forum on Monday in Chicago sponsored by U.S. Reps. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., painted a dire picture about the current political and military state of affairs in Iraq.

Ambassador Robert Gelbard said the question officials in Congress need to ask now is, 'How can we make a positive out of the current situation in Iraq?'

"How can we ... leave over time under circumstances not as disastrous as they could be?" he said. "How do we prevent this from fragmenting into many pieces?"

Gelbard was U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia from 1999 to 2001.

Ambassador Henry A, Crumpton said Americans should expect our troops will be in Iraq for years.

Crumpton, who recently served as the coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. Department of State, said Congress has been unable provide the kind of inspirational leadership needed to move Iraqis to embrace American ideals

"There has been a lot of talk, but no solution and no action," he said.

While many once thought that a liberal, Democratic Iraqi nation state was a possibility, it is, at this point, a secondary objective at best, according to Crumpton.

Crumpton said the forces at work in Iraq threaten to rip apart not only the country, but also the region.

Lipinski and Kirk told the private gathering of members of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that they are speaking out together to forge a new path forward in Iraq.

"The best possible outcome for Democrats is to invite in Republicans such as Kirk to join us. I'm aware every Democrat will not support the Iraq Study Group and this bipartisan solution," Lipinski said. "For the last four months, we've maintained the status quo because legislation brought forward could not be passed without a veto from the President."

Both Lipinski and Kirk have said that the Iraq Study Group's report, which was released in December, provides the best opportunity for a policy change. The report includes 79 recommendations.

The Lipinski-Kirk plan calls for a phased withdrawal similar to the one that U.S. Gen. David Petraeus outlined on Monday. Under the plan, one troop brigade would return to the U.S. in December and three more would be removed in the spring, without replacement. It would provide for troop levels in July 2008 of about 130,000, which is equal to "pre-surge" troop levels.

Not lost on critics is the fact that sitting among the experts were two members of Congress who - in Lipinski's case, since 2004 - have overseen the nation's Iraq policy.

Democrat Mark Pera, who is running against Lipinski in the Feb. 5 Primary Election, said the Lipinski-Kirk plan does not go far enough.

"This was a war of choice not necessity. Now America is caught in a terrible quagmire, a situation brought upon us by a President who never listened and elected officials like Congressman Lipinski, who, for political reasons, blindly supported the President's misguided actions," Pera said.

Although Lipinski expressed support for the Iraq Study Group's conclusions, he also said that he was open to ideas presented within a report released by the United Institute for Peace, which calls for a 50 percent drawdown of troops in three years and a commitment of troops to Iraq for at least five years.

Pera said that withdrawal needs to happen much sooner.

"It's troubling that legislators like Congressman Lipinski say they recognize the gross errors they've made yet still advocate for continuation of this war for another five years. How many of America's sons and daughters, mothers and fathers will make the ultimate sacrifice because of those in government and Congress who refuse to face reality," he said.

"We need a policy that specifically outlines troop withdrawal now, not in three or five years. The people there in Iraq want us out now. It is a false premise that we can correct the political situation. A historical perspective shows us the warring factions there are unlikely to ever reach an accord with each other. We are immersed in a civil war for which there is no military solution."

Even Lipinski couldn't get past the lingering pessimism that many Americans feel over the current situation in Iraq. He called the Iraq war a "debacle" and said that the Bush Administration has failed the American people and American soldiers.

"We are looking for the least bad solution here. Nothing is ever, obviously, guaranteed," he said.

Lipinski, who has sided repeatedly with the Bush Administration and Republicans on Iraq war votes, said while he is hopeful Congress can move forward, it's impossible to tell what is gong to happen in the next few months.

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