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Obama's Iraq plan draws fire from Left

President Barack Obama's plan to pull US combat forces from Iraq by August 2010 drew fire from his Democratic allies who expressed concern the withdrawal was not quick or complete enough.

world Updated: Feb 28, 2009 16:00 IST

President Barack Obama's plan to pull US combat forces from Iraq by August 2010 drew fire on Friday from his Democratic allies who expressed concern the withdrawal was not quick or complete enough.

"I support President Obama for taking a step in the right direction in Iraq, but I do not think that his plan goes far enough," said Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich.

"You cannot leave combat troops in a foreign country to conduct combat operations and call it the end of the war. You can't be in and out at the same time," said Kucinich, an early opponent of plans to invade Iraq.

After years of denouncing exit timetables as a sure recipe for defeat, Obama's Republican foes generally applauded the blueprint, saying it showed that Iraq, once given up for lost, was making steady if fragile gains.

Obama's plan "is a testament to the success of our troops in stabilizing and significantly reducing violence in Iraq" thanks to the so-called "surge" strategy, said House Republican Minority Leader John Boehner.

"I believe he has outlined a responsible approach that retains maximum flexibility to reconsider troop levels and to respond to changes in the security environment should circumstances on the ground warrant," he added.

Obama met with top lawmakers at the White House on Thursday to preview his plan, which would pull out most troops and end combat operations by the end of August 2010 but leave an interim force of about 35,000-50,000 troops before a full withdrawal required by the end of 2011, under a US-Iraq accord.

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid praised Obama's plan as "sound and measured" but expressed thinly veiled concern about the size of the residual force and its mission.

"I strongly believe that we must responsibly end the war in Iraq to make America more secure, and must keep in Iraq only those forces necessary for the security of our remaining troops and the Iraqi people," said Reid.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed.

"The remaining missions given to our remaining forces must be clearly defined and narrowly focused so that the number of troops needed to perform them is as small as possible," Pelosi said.

Still, Obama's announcement is "good news because it signals that the war is coming to an end," she said.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez was more blunt, declaring: "I do have concerns that the residual forces left in Iraq after combat operations have ended will be larger than may be necessary.

"This plan constitutes a badly needed new direction to our costly engagement in Iraq, but there are some questions as to whether it forges that new direction quickly enough," said Menendez, a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Republicans, who paid dearly at the polls for the unpopular war, crowed that former president George W. Bush's January 2007 "surge" of troops into Iraq had stabilized the country, paving the way for Obama's new plan.

"The dramatic success of the 'surge' strategy has enabled us to move from a discussion about whether the United States could bear the catastrophic consequences of failure in Iraq, to planning the way in which to consolidate success there," said Republican Senator John McCain.

"Saturday's announcement makes clear that the Iraqi people can take a huge step forward in assuming greater control of their nation and future," the number two House Republican, Representative Eric Cantor, said in a statement.

Obama "deserves credit for not listening to the chorus of voices calling for a rapid drawdown of forces regardless of the consequences for Iraq, our military and the American people," Cantor said in a statement.

Some vocal critics of the Iraq war, including Democratic Senators Dick Durbin and Bernie Sanders, declined to comment on the announcement.

In an interview later Friday with PBS television, Obama dismissed Democrats who voiced surprise, saying: "Maybe they weren't paying attention to what I was saying in the campaign.

Obama added that had made clear that his Iraq withdrawal plan was subject to consultations with commanders.

"We were able to arrive at a very strong consensus that has the support of our military brass, the folks on the ground as well as our diplomats and our analysts. I think it is the right way to go."