Washington, DC – House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO) addressed the U.S. House of Representatives today during the consideration of H.R. 2956, the Responsible Redeployment from Iraq Act.   Attached please find a copy of Skelton’s prepared remarks:


“Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in favor of H.R. 2956, the “Responsible Redeployment from Iraq Act.”  This bill will change the course of our involvement in Iraq, begin the responsible redeployment of our troops, and require a new strategy for our future involvement in Iraq and the broader Middle East.


            “For more than four long years, our brave men and women in uniform have fought, bled and died in Iraq.   We should honor their sacrifice and heroic efforts.   They have accomplished much, and thanks to the suggestion of my good friend Mr. Tanner, my bill begins with the reminder that our troops have accomplished the mission we gave them in the Authorization for the Use of Military Force in 2002.   They removed Saddam Hussein and any threat posed by his government.   Iraqi authorities have tried and executed the former dictator.  


            “Our troops have been policing a civil war while we hoped the Iraqis themselves would begin to reconcile their differences and build a stable government.   Despite the sacrifices of our brave men and women, including over 3600 dead American men and women and 25 thousand wounded, the Iraqis haven’t lived up to their responsibilities.  


            “The Administration has made a number of irretrievable mistakes in Iraq that have made our job harder.   They sent an insufficient number of troops into Iraq at the beginning of the occupation, failed to secure the arms caches that later provided weapons for the insurgency, dismissed the army putting thousands of angry soldiers on the street, closed the state owned industries throwing more thousands out of work, and badly implemented the de-Ba’athification process that threw still thousands more out of their jobs.   All of this helped lead to the unstable country Iraq is now.


“But these mistakes don’t change the reality that at some point the Iraqis have to step up and take charge, and that they have shown no willingness to do that so long as we are willing to shoulder the burden.


            “The bill on the floor today is very simple.   Within 120 days of enactment, we would begin to reduce the number of troops in Iraq.   By April 1, 2008, the transition to a limited presence would be complete.   My bill emphasizes that this reduction should be carried out in a way that maximizes force protection.  


            “We all, I am sure, remember the Iraq Study Group, and their insistence that our policy to deal with Iraq should focus not only on the military, but the diplomatic as well and should have a broader regional focus.   It should have a real political component to help foster reconciliation.   My bill fulfills that recommendation.   It requires that the strategy that guides the transition, be submitted to Congress by January 1, 2008.   The strategy must include diplomatic, political, economic, and military measures for dealing with Iraq, encouraging regional engagement and political reconciliation, as well as consider our security interests in the broader Middle East.   The reduction in forces and transition to a new force posture would be guided by this strategy.   The strategy will outline the end state of the transition.   We do have strategic interests in the Middle East.   This is one way we can try to be sure that those are promoted.


            “In my view, and I believe it is shared by many others, we have forgotten the war we should be worrying about in Afghanistan.   It is in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan that the leadership of Al Qaeda is hiding, and we should be deploying more troops there.   A front page story in today’s Washington Post says that the intelligence community has concluded that the Al Qaeda has been able to significantly rebuild itself and is stronger than it has been for years.   Redeploying out of Iraq will allow us to send more resources and more people to hunt down Osama bin Laden and the other Al Qaeda leaders who ordered the September 11 th attacks.


            “Many of us, including myself, believe that we will have some future role in Iraq, in limited missions such as disrupting and eliminating Al Qaeda, training Iraqis, and protecting US personnel and facilities in Iraq.   Others will disagree.   My bill suggests that these roles be considered as part of the new strategy, but does not require that they be part of our future involvement. The bill does require that the Administration justify any future limited missions in Iraq and provide Congress with information about the required force levels and costs of any residual or enduring mission in Iraq as part of the strategy.    After April 1, 2008, the President would be required to provide updates to Congress every 90 days about any changes in strategy, deployed forces, or changes in mission.


“I am extremely concerned about the state of our military.   It’s breaking.   And the worst strain is on the United States Army.   There are too many other possible threats out in the world for us to be comfortable with a broken Army, and we may not have the time for recovery.   I have been in Congress for over 30 years.   In that time, I have seen 12 conflicts, and many of them we did not foresee.   We cannot meet future strategic challenges and surprises with an army that is stretched to the breaking point and personnel who have been worn out through repeated deployments to Iraq.   We are simply taking unacceptable risks in our ability to protect our nation and our interests.   We owe it to our constituents and to the men and women in uniform to honor their sacrifices by committing ourselves fully to ensuring that they are trained, equipped, rested, and ready to meet our nation’s security challenges.   This is about our national security.  


            “Mr. Speaker, in summary I believe that my bill provides a responsible, measured way forward.   It begins our transition out of Iraq.   It provides a timetable for this transition, but emphasizes that we should not sacrifice force protection.   It puts Iraq in a broader strategic framework that would guide our transition.   It will help us to ensure that we do not break our military, while protecting our interests, and it would require that the Iraqis take charge of their own country.   I ask that the members of this House support this bill.”