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Wilson Opposes Troop Increase

By Michael Coleman
Journal Washington Bureau
    WASHINGTON— Rep. Heather Wilson— initially a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq— said Saturday she opposes sending additional U.S. troops to the violence-torn nation and that the situation in Baghdad is "not improving."
    Wilson, a New Mexico Republican and member of the House intelligence committee, traveled to Iraq late last week and spoke to reporters Saturday by telephone from Kuwait.
    "There is no question that the situation in Iraq is very dangerous and not improving, particularly in Baghdad with respect to the sectarian violence," Wilson said during a conference call.
    She said a proposed surge in U.S. troops would send the wrong message to an Iraqi government that so far has been unable or unwilling to quell brutal sectarian violence plaguing the country.
    "I don't believe that increasing U.S. forces in Baghdad in the way and size being discussed— with a temporary surge of between 10,000 and 40,000 troops— would secure the city," Wilson said. "I think it would be the wrong way to go.
    "At this point we cannot do for the Iraqis what the Iraqis will not do for themselves. They have to stand up and take the lead with respect to sectarian violence with respect to Sunni and Shia."
    Wilson said fewer rather than more U.S. troops might actually serve American and Iraqi interests better, but she does not support a complete troop withdrawal.
    "We need a significant change in strategy that will mean different kinds of forces being there— it may even mean a decrease in U.S. forces doing different missions in different ways," Wilson said.
    Most of New Mexico's five congressional delegation members have said they oppose a surge of American troops in Iraq— a move the Bush administration is considering. Only Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican military veteran, has said he supports a boost in troops.
    Wilson visited Baghdad, Fallujah, Balad and Al Kut during her three-day trip. She was visiting U.S. soldiers in Saddam Hussein's Baghdad palace when the deposed dictator was executed early Saturday morning.
    Wilson said she was discouraged by what she learned about the Iraqi government during her trip.
    "The central government is, frankly, weak," Wilson said. "The police are infiltrated by militias, and there are elements of the government that are loyal to different factions rather than to the government itself."
    Wilson, an Air Force Academy graduate and former National Security Council aide, said the U.S. government, which invaded Iraq partly in hope of establishing freedom and democracy, needs to rethink its mission. The U.S. seems to lack focus as to what exactly it is trying to accomplish, she said.
    "We need a hard-nosed assessment of what we need, not what we wish," Wilson said. "Sometimes I think our national objectives in Iraq— including by our president— are described in pretty broad terms.
    "I want Iraqi people to live in a free and democratic society, but that's not our military mission there ... that's an aspiration, that's not a vital national interest for the United States."
    She said America's two biggest interests in Iraq are quelling al-Qaida's influence and stabilizing the region.
    "We cannot allow Iraq to become a safe haven for al-Qaida," Wilson said. "We need to defeat and roll up and deny al-Qaida a base of operations in Iraq.
    "We also have a vital interest in making sure that Iraq is not a source of instability in the region. This is a region that is important to the United States and the world."

E-MAIL writer Michael Coleman