Tag Archive: Democrats


Gates: Some US troops may stay if Iraq wants

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_gates_iraq

By ROBERT BURNS, AP National Security Writer Robert Burns, Ap National Security Writer Thu Apr 7, 6:33 am ET

BAGHDAD – The Obama administration would keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the agreed final withdrawal date of Dec. 31, 2011, if the Iraqi government wanted them, but the Iraqis need to decide “pretty quickly” in order for the Pentagon to accommodate the extension, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday during what he said probably is his final visit to this war-torn country.

Whether to negotiate an extended U.S. military presence is up to the Iraqis, he said, adding that he thought an extension might make sense.

“We are willing to have a presence beyond (2011), but we’ve got a lot of commitments,” he said, not only in Afghanistan and Libya but also in Japan, where he said 19 U.S. Navy ships and about 18,000 U.S. military personnel are assisting in earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor relief efforts.

“So if folks here are going to want us to have a presence, we’re going to need to get on with it pretty quickly in terms of our planning,” he added. “I think there is interest in having a continuing presence. The politics are such that we’ll just have to wait and see because the initiative ultimately has to come from the Iraqis.”

Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top American commander in Iraq, said the country is lacking important security capabilities. Those include the defense of its air space and the wherewithal to supply and maintain its own forces, he said.

Asked in an interview whether all Iraqi government officials are aware of these gaps, he replied, “Some more than others.”

He said the government’s inability thus far to appoint a defense minister and an interior minister has hampered its ability to make informed decisions about whether to ask the Americans to stay longer.

Speaking to a group of reporters traveling with Gates, Austin gave the strong impression that he thinks Iraq needs a U.S. military presence beyond December, but he said he had not yet been asked to provide a recommendation to Washington.

He said Iraq faced the possibility of a “more violent environment” next year, given the absence of U.S. military force and the failure to resolve key political problems, like the Kurd-Arab tensions in Kirkuk and elsewhere in the north.

The U.S. now has about 47,000 troops in Iraq, and they will begin leaving in large numbers in late summer or early fall. The U.S. led an invasion in March 2003 that toppled the government of President Saddam Hussein a month later, but an insurgency soon set in and the U.S. got mired in a conflict that has lasted far longer — and cost far more American and Iraqi lives — than Washington had anticipated.

Gates also said civil unrest in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, with majority Shiite Muslims pushing for an end to rule by the minority Sunnis, has created tensions in Iraq, whose Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is concerned about Bahrain’s crackdown on Shiites.

Gates said he expected to discuss this subject with al-Maliki in private meetings later Thursday.

Meghan O’Sullivan, a top Iraq adviser to President George W. Bush from 2005-07, said in an email exchange that al-Maliki faces enormous domestic political pressures on several fronts, including a small but vocal number of Iraqis demanding better government, and a security situation that is improved but still tense.

Together, these pressures make it unlikely that al-Maliki feels he can publicly invite the U.S. military to stay beyond this year.

“Understandably, the Obama administration was hoping for this sort of invitation, and likely feels struck, given that it is not forthcoming,” O’Sullivan said. “They can’t be seen wanting to keep more troops in Iraq than the Iraqis do.” O’Sullivan is now a professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School.

Under blue skies and a bright sun at a U.S. base just outside the Iraqi capital, Gates told a group of soldiers that he worries that a potential shutdown of the U.S. federal government will delay issuance of their paychecks. He assured them that they eventually would get full pay, but there could be a delay if Democrats and Republicans in Washington are unable to reach a budget deal this week.

“When I start to think of the inconvenience that it’s going to cause these kids (soldiers) and a lot of their families, even a half paycheck delayed can be a problem for them,” Gates told reporters after fielding several questions from the assembled soldiers. The first question posed to him was by a soldier asking about the ramifications for military members and their families of the budget crisis back home.

Gates assured them, “You will be paid,” then added that it might take a while, depending on the length of the political impasse in Washington.

In a brief exchange with reporters during a photo session with Gates earlier Thursday, the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, James Jeffrey, said U.S. ground forces are “the glue” that is holding the country together. He said this leaves a mixed picture of the situation in Iraq because making arrangements to keep U.S. troops here beyond December is going to be difficult.

In his troop talk, Gates raised the matter of his impending retirement, recalling for soldiers of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, that his first visit to Iraq was in September 2006, three months before he replaced Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary. He recalled that on a visit to Baghdad in December 2006 he conducted a press conference while a gun battle was echoing in the distance.

In all, he estimated he has made 14 visits to Iraq.

“`This will probably be my last one,” he said.

Gates previously has said he intends to retire this year, but he has not been more specific about the timing. It is widely anticipated that he is planning to quit this summer.

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Protesters defy efforts to clear Wisconsin Capitol

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110228/ap_on_re_us/us_wisconsin_budget_unions

By DINESH RAMDE and DAVID A. LIEB, Associated Press Dinesh Ramde And David A. Lieb, Associated Press 8 mins ago

MADISON, Wis. – Protesters who spent the night in Wisconsin’s Capitol vowed Monday to remain as long as necessary to speak out against Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to end most collective bargaining rights and demonstrate against his budget.

Walker planned to deliver his two-year budget plan in the state Assembly chamber on Tuesday afternoon. He has said that plan will help make clear why the collective bargaining concessions he is seeking from public employees are necessary to help plug a $3.6 billion shortfall.

Walker has said his budget will include about a $1 billion cut in state aids to schools and local governments. He is also expected to propose dramatic changes to how the University of Wisconsin is organized, make cuts to Medicaid and possibly increase fees to help raise money.

Police said Monday that cleaning of the Capitol continued despite the continued presence of the protesters, as did security preparations for Walker’s budget speech.

Police decided not to forcibly remove protesters after thousands ignored a 4 p.m. Sunday deadline to leave so the normally immaculate building could get a thorough cleaning. Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs said no demonstrators will be arrested as long as they continue to obey the law.

“People here have acted lawfully and responsibly,” Tubbs said. “There’s no reason to consider arrests.”

The floors where several hundred protesters had slept previous nights looked unusually bare late Sunday as the smaller crowd of people walked around in socks, lounged on blankets and curled up under jackets.

But organizers said they were confident that demonstrators who were persuaded to leave Sunday would return to continue fighting Walker’s efforts to strip nearly all public workers from their collective bargaining rights except over wages. Protesters have staged a sit-in that began Feb. 15 and hit its peak Saturday, when more than 70,000 people descended on the Capitol grounds for a rally.

Click image to see photos of the Wisconsin protest

By DINESH RAMDE and DAVID A. LIEB, Associated Press Dinesh Ramde And David A. Lieb, Associated Press 8 mins ago

MADISON, Wis. – Protesters who spent the night in Wisconsin’s Capitol vowed Monday to remain as long as necessary to speak out against Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to end most collective bargaining rights and demonstrate against his budget.

Walker planned to deliver his two-year budget plan in the state Assembly chamber on Tuesday afternoon. He has said that plan will help make clear why the collective bargaining concessions he is seeking from public employees are necessary to help plug a $3.6 billion shortfall.

Walker has said his budget will include about a $1 billion cut in state aids to schools and local governments. He is also expected to propose dramatic changes to how the University of Wisconsin is organized, make cuts to Medicaid and possibly increase fees to help raise money.

Police said Monday that cleaning of the Capitol continued despite the continued presence of the protesters, as did security preparations for Walker’s budget speech.

Police decided not to forcibly remove protesters after thousands ignored a 4 p.m. Sunday deadline to leave so the normally immaculate building could get a thorough cleaning. Capitol Police Chief Charles Tubbs said no demonstrators will be arrested as long as they continue to obey the law.

“People here have acted lawfully and responsibly,” Tubbs said. “There’s no reason to consider arrests.”

The floors where several hundred protesters had slept previous nights looked unusually bare late Sunday as the smaller crowd of people walked around in socks, lounged on blankets and curled up under jackets.

But organizers said they were confident that demonstrators who were persuaded to leave Sunday would return to continue fighting Walker’s efforts to strip nearly all public workers from their collective bargaining rights except over wages. Protesters have staged a sit-in that began Feb. 15 and hit its peak Saturday, when more than 70,000 people descended on the Capitol grounds for a rally.

Click image to see photos of the Wisconsin protest

Walker argues that his measure would help close a projected $3.6 billion deficit in the 2011-13 budget. He believes that freeing local governments from having to collectively bargain with public employee unions would give them the flexibility needed to deal with forthcoming budget cuts.

Labor leaders and Democratic lawmakers say the bill is intended to undermine the unions and weaken a key base of Democratic Party voters.

Paul Golueke, 24, a social worker from Milwaukee, said he planned to stay at the Capitol until at least Tuesday’s budget address.

“If the budget contains provisions like in this budget-repair bill, I’ll stay here as long as it takes,” Golueke said. “Scott Walker doesn’t understand our passion. The eyes of the nation, of the world, are on us and we can’t back down.”

The state agency that oversees the Capitol had asked demonstrators to leave by Sunday afternoon, saying the building was in dire need of a cleaning. But it was clear that the estimated 4,000 protesters had no intention of leaving voluntarily.

Tubbs, the police chief, said demonstrators who had occupied all three floors of the Capitol would have to relocate to the ground floor. He said anyone who left the building would not be allowed back in until the morning, although union officials were allowed to deliver food to the protesters during the night.

“It was a victory for peace. It was a victory for democracy,” said Kara Randall, 46, a massage therapist from Middleton who had already spent five nights at the Capitol.

Walker’s spokesman declined to comment late Sunday on the police decision to keep the Capitol open to demonstrators. In an interview earlier in the day on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Walker said the lengthy protests haven’t eroded his resolve to push forward with his legislative agenda.

“Year after year, governors and legislators before us have kicked the can down the road,” Walker said. “We can’t do that. We’re broke. It’s about time someone stood up and told the truth in our state and said here’s our problem, here’s the solution and let’s do this.”

Walker’s proposal stalled in the state Senate when its 14 Democrats fled the state for Illinois, leaving the legislative body one vote short of a quorum. The Democratic senators have vowed to stay away from Wisconsin for as long as it takes. Democrats in Indiana have boycotted their statehouse for the past week to prevent a vote on Republican-backed proposals to introduce a similar bill.

Sen. Jim Holperin, one of the 14 from Wisconsin, said Monday morning that the Democrats remain united in their intention to stay away until a compromise can be found.

“I just believe there is some middle ground here,” Holperin said.

One of the Democrats, Sen. Lena Taylor, sent a tweet to support the protesters that read: “Thank you for exercising your 1st amend right – I’m glad my actions give you opportunity to stand/sit/express yourself!”

___

Associated Press writer Scott Bauer contributed to this story.

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