WASHINGTON – The chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services committee said he was leaving Wednesday for Iraq to tell its leaders that they must accept responsibility for their country.
"Folks, if you want a civil war in this country, that's your choice. Count us out of your civil war. We've been here four-and-a-half years," Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan told reporters Wednesday during a stop at Michigan's statehouse.
Levin's comments came as the death toll rose to 250 following a spate of four homicide truck bombings in northwestern Iraq Tuesday, underscoring the difficulties in curtailing the steady stream of shooting and bombings that have become the soundtrack to Iraq's reconstruction efforts.
With Americans increasingly frustrated about the mounting U.S. deaths there, the U.S. Congress is awaiting a pivotal assessment due in September by Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus amid a fierce debate over whether to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
Levin, who last visited Iraq in October, said American voters in the November congressional election "spoke forcefully" about wanting to change course in the war and gave Democrats power in Congress to accomplish this.
Levin said political reconciliation among Iraq's warring factions was critical to ending the war in Iraq.
The U.S. military has claimed recent successes in Iraq, but the political process has stalled.
"I'm going to try to see if we can't shift the attention of the American people from the report on the military situation to a report on the political situation since everybody acknowledges that it's the failure of the political arena and the political areas that are the cause of the ongoing violence in Iraq," said Levin, who is taking his eighth trip to Iraq since the war began.
He also will visit Jordan and will be joined on the trip by Sen. John Warner, a Republican from Virginia.
The White House has said there have been significant results since the U.S. completed a buildup of additional combat troops in Iraq. Petraeus said Wednesday he was preparing recommendations on troop cuts before he returns to Washington next month for the report to Congress. He predicted the U.S. footprint in Iraq would have to be "a good bit smaller" by next summer.
Last month, Republicans blocked a measure by Levin and others that would have ordered troops to start leaving this fall and end major combat by April 30. The legislation would have allowed some troops to remain to conduct counterterrorism efforts and train the Iraqis.