Obama, Reed, Hagel Note Iraq Progress, Credit More Than Surge

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From AMMAN, Jordan 3:10 a.m. local time --

Sens. Barack Obama, Chuck Hagel, and Jack Reed just released a statement about their day in Iraq. The three are overnighting in Baghdad and will arrive in Amman tomorrow for their first and only press conference of their trip to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The statement notes the security progress in Iraq but gives the new military tactics a fraction of the credit for the reduction in violence. Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, and Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, all opposed the troop surge.

Obama in an interview with ABC News that's posted at the bottom of this story in which he says if he had it to do all over again he would still oppose the troop surge. He told ABC what he did not expect or anticipate in Iraq was the Sunni uprising against Al Qaeda and among the Shi'ites decision to play ball politically via cease fires rather than continue their campaign of violence. How the surge affected the calculations in either case is left unsaid by Obama, according to ABC.

The surge is and has been the central story in Iraq since it began in January 2007. Obama, who told CBS on Sunday, that he "never" has doubts about his foreign policy, is in no way re-evaluating the surge or what he did or did not anticipate would arise from it. This may give fodder to John McCain's camp and other skeptics of Obama's approach to military tactics, strategic thinking and the ability to adapt his own views to unexpected events.

Back to the joint statement from all three senators. Obama, Hagel and Reed say there is a "consensus" in Iraq for an "aspirational time" for troop withdrawals that are fixed by a "clear date." That may sound like intentionally fuzzed up language. It is. It half-loaves much of the troop withdrawal language of the last 72 hours. It adopts the White House-Iraqi Friday word "aspirational" -- which means condition-driven -- when discussing future troop withdrawals. It also links that to "clear date" for troop withdrawals, which echoes Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki's general endorsement of Obama's 16-month troop withdrawal timetable. The statement also says 2010 is a reasonable time for the cessation of all U.S. combat missions, but also leaves open the possibility of the prolonged presence of U.S. troops for training and missions against Al Qaeda. Here's the rub on that. Combat teams will have to deal with Al Qaeda so, CLEARLY, this scenario envisions at least SOME continued U.S. combat presence in Iraq, even after 2010.

Here is the full statement:

BAGHDAD, IRAQ – U.S. Senators Barack Obama, Jack Reed and Chuck Hagel traveled today to Iraq, first to Basra, then to Baghdad.

In Basra, they met with U.S., British and Iraqi troops; Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, Commander Multinational Corps – Iraq; Major General Barney White-Spunner (UK), Commander, Multinational Division Southeast; and Major General Abdul Aziz, Commander, 14th Iraqi Army Division. In Baghdad, the Senators met with U.S. troops; Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki; President Jalal Talabani; Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi; and Vice President Adil Abdulmahdi. They received a detailed briefing from and consulted extensively with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus, Commander, MNF Iraq. They visited with doctors, nurses and patients at the 86th Combat Support Hospital and took part in a helicopter over flight of Baghdad conducted by General Petraeus.

“We are in Iraq to thank our troops, diplomats and civilians for the remarkable job they are doing and to let them know that, back home, Americans are proud of them. We came to consult with our military leaders, embassy team and the Iraqi government about a way forward in Iraq that advances the interests of the United States, Iraq and the entire region.

“We found a strong, emerging consensus on a number of critical points:

“First, thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our armed forces, more effective Iraqi security forces, the decision by the Sunni Awakening to fight ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq’ and the cease-fire by Shiite militia, violence in Iraq is down significantly. An overwhelming majority of Iraqis reject what remains of ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq’ and violent militias.

“Second, political progress, reconciliation and economic development continue to lag. There has been some forward movement, but not nearly enough to bring lasting stability to Iraq.

“Third, Iraqis want an aspirational timeline, with a clear date, for the redeployment of American combat forces. Prime Minister Maliki told us that while the Iraqi people deeply appreciate the sacrifices of American soldiers, they do not want an open-ended presence of U.S. combat forces. The Prime Minister said that now is an appropriate time to start to plan for the reorganization of our troops in Iraq -- including their numbers and missions. He stated his hope that U.S. combat forces could be out of Iraq in 2010.

“Fourth, Iraqis seek a long term partnership with the United States to promote political and economic progress and lasting stability. In particular, they want our continued help in training Iraqi security forces, helping conduct counter-terrorism operations, developing Iraq’s economy and advancing political compromise. Vice President Abdulmahdi noted that “the quality of American engagement matters more than the quantity.”

“We raised a number of other issues with the Iraqi leadership, including our deep concern about Iranian financial and material assistance to militia engaged in violent acts against American and Iraqi forces; the need to secure public support through our respective legislatures for any long term security agreements our countries negotiate; the importance of doing more to help the more than 4 million Iraqis who are refugees or internally displaced persons; and the need to give our troops immunity from Iraqi prosecution so long as they are in Iraq.

“America has a strategic opportunity to build a new kind of partnership with Iraq and to refocus our foreign policy on the many other pressing challenges around the world – starting with the resurgence of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Here is the ABC interview with Obama. ABC correspondent Terry Moran conducted the interview. This segment ran on World News Tonight. A longer version may air on Nightline.

Q: If you had to do it over again, knowing what you know now, would you support the surge?

Obama: No. Because, keep in mind that ---

Q: You wouldn't?

Obama: Keep in mind, these kind of hypotheticals are very difficult. You know hindsight is 20/20. But I think that what I am absolutely convinced of is at that time we had to change the political debate because the view of the Bush administration at that time was one I just disagreed with.

In the close to his ABC story, Moran said this:

"And so, when pressed, Barack Obama says that he still would have opposed the surge but said he didn't anticipate what people here call the Iraqi surge uprising against Al Qaeda and Shi'ite extremists. He said he didn't anticipate that, but he is insisting that he is focusing forward on what needs to be done -- setting that timetable for withdrawal."

The Obama press conference with Hagel and Reed joining him is scheduled for 5 p.m. local, 10 a.m. eastern at the Citadel overlooking Amman.