Oregon senators optimistic on Iraq

Oregon’s U.S. senators, in the middle of a two-day trip to Iraq, said Monday that they are optimistic that parliamentary elections still can be held in time to allow the scheduled withdrawal of U.S. combat troops by August 2010.

Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley met with Iraqi officials, the U.S. ambassador and military commander, and some Oregon soldiers in the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division.

Iraqi national balloting may slip from a planned January date, given continued disagreement about legislation governing the election.

“I think they can still make it now, but it’s going to cut it very close,” Wyden told reporters in a conference call from Baghdad. “The next few days, in terms of the back-and-forth with respect to the concerns of Sunnis, is going to be pivotal.”

Sunni Arabs and Kurds, both minorities in Iraq, have criticized versions of the legislation. Kurds were pleased, but Sunnis were not, with the latest version that passed Monday.

The Sunni vice president has threatened a second veto of the legislation, which Sunnis say does not give enough seats to Iraqis abroad — most of them Sunnis.

“The election is seen as the culmination of all of the effort to come up with a legitimate Iraqi government,” Wyden said.

Merkley said no one knew what to expect with the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities this past summer under an agreement with the Iraqi government.

“What it did was give the United States a lot of credibility,” he said. “Many thought it would not happen, or if we did withdraw, it would create a lot of havoc. But the Iraqis really stepped up to the task.”

Merkley said, “There is a real sense there is huge promise here … but there is also huge risk” looming over Iraq until the next deadline for withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops in August 2010.

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