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Published: Thursday, 6/26/2008

Caution on Iraq deal

OHIO Sen. George Voinovich merely was stating the obvious in a letter asking President Bush not to bind the hands of his successor with any long-term security pact with Iraq.

Still, Mr. Voinovich's reasoning is sound and bears frequent repeating, if only to generate public pressure on the Bush Administration to avoid locking the military into a long-term presence in Iraq before Congress or the next administration can weigh in on the matter.

Rather than negotiate a deal now that will commit the United States to provide security for Iraq against future internal and external aggression, Senator Voinovich suggests that the President settle on an interim agreement to provide a legal cover for American troops in Iraq after the current U.N. mandate for the U.S.-led military operations expires at the end of the year.

He released a letter he sent to the White House expressing concern that a pending agreement with Iraq may not support his goal of handing over more control to the Iraqi people "so that we can bring our own troops home and restore the health of our military."

And Mr. Voinovich is not alone on Capitol Hill in signaling his apprehension about a proposed U.S.-Iraq security agreement, which would set conditions for a defense alliance and an extended role for U.S. troops.

Top Democrats and Republicans also have been complaining that the President is rushing the negotiations - senior U.S. officials insist the talks be completed by July 31 - to seal a strategic framework for protecting Iraq that could make it difficult for the next president to withdraw U.S. forces from the country.

Six senators, including the chairmen of the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees and their ranking minority members, have written Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, asking for transparency in the negotiations and for more information.

The secret security plan also faces growing resistance from the Iraqi government. The fear is that the American military may be bound to stay in Iraq for years, if not permanently. That is not what most Iraqis seem to want and certainly not what a majority of Americans hope for after being bogged down in a costly war that is now in its sixth year.

Senator Voinovich, like many others in his party and across the aisle, want an end to the U.S. combat role, not an open-ended commitment that will continue to drain critical resources and claim American lives. The focus needs to be on accomplishing full withdrawal of the 150,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq, not hamstringing the next administration with unnecessary complications.

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