WASHINGTON - Three Massachusetts congressmen called for a United Nations security force to replace American troops in Iraq as part of a phased plan for withdrawing US soldiers after a new president takes office in January.
Yesterday's proposal, sponsored by Representatives James P. McGovern, John F. Tierney, and William D. Delahunt, calls for an end to ongoing talks between the United States and Iraq on a long-term security agreement. Instead, according to the proposal, US authorities should immediately start negotiations with the UN on a mandate to govern the "internationalization of responsibility for aid and support to Iraq."
The current UN mandate, under which American forces legally operate in the country, expires on Dec. 31. The US and Iraqi governments have no plans to seek its renewal and are drawing up a bilateral agreement that could keep US forces in the country indefinitely.
McGovern, a Democrat from Worcester, said such an agreement "will lead to a US commitment to endless war." Congress, he said, must help the next president chart an alternative.
"For those of us who opposed the war, it is not enough to say the war was a mistake and we should immediately withdraw," McGovern told reporters in a conference call by the Project on Defense Alternatives at the Commonwealth Institute, a Cambridge-based independent research center that helped draft the report. "Every time we try to bring up the issue of withdrawal, the [Bush] administration shouts 'bloodbath.' They make it seem as if there is no choice but to stay. The fact is there are alternatives."
Those alternatives include normalizing relations with neighboring Syria and seeking a rapprochement with Iran, two nations that have been blamed for fomenting some of the civil strife within Iraq, according to the 30-page report. The plan also calls for "vigorous diplomatic steps" to stop the flow of arms into the country.
The report calls for the United States to stop arming the Iraqi security forces until the UN can independently screen them for members of sectarian militias.
An "international support group" made up of the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Iraq's six neighboring states could help promote reconciliation among the various armed groups in Iraq - with the exception of Al Qaeda terrorists - and begin to address the refugee, food, and other humanitarian problems, according to the report. But the plan hinges on the eventual establishment of "a blue-helmeted peacekeeping force" and calls on the United States to "support the UN in organizing and funding it."
Although McGovern acknowledged that persuading the UN to replace American combat troops "is going to take some serious diplomacy," he insisted that "too much of the discussion in Washington is how to continue the war. Very little, if any, discussion is focused on how best to leave."
"This is a starting point; a blueprint that is subject to discussion and review," Delahunt, a Quincy Democrat, said in an interview.
Tierney, a Salem Democrat, said he hopes the report, which was provided to Congress, "will cause others to fully debate it."
Bryan Bender can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.