I joined Sen. John McCain, along with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and a handful of other governors and members of Congress. It was a productive, informative visit and I was able to see a much larger part of the country than during my first visit. We were in the Red Zone in Baghdad, Camp Fallujah, and Babil Province, among other locations in Iraq, along with stops in neighboring Kuwait and Jordan.���
We still face serious challenges in Iraq,�but I was encouraged by many improvements that have been made since my last visit.
The most impressive and important improvement I noticed�is the progress Iraq has made in providing its own military, police and border security.
When I visited a year ago, the training of the Iraqi security forces was in its infancy, with U.S. and coalition troops leading most operations. In contrast, today the Iraqi army controls a significant share of the battle space, and 75 percent of the operations are conducted by Iraqi forces or by�our troops�providing support�with the Iraqis�in the lead.�
This is a key development in securing Iraq and ensuring its sovereignty. As Iraqi security forces continue to strengthen and take the lead on security operations, Iraq will become more secure and more independent and we will begin to reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq.
A central goal of our trip to Iraq was to convey to�the Iraqi political leaders the urgency of forming a national unity government.
We stressed to them in no uncertain terms that patience is wearing thin in the United States and progress must be made. Along with Iraqi security forces taking the lead in operations, it is just as important for Iraq to be operating under a national unity government.
This will strengthen the confidence of Americans and coalition nations, Iraq's neighbors in the region and most importantly, the Iraqi people. They need to have confidence in a strong and unified government that is moving forward with a vision and plan for a peaceful and prosperous Iraq.�
Fortunately, serious discussions are underway among leaders of each of the three majority factions � the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds.�Leaders from each faction expressed to us their hope in reaching an agreement to form a national unity government in the very near future.��
Certainly, the debate on how best to secure Iraq or when to bring our troops home continues.�We may not all agree on how we went into Iraq or why we did, but the reality is that we are there and we have to finish the job of securing the country and seeing Iraq succeed.
We must understand that the consequences of failure in Iraq are great. Failure would not only have serious consequences in Iraq and the region, but across the globe and here at home.�
If the mission in Iraq is abandoned and democracy is not secured, that country will likely fall victim to civil war, ethnic genocide and chaos.� �Radical Islamic and terrorist groups would flourish and Iraq would become a dangerous source of instability to the region and a threat to American interests everywhere. By making Iraq their headquarters, terrorists could also easily hijack oil production in neighboring countries.
We cannot afford to relax our resolve and retreat prematurely.
Thankfully, I think those who want to see Iraq succeed outnumber those who want to see it fail.
Iraqi leaders expressed to us their gratitude for the role the United States played in their liberation and the ongoing role we play in their security so they can form a government. They made it very clear they do not want the United States to leave prematurely.�
I also met with several troops from South Dakota. We had lunch together and talked about their work there and their outlook and general assessment of the situation in Iraq.�
These young people are doing incredible work and they remain committed to their mission. The majority of the soldiers I talked to are optimistic, they believe in what they are doing, and they see progress being made in securing not only the region but making America safer, too.
I could not be prouder of the fine work our troops are doing.�
It is critical that we at home stay united in our support for these young men and women. Every day, our troops put their lives and safety on the line for our security and well-being. We owe them nothing less than a unified front of support and gratitude for their service.
We stand at an important crossroads with great implications for the future.� Success in Iraq will create a stronghold of freedom and peace in an otherwise unstable region. Failure there would empower the terrorists and leave us vulnerable to attack.
The surest way to bring our troops home is to�stay on the path to victory and secure a safe and bright future for millions of Iraqis, Americans and freedom-loving people around the world.