WASHINGTON — Retired Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander in Iraq shortly after the fall of Baghdad, said this week he supports Democratic legislation that calls for most troops to come home within a year.
His comments come as welcomed ammunition for the Democratic-controlled Congress in its standoff with the White House on war spending. This month, the House passed a $50 billion bill that would pay for combat operations but sets the goal that combat end by Dec. 15, 2008. The White House threatened to veto the measure, and Senate Republicans blocked it from passing.
The Pentagon on Tuesday said that as many as 200,000 civilian employees and contractors will begin receiving layoff warnings by Christmas unless Congress approves a war spending bill that President Bush will sign.
"The improvements in security produced by the courage and blood of our troops have not been matched by a willingness on the part of Iraqi leaders to make the hard choices necessary to bring peace to their country," Sanchez said in remarks to be aired Saturday for the weekly Democratic radio address.
"There is no evidence that the Iraqis will choose to do so in the near future or that we have an ability to force that result," he said.
Sanchez added that the House bill "makes the proper preparation of our deploying troops a priority and requires the type of shift in their mission that will allow their numbers to be reduced substantially."
Critical assessments on the war from former Pentagon brass are nothing new. But Sanchez's newfound alliance with Democrats is particularly noteworthy because he was directly in charge of combat operations in Iraq, from 2003 to 2004.
He also is somewhat controversial. The Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal happened under his watch, and some have pointed to leadership failures as a contributing factor. While he was not charged with any misconduct, Sanchez said upon retiring from the military in November 2006 that his career was a casualty of Abu Ghraib.
In October, the three-star general told a group of reporters that the U.S. mission in Iraq was a "nightmare with no end in sight." He also called Bush's decision to deploy 30,000 extra forces to Iraq earlier this year a "desperate attempt" to make up for years of misguided policies in Iraq.