(photo credit: )
Representative Tom Udall, a Democrat, said the United States should "redeploy" troops to positions outside Iraq by the end of the year, sending a strong message to the Iraqis that they are responsible for their own government and security.
Visiting Iraq with a group that included Senator John McCain and Senator Russell Feingold, Udall told reporters on a conference call Saturday that the Iraqis have made significant progress. But the US has become "bogged down in Iraq," and he is very concerned about how long troops will be needed in the country if they are not removed soon.
"The longer we say, as President Bush did this week, that we're going to be there until 2009, what incentive is there for the Iraqis to step forward?" said Udall, who voted against going to war and who has advocated rapid troop withdrawal for many months.
On Saturday, Udall used the term "redeploy" instead of "withdraw," explaining US forces should be moved to Kuwait and nearby nations to "get the best result for our troops and the Iraqis."
The US also could keep an over-horizon force to let Iran and other nations know that the US wants stability in the region.
But Iraqis have enough troops needed to do the job of securing the country by the end of the year, and the US should focus on fighting terrorists, he said.
"This time period is needed to make sure, one, our troops are safely out and, two, (the Iraqis) are really on notice: We're serious about this, and we're moving forward," he said.
Udall's congressional delegation was the second to visit Iraq this week. Like the other, which was led by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, lawmakers met with several Iraqi leaders and urged them to quickly finish forming a new government.
The meetings come as the US enters its fourth year of war in Iraq, and as American support for the war is dropping while violence in Iraq increases.
Udall said it is vital for US lawmakers to personally tell the Iraqi leaders that Americans are growing impatient. He is optimistic that the group is making progress, he said, but they need to finish soon.
"It's been three months since (Iraqi) elections," Udall said. "The fact they don't have a government has been a letdown for the Iraqi people and has made the American people very unsure. We need progress to get on with civilized society."
Udall said that for security reasons, he could not give many details about the delegation's schedule. The group is visiting Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan, and will return early next week. Saturday, besides meetings with Iraqi leaders, Udall visited with troops and others helping rebuild the country.
"Several of the soldiers I talked to ... felt like they were making progress," he said. "Are we back to prewar levels? No. We're making progress, but it's not being made to the extent that it should be. And I don't know how they can make significant progress until they get a government in place."