updated 1/27/2005 5:02:19 PM ET 2005-01-27T22:02:19

The U.S. military’s continued presence in Iraq is fanning the flames of conflict and signals the need for a new detailed timeline to bring the troops home, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy said Thursday.

Just three days before the Iraqi people go to the polls to elect a new government, Kennedy, D-Mass., said the United States must give Iraq back to its people rather than continue an occupation that parallels the failed politics of the Vietnam war.

“The U.S. military presence has become part of the problem, not part of the solution,” Kennedy said at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. “We need a new plan that sets fair and realistic goals for self-government in Iraq and works with the Iraqi government on a specific timetable for the honorable homecoming of our forces.”

At least 12,000 U.S. troops should leave at once, he said, “to send a stronger signal about our intentions to ease the pervasive sense of occupation.”

While he is not the first member of Congress to call for a withdrawal of the troops, Kennedy is the first senator to do so. His remarks continued what has been a long and blistering assault on the administration’s Iraq policies.

GOP criticism
Brian Jones, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, criticized Kennedy’s timing.

“Its remarkable that Senator Kennedy would deliver such an overtly pessimistic message only days before the Iraqi election,” Jones said. “Kennedy’s partisan political attack stands in stark contrast to President Bush’s vision of spreading freedom around the world.”

Kennedy has called the war a “fraud made up in Texas” and has said the administration misled the people about the threats leading up to the war.

Now, Kennedy said, the United States and the insurgents are both battling for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, and the United States is losing.

“There may well be violence as we disengage militarily from Iraq and Iraq disengages politically from us, but there will be much more violence if we continue our present dangerous and destabilizing course,” Kennedy said. “It will not be easy to extricate ourselves from Iraq, but we must begin.”

Kennedy wants U.N. to take over
Administration officials have so far declined to discuss a timeline for troop withdrawal, saying the goal is to ensure the Iraqis are able to maintain their own security before military forces are scaled back.

Kennedy, who has called Iraq “George Bush’s Vietnam,” drew parallels between that failed conflict and the current deadly battle against guerrilla insurgents. He said the United States must learn from the mistakes of Vietnam, which he termed a misguided war that carried on too long and was not honestly portrayed by officials to the American people.

Kennedy said the first goal in the current situation should be for the United Nations — not the United States — to convene an international meeting to help the new government take shape and draft a constitution.

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