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It has been just over four years since the United States led a coalition into Iraq to topple the tyrant Saddam Hussein in an effort to bring democracy and stability to the region. While the military mission was highly successful, the move to a democratic and peaceful Iraq has been very difficult.

The United States has paid a large toll in human lives and public money as we have attempted to help our Iraqi friends. We have discovered it is not easy to stand up a democracy and a functioning government in a nation that has long-standing ethnic and religious divisions. The men and women of our Armed Forces who have served during this war have done so admirably and they deserve our thanks and gratitude for a job well done.

We also owe it to our military to make sure we get the job done in Iraq, and that is why I have supported the President’s new way forward in Iraq. The President’s strategy in Iraq, which he unveiled in January, is based on six fundamentals: 1) Let the Iraqis lead; 2) Help Iraqis protect the population; 3) Isolate extremists; 4) Create space for political progress; 5) Diversify political and economic efforts; and 6) Situate the strategy in a regional approach.

This strategy acknowledges that the situation in Iraq at the end of 2006 was not acceptable. The President believes the Iraqi government must gain control of Baghdad, provide greater security for the entire country and bring together the various religious and ethnic communities in the country. Securing the Baghdad area is the key to this new way forward. Eighty percent of the sectarian violence in Iraq occurs within 30 miles of Baghdad. For the most part, violence is contained to just three of Iraq’s 18 provinces.

The new plan has seen the Iraqi Army and Military Police taking the lead in clearing neighborhoods of terrorists as well as securing neighborhoods once they are cleared. The increase in American troops allows us to work alongside the Iraqis and hold areas that have been cleared. This has not been the case in the past, which has allowed insurgents to return once the troops are gone.

The political, economic and regional aspects of this new way forward are just as important as the commitment to security. Iraqi citizens must see more than just military maneuvers—their communities and neighborhoods must improve. Daily life in Baghdad must return to some semblance of normalcy. The Iraqi government must be held to the benchmarks it has announced.

The President has told Prime Minister Maliki that America’s commitment is not open-ended. The Iraqi government must act on reconciliation initiatives, reform the cabinet and work towards a moderate coalition that will be the base of support for a unity government.

I understand that the American public has become increasingly weary of the Iraq situation. We have lost too many Americans in this war, and their sacrifice must never be forgotten or downplayed. It has cost a tremendous amount of money to carry out the mission in Iraq. We cannot, though, give up this fight just because we are weary.

In the midst of America’s own Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln wrote that he wished “war was an easier and pleasanter business; but it does not admit of holy-days.” Just as those in the 1860s were engaged in the great struggle of their time, those of us today are in the midst of the great struggle of our time.

President Bush put it very succinctly in his January 10 address to the nation: “The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time…It is in the interests of the United States to stand with the brave men and women who are risking their lives to claim freedom, and to help them as they work to raise up just and hopeful societies across the Middle East.” IBI

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