Mar 282006

WASHINGTON – Just back from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar said Tuesday Iraqi troops have made progress but are not ready for the U.S. to leave.

Unlike some fellow Democrats, Salazar said he does not believe U.S. troops should leave Iraq this year, but he said the U.S. should re-evaluate its role unless progress is made.

“I would think that even by the end of this year, we ought to start seeing the handing off of the baton from our troops to the Iraqi military,” he said.

The Iraqis have trained 49 battalions, which Salazar called good progress.

“As we see more training of the Iraqi army we ought to start contemplating the tapering down of our troops,” he said. “We’re not there right now.”

Salazar and other lawmakers who visited Iraq last week planned to meet later Tuesday with President Bush. Salazar said he would make suggestions for the president, including urging Iraqi leaders to complete the new government and encouraging other nations to help rebuild Iraq.

As the U.S. entered its fourth year in Iraq this month, Bush said it would be up to a future president to decide when to bring troops home.

Salazar said the U.S. should not be at full troop strength there in 2009.

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