AUGUSTA (AP) – One day after making his first, brief visit to Iraq, Rep. Tom Allen said Tuesday the U.S. military and its in-country allies are doing their best but that the situation demands more than just hope.

Allen, a sixth-term Democrat who’s running against Republican Susan Collins for the U.S. Senate, said Iraq is clearly torn among factions and that genuine consensus – much more than mere majorities – will be needed for a new government to succeed.

The American debate now, he said, must focus on how best to end the U.S. role.

“We all would like to see success and the question is how we can best manage that system, that situation, and do more than just hope for a productive outcome in a relatively short period of time,” Allen told reporters in a conference call from Pakistan.

Traveling with a bipartisan congressional delegation, Allen and half a dozen colleagues were also scheduled to go to Afghanistan, which Allen visited five years ago.

In Iraq, Allen met with Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. officials in Iraq, as well as service personnel including some from Maine.

He said U.S. involvement in Iraq is “so much more than a military undertaking,” with additional demands related to political considerations and the ravaged nation’s infrastructure.

“The country is clearly torn by enormous political challenges (and) political conflicts,” Allen said, adding that “the challenges are great (and) people are doing the best they can,” both the U.S. forces and the Iraqis seeking to rebuild.

Collins, whose most recent of three visits to Iraq came in December, has favored legislation that would order President Bush to restrict the mission of U.S. troops to counterterrorism, training Iraqis and protecting U.S. assets.

The goal, she has said, would be to “set the stage for a significant but responsible withdrawal of American combat troops over the next year.”

The current U.S. force in Iraq is pegged at around 160,000.

Allen, who voted against the resolution authorizing was in Iraq in 2002, declined to be pinned down on details of a U.S. withdrawal in answering questions from reporters Tuesday.

“We can’t maintain this force, this sized force, much longer,” Allen said, attributing a similar view to Petraeus, who with Crocker is expected to deliver a report to Congress next month assessing the progress that the Iraqis have made and recommending what the U.S. should do.

Allen said he believed the United States should “set a deadline and pull back over time,” suggesting an exit “sometime next year.”

Analyzing developments in the nations being visited by the congressional delegation this week, Allen said policymakers must recognize links among Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan

“Their issues are all tied together. We have to approach this with an overall regional strategy,” Allen said.

Asked if he would support additional aid and troops for Afghanistan, Allen said it might make sense but warned that too prominent an American role could alienate the local population.

“The answer is yes if it’s going to work,” he said.

AP-ES-08-07-07 1249EDT


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