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Georgia senators want Iraqis to take responsibility of war

While George W. Bush will mostly be battling Democrats to achieve his new strategy for the war in Iraq, some Republicans also aren't willing to give the president a blank check.

Georgia's senators said they are cautiously optimistic about Bush's new strategy, released publicly last week.

"Those of us in Congress have a responsibility to ask questions and seek answers on behalf of the American people when our strategy and tactics are not getting the job done," said Saxby Chambliss, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "I have expressed my concern and frustration with our progress, not only to the president and his White House advisers but to our military leadership testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. They share my concerns and are committed to finding the right way forward and succeeding in Iraq."

Chambliss said he believed the changes in leadership at the Pentagon and in the war zone are steps in the right direction.

In conversations with the White House, "I made it clear that my support of any increase in troops is conditional upon those troops having a specific mission, and upon the completion of that mission those troops should be redeployed," Chambliss said. "I firmly believe that a large increase in troops without having a specific mission will only increase insurgent opposition, and that a withdrawal of U.S. forces at this time would be detrimental to Iraqi security. Both of these approaches should be rejected. Failure in Iraq will result in expanded, intensified conflict in the Middle East, and I will continue to be committed to the success of our mission there."

Both Chambliss and Sen. Johnny Isakson said they were glad to hear Bush tell the Iraqis that it was their responsibility to take control of the country.

"What we've heard (last week) in the president's proposal is a comprehensive plan only if the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government buy in to it and fulfill their side of the deal. I certainly hope that will be the case," Isakson said. "Only when there is some degree of peace in Baghdad can you bring about the possibility of reconciliation between the various interests and diverse factions. Right now that does not exist, and it won't exist in the future if the Iraqi military is not capable of working along with the American military to bring peace to the country."

Isakson also said he advised Bush on the new strategy.

"I told the president that Georgians have been very supportive of this effort, but they are looking for a resolution and a comprehensive plan," the Marietta politician said. "The President has got a tough job, and this may be the last opportunity to make a significant difference in the ongoing battle in Iraq."

Locals get new roles

Rep. John Heard, R-Lawrenceville, has landed the chairmanship of an important and relatively new budget subcommittee.

Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, tapped Heard last week to head a panel the speaker created last year to hear lawmakers' requests for local assistance grants and decide which merit inclusion in the state budget.

Richardson and Senate leaders formed the joint subcommittee to reform a process that has been criticized over the years as awarding pork-barrel' spending to the districts of influential legislators regardless of need.

"We'll be asking what (a project) does for the community and what alternative funding might be available, so we can spend the state's money wisely,'' Heard said.

On the Senate side, Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, is giving up his chairmanship of the Science and Technology Committee to take over the Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee, which has a broader scope of responsibilities.

Shafer also will serve on the Committee on Assignments, a "kitchen cabinet'' for new GOP Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.

"Its function is to advise the lieutenant governor on appointments to committees, assignment of bills to committees and scheduling of bills for floor action,'' Shafer said.

That means the Rules Committee will have less influence than it did when former Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor, a Democrat, presided over the Republican-controlled Senate. Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, returns as Rules chairman.

Political Notebook appears in the Thursday and Sunday editions of the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Staff Writer Dave Williams contributed to this report.

Camie Young can be reached via e-mail at camie.young @gwinnettdailypost.com.