Senators push for unity in Iraq

Forming a government is focus of visit


BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Offering contrasting viewpoints on Iraq's chaotic political and security situation, two key U.S. lawmakers visited the capital yesterday to put pressure on Iraqi politicians to act quickly to form a national unity government.

Sens. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Russell Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, legislators who have been mentioned as potential presidential candidates, led a bipartisan delegation of congressional representatives and governors to meet with President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and U.S. Gen. George W. Casey.

Also yesterday, Russia's foreign spy agency denied that Moscow gave Saddam Hussein information on U.S. troop movements and plans during the invasion of Iraq.

Visiting with reporters after the meetings with Iraqi and U.S. military officials, McCain indicated that the delegation received encouraging comments about the prospect that a government could be formed soon.

"I come away with the impression that the Iraqi leaders understand the sense of urgency we have conveyed to them. We all know the polls show declining support among the American people," McCain said. "So I am guardedly optimistic that this will happen within weeks."

Feingold, who voted against the war, questioned whether the U.S. military presence was exacerbating sectarian tensions, as well as the insurgency.

"I think we have to at least openly consider at what point we can bring our troops home or, at least, to begin to bring our troops home," he said. "Not only from the point of view of making sure there is support from the American people for this continued effort, but also to consider whether the large presence of American troops here could contribute to or feed the insurgency and whether in any way it makes it more difficult for a government of national unity to be created."

Yesterday, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service dismissed claims in a Pentagon report released Friday. The report pointed to two captured Iraqi documents as saying Russia obtained information from sources "inside the American Central Command" in Qatar and passed battlefield intelligence to Hussein through the former Russian ambassador in Baghdad, Vladimir Titorenko.

"Similar, baseless accusations concerning Russia's intelligence have been made more than once," agency spokesman Boris Labusov said. "We don't consider it necessary to comment on such fabrications."

Yevgenia Albats, a Moscow-based journalist who specializes in intelligence matters, said she suspected there was "at least a certain truth reflected in the Pentagon report."

But she cautioned that didn't necessarily mean the Kremlin was involved.

"It is sometimes difficult to figure out whether certain steps were undertaken with the knowledge of top Russian authorities," Albats said.

The violence continued in Iraq yesterday, leaving at least 18 people dead in a several bombings and shootings.

Aamer Madhani writes for the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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