March 10, 2007 / 12:19 AM / 12 years ago

Top Republican says this is Iraq's last chance

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warned Iraq on Friday that President George W. Bush’s decision to send more American troops into the country is “their last chance to get it right.”

New U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the press following secret voting among the party on Capitol Hill in Washington, November 15, 2006. McConnell warned Iraq on Friday that President George W. Bush's decision to send more American troops into the country is "their last chance to get it right." REUTERS/Jason Reed

McConnell, a leading congressional supporter of Bush’s strategy, said the Iraqis must step up their efforts to secure their own country.

“This (new U.S.-led mission) ... which requires significant Iraqi participation to succeed, is their last chance to get it right,” McConnell said in an interview with Reuters.

“I’m among a number of people that the Iraqis would pay attention to, and that message is for them,” said McConnell, declining to specify how much time they should have or what the United States should do if they failed.

“Even people like me, who have no regrets about going into Iraq, and think it was the right thing to do, believe that it is getting close to the time where they’ve got to do the lion’s share of the lifting,” he said.

Despite opposition from Democrats who want a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Bush has already ordered more than 20,000 additional troops into battle, most of them to help stabilize Baghdad.

There are now about 140,000 U.S. troops in the country.

OPTIMISTIC ON MINIMUM WAGE HIKE

In a wide-ranging interview in his Senate office, the Kentucky Republican also said he expects a bipartisan agreement on legislation to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade.

And McConnell said he hopes Democrats, who won control of Congress in last year’s elections from Bush’s Republicans, are now bold in taking on such issues as revamping the nation’s troubled immigration and retirement programs.

“What I fear is that our Democratic-majority friends will be too timid,” said McConnell, who endured Democratic taunts in recent years of helping head a “do nothing” Republican-led Congress. Republicans had accused Democrats of blocking legislation.

McConnell said now that there is a Republican White House and Democratic Congress, both sides may be better positioned to find common ground.

“We may get there on immigration, and there also has been a lot of talk about Social Security,” McConnell said, referring to private conversations.

McConnell said he expects House of Representatives and Senate negotiators to reach an accord on raising the minimum wage.

“I still think we are going to get there, and hopefully getting there will mean some sort of tax component,” McConnell said.

House and Senate Democrats campaigned on a promise to increase the minimum wage over two years to $7.25 per hour from the current $5.15.

But Bush and congressional Republicans have demanded that the pay hike for America’s lowest-paid workers include small business tax breaks to help companies cover the cost. The Senate agreed to about $8.3 billion in tax cuts, while the House approved about $1.8 billion in tax breaks.

“Usually in these deals you meet somewhere in the middle,” McConnell said. “Discussions are underway.”

Additional reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh

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