Senators skeptical of Iraq progress

April 9, 2008 at 9:29 AM
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WASHINGTON, April 9 (UPI) -- U.S. Senators pressed hard when Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker appeared before the Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday.

While many lawmakers acknowledged that progress on security has been made since the surge of U.S. troops began nearly a year ago, they remained skeptical.

Senators questioned whether an open-ended U.S. troop presence at lower pre-surge levels would encourage the Iraqi government to achieve reconciliation among factions, enabling Iraqi officials to govern the country effectively on their own.

Most on the committee seemed to favor the idea of putting increased pressure on the government in Baghdad to take more responsibility, including using some of Iraq's own budget surplus – largely from oil receipts -- to pay for the expenses of the war.

They said the war in Iraq runs a tab of $12 billion dollars a month.

"Are we appreciably closer now to than we were 15 months ago to the goal the president set for Iraq: a country that can govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself in peace," asked Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senators expressed concern that maintaining even the pre-surge levels of 130,000 troops in Iraq is a strain the military cannot afford. They cited military officials who claimed in committee hearings last week that the U.S. military is ill-equipped to face any new threats, or effectively fight al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

When pressed by Biden, Petraeus acknowledged that though al-Qaida in Iraq is still a lethal presence, if forced to choose between removing al-Qaida from either Iraq or Afghanistan: "Given the progress in Iraq, I would choose Pakistan, Afghanistan."

The lack of diplomatic progress was also criticized, with Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., asking Crocker, the American ambassador in Iraq, why there hadn't been more of a "diplomatic surge," with increased cooperation of neighboring Arab countries.

Crocker and Petraeus both appeared earlier in the day before the Senate Armed Services Committee.


(By Melissa Schmitt, Medill News Service)

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