Democrats not persuaded by US commander’s testimony on Iraq

April 10th, 2008 - 10:54 am ICT by admin  

By Mike McCarthy
Washington, April 10 (DPA) Top US commander in Iraq David Petraeus and envoy Ryan Crocke have been unable to persuade congressional Democrats that US troops should remain there longer to capitalise on the year-old troop surge, which has seen improved security conditions.
During the first of two days of congressional testimony, Democratic senators acknowledged that the troop surge - ordered by President George W. Bush last year - had succeeded in reducing violence but pointed out that the Iraqi government had not made adequate progress despite gaining “breathing room” under the build-up.

The centre-left Democrats hammered at Petraeus for recommending that no further withdrawals of US forces should take place after the surge ends in July. Instead, the general told them that a 45-day withdrawal pause was needed before a decision can be made on further troop cuts.

“That is a clear, open-ended pause,” Carl Levin, chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, told Petraeus. “It seems to me that what you’ve given to your chain of command is a plan which has no end to it.”

Petraeus refused to say whether there could be additional withdrawals after the proposed 45-day troop freeze ends in September, signalling that 140,000 soldiers could remain in Iraq indefinitely and could still be there when Bush leaves office in January.

“At the end of that period, we will commence a process of assessment to examine the conditions on the ground, and over time determine when we can make recommendations for further reductions,” he said.

Senator Joseph Biden, the former presidential candidate who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed frustrations over the Iraqi government’s slow pace at overcoming ethnic and sectarian tensions.

“The purpose of the surge was to bring violence down so that Iraq leaders could come together politically,” Biden said.

“Violence has come down. But the Iraqis have not come together, at least not in the fashion that was anticipated. Iraq is still incredibly dangerous. And despite what the president said last week, it is very, very, very far from normal.”

Bush has said that he will follow Petraeus’ advice on troop reductions but is not expected to address his general’s testimony until he gives a speech Thursday, White House spokesman Dana Perino said.

“I wouldn’t purport to report to you what the president agreed with or disagreed with, but you’ll hear from the president Thursday as to all the information he’s gotten, how he’s digested it and how he decides to proceed,” Perino said.

Petraeus and Crocker said Tuesday that the progress in Iraq was “fragile” and “reversible”, and they warned that early troop pullouts would surrender Iraq to Al Qaeda terrorists and the neighbouring Iranian regime, risking a wider regional conflict.

“External actors, like Iran, could stoke violence within Iraq, and actions by other neighbours could undermine the security situation as well,” Petraeus said.

The four-star general said that the troop surge has “dealt serious blows” to Al Qaeda and other militant groups since violence and sectarian killings peaked toward the end of 2006 and into 2007.

“We have our teeth into their jugular, and we need to keep it there,” Petraeus said.

Petraeus and Crocker spoke Tuesday amid a presidential campaign to elect Bush’s successor. The US public remains deeply opposed to the war in Iraq, and surveys show voters want a speedy end to the US role in the Iraq conflict.

The Democratic and Republican presidential candidates offered their views during hearings, with Hillary Clinton firing the first shot by declaring Bush’s policy “irresponsible”.

“It could be fair to say that it might well be irresponsible to continue the policy that has not produced the results that have been promised,” said Clinton, the New York senator and former first lady, who has pledged to initiate withdrawals within 60 days of taking office as president.

The presumptive Republican nominee for the Nov 4 election, John McCain, strongly backed Bush’s troop surge and has argued on the campaign trail that the US has a moral obligation to stay with the mission and not abandon the Iraqi people.

McCain, the Arizona senator, said the Bush administration in the four years after toppling Saddam Hussein’s regime had “mismanaged the war” but adopted the right strategy by deploying more troops a year ago.

“We’re no longer staring into the abyss of defeat, and we can now look ahead to the genuine prospect of success,” McCain said.

Clinton’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, said that a timetable for troop reductions should be enacted to pressure the Iraqi government into taking responsibility for the country.

“I believe that we are more likely to resolve (the conflict) if we are applying increased pressure in a measured way,” Obama said.

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