Surge is a failure, Democrats tell Petraeus

Anti-war Senate Democrats bluntly told Iraq commander General David Petraeus on Tuesday his troop surge strategy was an abject failure in its prime objective—forcing a political settlement.

Several senior Senate Republicans also questioned the administration’s approach as the general and United States ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker endured a grilling on a second day of high-stakes testimony to Congress.

Petraeus got a rougher ride before the Senate Foreign Relations committee than he faced on Monday from two House of Representatives panels, when he said that as the injection of 28 500 troops was working, force levels could return to pre-surge levels of about 130 000 by mid 2008.

“We should stop the surge and start bringing our troops home,” committee chairperson Senator Joseph Biden said.

Biden, a 2008 presidential candidate, posed two questions: Was Iraq closer to political reconciliation than before the surge began, and would continuing the operation stop the killing between Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds?

“The answer to both those questions is no,” Biden said.

Another long-shot Democratic presidential candidate Senator Christopher Dodd was even more terse, pointing to slow Iraqi political reconciliation.

“We have been begging the leadership for the last four-and-a-half years to get their act together.

“What makes you possibly think that anything further like this is going to produce the results that anybody else has failed to do?”

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a fierce critic of war strategy, chastised Crocker and Petraeus for what he said was an overly upbeat survey.

“Where is this going to go?” Hagel asked.

“Are we going to continue to invest American blood and treasure at the same rate as we are now?”

Petraeus replied: “My responsibility as I see it is not to give a good picture, it is to give an accurate picture.”

Senator Richard Lugar, increasingly uncomfortable with Iraq policy, warned Petraeus of the need for long-term planning for redeployment.

“Some type of success in Iraq is possible, but as policy makers we should acknowledge that we are facing extraordinarily narrow margins for achieving our goals.”

Defeated 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry drew a parallel between the Iraq and Vietnam wars, saying many of those killed in the earlier conflict had died after the battle strategy was known to have failed.

“The president’s escalation ... has failed to achieve its goal of bringing about a resolution of the fundamental conflict between Sunni and Shi’ite,” Kerry said in prepared remarks.

At the White House, spokesperson Tony Snow would not say whether President George Bush, expected to address Americans on television on Iraq this week, would follow the Petraeus recommendations.

“We are not going to play the game of what he is likely to do,” Snow said.

Crocker offered a sober assessment of the situation in Iraq, repeating his contention that slow, upward progress was being made.

But his sombre tone was in marked contrast to many of previous assessments of progress in the four-year war by the Bush administration.

“There will be no single moment at which we can claim victory, any turning point would likely only be recognised in retrospect,” Crocker said.

“I think in the past we set some expectations that have not been met. I am trying not to do that.”

Crocker’s remarks provoked a “Code Pink” anti-war protestor to yell “Diplomats for peace not occupation” before she was hustled out of the hearing.

As Petraeus touched on Iran’s purported support for extremist militias in his own statement, a white-haired man stood up and barked: “So now you are laying the ground to get us into bombing Iran,” before police pounced.

Petraeus also said he would be “hard pressed” next March to recommend an extension of the military surge in Iraq if there is no let-up in current levels of bloodshed on the ground.

And he said the surge would effectively end by mid next year.

A marine expeditionary unit of about 2 000 troops is to leave Iraq this month and not be replaced, and an army combat brigade of about 4 000 troops will redeploy in December.

Military officials had previously acknowledged that continuing the surge after mid-2008 would be difficult because of the lack of available forces to keep troop levels so high.—AFP

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