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Petraeus, Crocker Reports Fuel Debate


The reports by the top U.S. military officer in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador provided fuel to both supporters of the current policy and its opponents. VOA Pentagon Correspondent Al Pessin spoke to some of them and filed this report.

General David Petraeus said he needs to keep nearly all the 160,000 U.S. troops he has in Iraq until next spring, but probably can move forward with reductions at that time. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said there has been progress among Iraqi politicians, but some of the most promising developments may not be visible from Washington.

They recommended continuing the current military and diplomatic strategy at least for another six months, and making a new assessment in March.

"These reports are not going to convince anybody," said Marina Ottaway.

Analyst Marina Ottaway at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is among those not convinced.

"When Ambassador Crocker said we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel even if the benchmarks have not been met, I think he's expressing a wish and not a hard fact," said Ottaway.

On the military side, retired Lieutenant General Robert Gard of the group Veterans for America doubts there has been as much progress as General Petraeus claims.

"Evidence is pretty clear that generally speaking attacks have not reduced to the extent claimed," "But in a sense that isn't very relevant because the whole purpose of the surge was breathing time for political progress, which has not occurred."

But at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington research organization, conservative analyst Brian Darling believes General Petraeus when he says the surge is achieving its military goals, and he councils more patience on the political front.

"It's true that the Iraqi government has not shown signs of progress sufficient for the American people, for Congress and for President Bush," said Darling. "But militarily we're doing what we need to do. We're doing our best to help create a situation in Iraq where stability will grow over a period of time."

Darling says establishing stability in Iraq is important for U.S. national security, and he is willing to be patient if that takes more time than Americans would like.

"If General Petraeus and others feel that they need to keep troops there longer, or need even more troops, we need to make sure that our generals and our military men and women have that flexibility," he said. "It shouldn't matter how long it takes. If it takes six months, which is probably unrealistic, then that should be appropriate. If it takes a year, that should be appropriate. If it takes ten years."

Marina Ottaway disagrees.

"It would be important for the United States to leave as stable an Iraq as possible behind," said Ottaway. "But if the present policy is not leading to stability, staying longer is not going to change the situation."

The retired general, Robert Gard, who served in the Korea and Vietnam Wars, has a similar view. But he disagrees with some activists who have questioned General Petraeus' honesty as he presented his progress report.

"Quite naturally, one tends to look at the positive aspects of events, in order to encourage himself as well as his troops," said Gard. "I do not accuse Petraeus of any dishonesty. He's a human being, and he's a military human being that wants to accomplish the mission."

President Bush is expected to endorse the recommendations by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker in a speech to the nation later this week. After that, the debate over his policy will go on.

But analysts say the Congress, even though it is controlled by the Democratic Party, will not be able to do anything to change the policy. So after all the anticipation connected to these reports, little change is expected to U.S. policy, and a new round of anticipation can begin, leading up to the next set of reports in March.

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