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Experts Debate Iraq Progress Ahead of Bush Speech


Hours before President Bush is set to address the nation on Iraq, a forum of policy experts gathered in Washington to examine the recommendations to Congress made by the top U.S. officials in Iraq, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. The experts debated whether the U.S. troop "surge" is working, and if the president's overall Iraq strategy should be continued, altered or abandoned. VOA's Cindy Saine reports from Washington.

In his televised speech, Mr. Bush is expected to endorse a recommendation by General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, to withdraw 30,000 additional troops sent to Iraq earlier this year in the so-called "surge."

Senate Democratic leaders have rejected General Petraeus' recommendation, saying it is neither a drawdown of troops nor a change in mission, but just "more of the same."

Experts at Thursday's Iraq forum, organized by the Brookings Institution, disagreed on whether the surge and the president's overall Iraq strategy are working. Peter Rodman was a senior adviser in the Defense Department during the early stages of the Iraq war.

Rodman said the surge has had a positive impact on Iraq.

"The surge was intended as a display of American staying power," said Peter Rodman. "And it was intended, and I think it has had that effect to some degree, to reassure Iraqis that we are not heading for the exits. Or that yes, of course, some day we will leave but it will be on our terms, it will be in conditions where we believe the Iraqis are able to carry the ball themselves. That is the president's approach to this."

Rodman said, for better or worse, the next president is going to inherit the situation in Iraq, so that person should be "rooting for the president" and should be careful to leave themselves some options.

Susan Rice, who served as a senior adviser to Democrat John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign, said Iraq has become one of the world's failed states. Rice said she feels the debate about the surge is missing a larger point.

"We have a fundamental disconnect between our military strategy on the one hand, and the realities on the ground in Iraq on the other," said Susan Rice. "There is more than one war happening simultaneously in Iraq. Yes we have an insurgency, we have al-Qaida, and there is a counter-insurgency challenge. But there is also separately and simultaneously a raging sectarian civil war."

Rice said the role of a foreign military power in a civil war is limited, and what has to happen in Iraq is a negotiated political settlement.

Another expert at the forum, Bruce Riedel of Brookings' Saban Center for Middle East Policy, said people in that region are drawing their own conclusions. He said the perception throughout the Middle East is that General Petraeus' report to Congress marks the beginning of the end of U.S. involvement in Iraq.

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