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US Domestic Debate Over Iraq Expected To Sharpen


The domestic political battle lines over the war in Iraq could harden in the months ahead in the wake of President Bush's speech outlining U.S. strategy well into next year. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

For the president, improved security in Iraq means the U.S. military surge is giving Iraqis the time they need to overcome their political differences. "It is never too late to advance freedom. It is never too late to support our troops in a fight they can win," he said.

But Democrats argue that it is the absence of progress on the political front that eventually will doom the U.S. mission in Iraq.

Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island gave the official Democratic response to the president's nationwide speech on Iraq Thursday night. "An endless and unlimited military presence in Iraq is not an option," he said.

Public reaction to the Bush speech was mixed. There was support from this woman from Georgia, whose son is fighting in Iraq. "If they were doing what the Democrats were saying, pull them all out, all my son's buddies would have died in vain," she said.

But this man in Chicago remains unconvinced. "I have two sons over in Iraq right now. So, I disagree with the president. I think he should bring all of them home," he said.

In the short term, the improving security situation in parts of Iraq makes it much more difficult for Democrats to press their case for a troop withdrawal timetable and gives the president more time to press the Iraqis on political reconciliation.

"I suspect that not a single member of Congress was persuaded to change his or her views. Clearly, the odds are very long against the administration, now seemingly left to at most, I think as we saw in the president's speech, attempt to buy time, which they probably have," said Jim Warren, managing editor of the Chicago Tribune newspaper and a guest on VOA's Issues in the News program.

In the longer term, though, even some Republicans question how long the U.S. can keep a large number of troops in Iraq without visible signs of progress on the Iraqi political front.

Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana expressed this concern to General David Petraeus during his appearance before Congress. "In my judgment, 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," he said.

The president may have bought some time politically to fend off Democratic calls for withdrawal from Iraq. But turning around U.S. public opinion would appear to be a much tougher challenge.

Recent polls continue to show most Americans oppose the war in Iraq and favor some sort of a timetable for pulling out U.S. troops.

Ohio State University Professor John Mueller, an expert on war and public opinion, expects little change in the public's attitude on Iraq in the foreseeable future. "You do get some people who move back and forth as news goes up and down, and that has happened in the course of this conflict. But what has happened is that after a few weeks, or even, in some cases, days, that blip goes away."

Iraq is shaping up as a defining issue in the 2008 presidential campaign. Most of the Republican contenders for now support the president's approach on Iraq, while all of the Democratic candidates advocate a change in strategy and various forms of troop withdrawals.

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