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Skepticism About New U.S. Strategy in Iraq Is Widespread, Say International Journalists

The top U.S. commander in Iraq told both houses of Congress last week that U.S. military objectives in Iraq are largely being met as a result of the troop “surge” since February. General David Petraeus says America can begin pulling back troops to pre-surge levels by the summer of 2008. But he and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker also acknowledge that political progress in Iraq is slow. President Bush indicated that it would be possible to bring home about 5,700 U.S. troops by the end of this year.

Polls show that most Americans are skeptical about whether U.S. strategy is working, and some analysts argue that America’s commitment to Iraq may last a decade or more. Gerard Baker, U.S. editor for The Times of London, says public reaction in Britain to last week’s report from General Petraeus was decidedly “skeptical” as well. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Baker says most Britons have “written off the Iraq war” and think it was “probably a mistake” to invade Iraq in the first place. He notes that the number of British forces has been reduced in the past couple of years. Nonetheless, he says, there is still a “lively debate” on the war in the British media, and opinion about what Washington should do is “wide-ranging.” Mr. Baker observes that some people who believe the invasion should never have been undertaken argue that it is “probably not sensible” to withdraw large numbers of American forces “right away” because the situation might get worse.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says that, while he will not abandon Iraq, Britain’s future there will be decided by developments on the ground. Poland, another staunch ally of the United States in recent years, initially supported the U.S.-led invasion and committed about 2,500 troops to the effort. But now only 900 remain, according to Tomasz Zalewski, correspondent for the Polish Press Agency and for the weekly magazine Polityka. He says many Poles think that America has been hanging on in Iraq “in the hope that something might change dramatically,” and this attitude has negatively affected U.S. popularity and prestige in Poland.

Reaction in the Arab world to the prospect of a gradual U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq as a consequence of the “partially successful” surge strategy has been “complex,” says Nadia Bilbassy, diplomatic correspondent for Al-Arabiya television. She notes that the same day that President Bush cited Anbar province as the best example of U.S. success with Sunni tribal leaders fighting al-Qaida militants in western Iraq, the leading Sunni Arab sheikh who had collaborated with the American military was killed in a brutal suicide attack. Ms. Bilbassy suggests it shows just how “fragile” the situation has become. On the other hand, some people in the Arab world are concerned that, if the Americans withdraw, Iraq’s civil war may intensify and its neighbors may be drawn in. Nadia Bilbassy says the Iranians have already indicated that they would be “willing to fill the gap,” which alarms people in Gulf States. However, others argue that the reason al-Qaida is operating in Iraq is precisely “because of the American presence.”

What is obvious, the journalists suggest, is that there are no “good options” for Iraq, but that determining the “least bad” strategy, even in the near term, is enormously complex.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.