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Congressional Democrats Warn Petraeus, Crocker Not to Minimize Seriousness of Situation in Iraq


Congressional Democrats are warning U.S. Iraq commander General David Petraeus, and the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, not to attempt to minimize the seriousness of the situation in Iraq when they testify to Congress next week. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

A few days before General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker appear before House and Senate committees to deliver their latest update on Iraq, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes clear what she hopes they will not say.

In a news conference together with the chairmen of the House committees on Armed Services and Foreign Affairs, she refers to the recent fighting in Iraq's southern port city of Basra, saying Petraeus and Crocker should not attempt to put a positive spin on events.

"We have to know the real ground truths of what is happening there, not put a shine on events because of a resolution [of the situation in Basra] that looks less violent when it has in fact been dictated by someone [Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada] al-Sadr who can grant or withhold that call for violence or not," said Nancy Pelosi.

Thursday's news conference came in the wake of seemingly critical comments by Ambassador Crocker in a New York Times interview about the Iraqi government's handling of military operations in Basra.

Elaborating during a Baghdad news conference, Crocker indicated again that Iraqi military decisions caught U.S. forces by surprise. But he described Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as having acted decisively, and praised the Iraqi military for its ability to plan, execute and adjust its operation.

Whatever versions that emerge between now and next week, lawmakers are making clear they don't intend to accept a picture that candy coats (minimizes) the military, political or reconciliation situation.

Democratic House foreign affairs chairman Howard Berman says the Iraqi government appears, in his words, to have largely frittered away chances for political reconciliation:

"The purpose of the [U.S. military] surge was to create political space for Iraqis to make meaningful strides toward national reconciliation, but sectarianism sadly remains the dominant force in Iraq and the sacrifices involved in getting us to this point don't seem to have put us much closer to the goal," said Howard Berman.

Democrats will also underscore what they call the heavy strain on U.S. troops from the five-year conflict in Iraq, damage to U.S. capabilities to respond to other challenges, and diverting energy from the fight against al-Qaida and Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

Congressman Berman and House armed services chairman Ike Skelton also expressed new concerns about Iranian involvement in Iraq.

SKELTON: "Iran is the 'bull in the china shop'. In all of this, they seem to have links to all of the Shiite groups, whether they be political or military."

BERMAN: "The most disturbing aspect of the war is the inarguable strengthening of Iran, the most dangerous state in the Middle East."

Neither man provided information about any new details they might have obtained about Iranian actions in Iraq.

However, Berman says Iran's role in the events in Basra is something he and others will explore with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker next week.

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