Some of President Bush's Republican allies on Capitol Hill are warning of a credibility gap between Mr. Bush's more optimistic statements concerning Iraq and what is actually taking place in the country.
At a recent campaign stop in Minnesota, President Bush said Iraq is on a path to a democratic future in which people control their destinies and do not succumb to radical ideologies.
"Iraq now has a strong prime minister, a national council, and national elections are scheduled for January. The world is becoming more free. Parts of the world where people never dreamed there would be liberty are becoming more free," he said.
Yet Iraq just suffered its bloodiest week in months, with dozens of attacks by militants that left scores of people dead, many more wounded, and key infrastructure components in ruins. U.S. commanders in Iraq admit that several cities in central Iraq have become lawless zones controlled by militants. In addition, reports have surfaced of US intelligence assessments that predict a future of conflict and possibly even civil war in Iraq.
Now some of Mr. Bush's own Republican backers in Congress are casting doubt on the president's assessments regarding Iraq. Appearing on the CBS television program Face the Nation Sunday, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel was asked if he thought the United States is winning the battle to bring a peaceful democratic future to Iraq. Mr. Hegel, who sits on both the Senate Foreign Relations and Select Intelligence committees, was blunt in his response.
"No, I do not think we are winning. To say that we just must stay the course and any of you who are questioning [U.S. efforts in Iraq] are just hand-wringers [excessive worriers] is not very responsible. The fact is, we are in deep trouble in Iraq," he said.
Meanwhile, on FOX News Sunday, Arizona Senator John McCain was asked if he thought President Bush was being "straight" - or honest - with the American people concerning the difficulties and challenges in Iraq. "Perhaps not as straight as we would like to see, although I have been with him [President Bush] when he has told audiences that this is a very tough struggle that we are in," he said.
Even while criticizing the Bush administration's handling of Iraq, both Senator Hagel and Senator McCain say they remain firm supporters of the president's decision to oust Saddam Hussein from power and to attempt to forge a new democracy in the Middle East.
Another Arizona Republican, Senator John Kyl, said violence is to be expected in Iraq and must not deter the United States in its goals for the country. "War is tough, and there are casualties. And just before victory it gets most violent," he said.
But Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware warned of grave consequences if the Bush administration downplays the gravity of the situation in Iraq. Mr. Biden spoke on ABC's This Week program. "We have to get real [be honest] with the American people here. If we level with them [tell the unfettered truth], they will stay with us and help us change the course [of US policy] to win. If we do not level with them they are going to say, 'Enough! Enough!' And that would be a disaster for America, a disaster for the region," he said.
For his part, Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi disputed any notion that his country is spiraling out of control. Mr. Allawi spoke on FOX News Sunday during a visit to Britain. "Foreign terrorists are still pouring in and trying to inflict damage on Iraq, to undermine Iraq and the democratic process. Indeed, this is their last stand, so they are waging a severe fight in Iraq. We are winning. We will continue to win," he said.
Mr. Allawi repeated his intention to hold elections as scheduled in January.
An Internet Web site is showing a video stream of three men being decapitated. A statement by a terrorist group appearing on the Web site claims to have executed three Kurds who were abducted in northern Iraq and accused of cooperating with U.S. forces.
Meanwhile, Islamist extremists are threatening to kill two American and one British hostage if Iraqi women in detention are not released.