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US General: Iraqi Insurgency Maintaining Strength

General John Abizaid testifies on US military strategy in Iraq on Capitol Hill; Donald Rumsfeld is at his left
The commander of U.S. military forces in the Gulf region says the overall strength of Iraq's insurgency is unchanged from six months ago.

Flanked by Secretary Rumsfeld and other top U.S. military officers, General John Abizaid gave a sobering assessment of Iraq's insurgency in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"In terms of foreign fighters, I believe there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago. In terms of the overall strength of the insurgency, I would say it is about the same as it was," he said.

Last month, Vice President Dick Cheney said he believed the insurgency was dying out - or "in the last throes." General Abizaid said it was not his intention to contradict Mr. Cheney, but that he stands by his assessment.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said he is sensitive to concerns about U.S. troop losses in Iraq, which stand at more than 1,700. But he insisted the sacrifices made are not in vain, and that progress is being made in Iraq.

"Any who say that we have lost this war or losing this war are wrong. We are not. The objectives of the overwhelming majority of the Iraqis and the coalition are the same. That is a peaceful and prosperous Iraq with a representative government," he said.

Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy bluntly disagreed.

"We are now in a seemingly intractable quagmire. Our troops are dying, and there really is no end in sight," he said.

Secretary Rumsfeld doggedly disputed the "quagmire" characterization, saying the notion is fundamentally inconsistent with the facts in Iraq. He acknowledged that U.S. objectives for the country are not easily achieved and that much remains to be done. But he noted that dissenters and pessimists have criticized every military engagement in U.S. history, including many, like World War II, that have since been judged great successes.

But Senator Kennedy did not appear impressed with this line of reasoning. He blamed Secretary Rumsfeld for a host of alleged misjudgments, beginning with inadequate U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

"There have been a series of gross errors and mistakes. Those were on your watch. Those were on your watch. Is it not time for you to resign?," he asked

Mr. Rumsfeld appeared to have anticipated the question. "Senator, I have offered my resignation to the president twice. And he has decided that he would prefer not to accept it. And that is his call," he said.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Michigan Senator Carl Levin, said there should be no open-ended U.S. military presence in Iraq. Mr. Levin suggested that Iraq's new leaders be put on notice of an eventual drawing down of American forces in order to propel them to make speedier political progress and more aggressively work to pacify their nation.

Several Republicans countered that the only way to ensure defeat would be to prematurely withdraw U.S. servicemen from Iraq, or to signal to insurgents that a withdrawal was being contemplated.