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Top US General Upbeat on Iraq

A gun battle at a Sunni Mosque in Baghdad has left three people dead and several others wounded, while two relatives of a prominent Sunni leader were gunned down in another part of the Iraqi capital. Despite the latest violence in Iraq, America's top military officer gave an upbeat assessment of progress in the country.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace says, while day-to-day violence in Iraq grabs international headlines, a larger picture is emerging that gives hope for the future. The general discussed the Iraqi situation on NBC's Meet the Press program.

"I would not put a great big smiley face on it [the situation is not perfect], but I would say they [trends in Iraq] are going very, very well, whether it be on the political side, where they have had three elections, they have written their own constitution, they are forming their own government," said General Pace. "You look at the military side, where, this time last year, there were just a handful of Iraqi battalions in the field. Now, there are over 100 battalions in the field. No matter where you look at their military, their police, their society, things are much better this year than they were last [year]."

Recent public opinion polls show 60 percent or more of Americans are pessimistic about U.S. efforts in Iraq. General Pace said the news media is not covering Iraq as thoroughly as it once did, and that, as a result, Americans are only hearing about bloodshed and strife.

But an outspoken critic of President Bush, Democratic Congressman John Murtha, says there is no reason to believe the administration, or the nation's top military commanders, when it comes to Iraq.

"This administration, including this president, has mischaracterized this war for the last two years," said Congressman Murtha. "First of all, they said it will take 40,000 [U.S.] troops to settle this thing [control Iraq] right after the invasion. Then they said there is no insurgency - they [insurgents] are 'dead-enders' [people with no future] is what the secretary of defense said. There were no nuclear weapons there. There were no biological weapons there. There was no al-Qaida connection [to Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion]. So, why would I believe the chairman of the joint chiefs when he says things are going well?"

Murtha, a decorated veteran of the Vietnam war, spoke on CBS' Face the Nation program. He said the United States has become embroiled in a civil war in Iraq, depleting manpower and resources from the broader war on terrorism. He said only Iraqis can quell the violence that grips their nation, and that America's military presence is making the situation worse.

That view is not shared by former Iraqi Foreign Minister and current parliament member Adnan Pachachi. Speaking on CNN's Late Edition program, the Sunni politician downplayed the possibility of an all-out civil war in Iraq, which some have feared, following an attack on a Shi'ite holy site that sparked reprisals against Sunni Arabs.

"There are a lot of tensions, but no civil war," said Adnan Pachachi. "It is really the armed militias and certain fanatic groups that are really engaged in most of the acts of violence. The idea that all the Shi'as will fight all the Sunnis in Iraq - this is not a possibility at all."

Pachachi stressed the importance of forming a government of national unity as a first step toward improving Iraq's security situation.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is facing growing pressure to step down and abandon his bid for a new term. The prime minister has been accused of not doing enough to prevent violence in the aftermath of last month's bombing of a Shi'ite shrine. Some critics say his departure could boost prospects for forming a new government.