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US Troop Surge in Iraq Completed, Debate Continues

The long-awaited U.S. troop surge in Iraq is now complete, but there is little agreement in Washington as to what, if anything, the additional forces can accomplish in a country that continues to be plagued by violence and civil strife. VOA's Michael Bowman reports.

For months, the Bush administration has said it would be premature to begin to draw conclusions about the military buildup until all additional troops are in Iraq. But now the surge, which began months ago, is complete.

The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, General David Petraeus, spoke of the additional capabilities at his disposal on the Fox News Sunday television program.

"We just recently got the fifth and final Army surge brigade, the Marine Expeditionary Unit, and our Combat Aviation Brigade, which add considerable combat power," said General Patraeus. "And they are enabling us to launch operations into areas in which we have had very little coalition presence, other than raids, in recent years."

The general said the surge has not brought about a reduction in the total level of violence in Iraq, but he insisted some hopeful signs have emerged, such as a reduction in sectarian slayings, and said he hopes to see more signs of progress in coming months.

But many Democrats in the opposition-controlled U.S. Congress have dismissed the troop surge as the latest chapter in an ongoing fiasco in Iraq. Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware spoke on ABC's This Week program.

"The fact of the matter is [that] this policy, the president's policy, is an abject failure," said Senator Biden. "It continues to be a failure. There continues to be denial about the progress that is not being made."

Biden, who is a candidate for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination next year, has called for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, but recently voted in favor of a war spending bill to fund operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Public-opinion polls show ever-growing numbers of Americans pessimistic about U.S. efforts in Iraq, with support for the war falling to the 30 percent range.

But Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says, despite American dissatisfaction with the course of events in Iraq, there are still goals worth pursuing in the country and the broader Middle East.

"It is in our best interest to make sure that there is not an all-out civil war in Iraq and it does not become a regional war," said Senator Graham. "It is in our best interest for moderates to rein in Iraq, not al-Qaida. It is in our best interest not to have a bloodbath in Baghdad. It is in our interest for moderation to win over extremism in Lebanon, in Palestine and in Iraq."

Whether the U.S. troop surge succeeds will make little difference unless Iraqi leaders make progress on thorny political issues such as oil revenue sharing among the country's major sects, according to Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan.

"There is still political paralysis in that government," said Carl Levin. "And unless there is a political solution, unless these factions come together in Iraq, there is not going to be any hope of a successful outcome here. Really what is required here is for the President of the United States to tell the Iraqi leaders that we are going to begin to reduce our troops. The message to them [is] that the responsibility for their own country is in their hands not ours."

Levin spoke on the CBS program Face the Nation.

The Bush administration says the surge will be evaluated in September and should not be prejudged before hand. The Senate's top Republican, Mitch McConnell, says he expects U.S. engagement in Iraq will shift after September, with fewer American troops likely and an even greater need for Iraqis to assume responsibility for their nation's security.