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US Officials Concerned About Lack of Political Progress in Iraq

Senior Bush administration officials say the surge of U.S. troops in Iraq is showing some military success. At the same time, they say they are concerned with the slow pace of movement toward national political reconciliation. VOA's Stephanie Ho reports from Washington.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he is pleased with the military side of the U.S. operation in Iraq.

"Yes, I think that the effort under way to dampen the violence, particularly that caused by the Baathists and by al-Qaida, is working as well as we would have hoped, both in Anbar province and in belts (areas) around Baghdad," he said.

Speaking on CNN's Late Edition, Gates said U.S. commanders now have enough troops to hit enemy forces and continue going after them if they try to escape to other parts of Iraq. At the same time, Gates said he is disappointed with a lack of harmony in Iraqi politics, specifically noting a recent decision by the largest Sunni parliamentary bloc to leave the government.

He appeared in a separate interview on the NBC television program Meet the Press.

"At some point, there has to be reconciliation at the national level. I think we perhaps all underestimated the depth of the misunderstanding and mistrust among these sections, among these factions in Baghdad, over time," Gates said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News Sunday the U.S. government knows the Iraqi leadership has been working hard to, "forge consensus" over issues like dividing the country's oil resources, de-Baathification and reforming the Iraqi constitution.

"We've been very clear that we don't think that they have achieved enough and that they need to work harder," she said.

Democratic lawmakers also had sharp criticism for what they see as a lack of Iraqi political progress. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, repeated calls for a drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq. He appeared on CNN's Late Edition.

"How do you produce political progress? There are only two ways. Force the Iraqis to take responsibility for their own country by telling them we're going to begin to reduce our presence, as a way of focusing their mind, or a change in the Iraqi government, to get a less sectarian government, one that can make political progress," he said.

The White House has urged patience, pointing out that General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker are due to present a widely anticipated situation report next month.