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Iraq Debate Steps Up In Washington

U.S. military officials say progress is being made in Iraq, months after an influx of additional American troops. But prominent Democrats in Congress say the military gains are not enough, and the Iraqi government must do more on the political front. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports.

With Congress deliberating war funding, the debate over the situation in Iraq is heating up again.

The Bush administration says the troop surge ordered by the president earlier this year has resulted in a drop in the level of violence.

The U.S. second-in-command in Iraq says there has been steady progress, and things seem to be moving in the right direction.

General Ray Odierno says both U.S. and Iraqi civilian casualties are down. He also says there has been a 25 to 30-percent decline on foreign fighters entering Iraq, and notes Syria is taking steps along its Iraqi border.

He spoke on CNN's Late Edition program.

"The additional forces we have [in Iraq] have been able to eliminate safe havens and sanctuaries there were," said General Odierno. "We continue to see increased capacity in the Iraqi security forces. But probably most importantly, we are seeing the Iraqi people reject terrorism within Iraq."

The troop surge was ordered by President Bush in an effort to create a security environment in which the Iraqi government could move forward with political reconciliation.

General Odierno was asked if Iraq's leaders are taking the necessary steps.

"They probably are not doing it as quickly as we would like," he said. "But they are starting to take steps. Some of these problems are long-term problems that have gone on for decades in Iraq and it is going to take some time to solve them."

But some members of the U.S. Congress wonder if the current Iraqi government can bring the country together.

Senator Carl Levin - a Democrat from the state of Michigan - is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He also appeared on CNN's Late Edition.

"There is growing, I would say, frustration with the national political leaders in their failure to carry out commitments they made to themselves and us a year ago," said Senator Levin.

Levin said Congress will provide funding for U.S. troops in Iraq, but added lawmakers will continue to press the Bush administration to pressure Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to settle these political differences.

Members of Levin's committee have been traveling to Iraq in recent days for a first hand look at the situation. Virginia Democrat James Webb told NBC's Meet the Press that military progress is not enough. He said the Bush administration has not matched the high performance of American troops with a robust regional diplomacy.

"That is the only way we are going to be able to take advantage of the quality of the work our military people have done and we are still waiting," said Senator Webb.

Webb has a son who is serving with U.S. forces in al-Anbar province. He said there has been political reconciliation in that part of the country, but stressed it began before the influx of extra American troops.