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Iraqis Returning Home as Violence Declines

Thousands of Iraqis who fled the fighting in their country are now returning home as the violence declines. The Bush administration sees this as proof that the U.S.-led troop surge is working. But a top U.S. official says Iraqi leaders must take advantage of the improved security to speed up political reconciliation or risk another eruption of sectarian violence. VOA's Mil Arcega explains.

The Iraqi humanitarian organization, the Red Crescent Society, estimates that more than 25,000 Iraqis who fled to Syria have returned -- many lured back by reports of declining violence and promises of about $750 to rebuild their lives.

One refugee, Sami Abu Muhand, expressed hope about the future saying, "We heard that the security situation has improved, so we have returned home. The government provided us with a force to guard us from the Iraqi border to Baghdad."

More than 150,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq. And Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte says they have delivered "significant results". He warns that Iraqi leaders must take advantage of that. "And now progress on political reconciliation, including key national legislation as well as economic advances, is needed to consolidate the gains made thus far. If progress is not made on these fronts we risk falling back into the more violent patterns of the past," he said.

More than 3,800 Americans have died in Iraq since the war started in 2003. Earlier this week President Bush criticized Congress for failing to pass a multi-billion dollar military spending bill without tying it to a troop withdrawal in Iraq. "We've got people risking their lives for the United States of America and this Congress has yet to fund them. And it needs to. And it needs to fund them without telling our military how to conduct this war," he said.

Democratic Party Congressman John Murtha, a decorated veteran and a harsh critic of the war, admits the surge is working but says it is only one element of a costly war that continues to take money away from important domestic programs such as health insurance for poor kids. "I keep stressing, look, we can no longer afford to spend $14 billion a month on this war and let our readiness slip through the rest of the country."

A recent economic report estimates the total cost of the war in Iraq will cost American taxpayers more than $2 trillion.