Petraeus charged that during recent fighting between Iraqi government troops and Shiite militias in Basra, Iran played a destructive role in funding, training, arming, and directing the so-called special groups. He added that The bulk of the weaponry certainly came from Iran.
Iranian government official Akbar Rafsanjani called the accusation against Iran sheer lies made by Iraqs occupiers to continue Iraqs occupation.
President Bush agreed with Petraeuss accusations in an April 10 speech. Iraq is the convergence point for two of the greatest threats to America in this new century: al-Qaeda and Iran, he said.
Petraeus appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee along with U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. The general said that after the troop reductions there would be a 45-day period of consolidation and evaluation, after which recommendations might be made on troop levels.
In his speech Bush said considering this evaluation period a pause is misleading because no military operations will be on hold. As we speak, he said, U.S. special forces are launching multiple operations every night to capture or kill al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq.
Petraeus called progress in stabilizing Iraq fragile and reversible. Despite a tenuous truce in the port city of Basra, U.S. and Iraqi government forces have kept up an offensive against Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadrs militia in Sadr City. U.S. forces killed 13 suspected members of that group during April 11 battles, according to Reuters.
During his testimony Petraeus said the largest part of surge forces would be withdrawn from Anbar province, once a center of Baathist and al-Qaeda militias. He noted that over the last year the Iraqi military has carried out its own surge with an additional 100,000 troops and police. Iraqi security forces now stand at 540,000. Another 91,000, many from former Sunni-Baathist militias, are part of the Sons of Iraq aiding U.S. and Iraqi troops against al-Qaeda.
Arizona senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, said that under Petraeuss leadership substantial progress had been made, in spite of the Bush administrations previous four years of mismanaging the war. He said the performance of Iraqi troops in Basra demonstrated that were no longer looking down the abyss of defeat.
Democrats played down U.S. military gains and called the Basra offensive incompetent. Massachusetts senator Edward Kennedy noted that 1,000 Iraqi troops either deserted or refused to fight in the operation.
Senator, they are fighting, answered Petraeus, pointing out that Iraqi military casualties have recently been three times that of U.S. troops.
Democrats also argued that the lack of political progress by the Iraqi government overshadowed any military gains. Others argued that the war in Iraq is diverting resources from other fronts in Washingtons global war on terror.
Illinois Senator Barack Obama, the top contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, said the focus on Iraq has left al-Qaeda more secure in Afghanistan. He called for a diplomatic surge that would include discussions with the government of Iran.
Obamas main challenger, New York senator Hillary Clinton, agreed, saying an orderly withdrawal of troops from Iraq is necessary to rebuild the U.S. military and focus on Afghanistan and global terrorist groups.
Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress said that with the high cost of gas and rising levels of unemployment in the United States the Iraqi government must bear more of the cost of the war.
But after Bush urged Congress to quickly approve $108 billion in further war spending April 10, Senate Majority Leader Harold Reid told the press, Well do everything we can to fund the troops.
He added, [T]he president need not lecture us on taking care of the troops
. We are taking care of the troops.
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