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In a sign of the potential fireworks to come next week when Bush administration officials unveil their plans for the next steps in Iraq, two Senate committee chairmen said they believe the so-called surge of U.S. combat forces has failed.
And they acknowledge that there isn't much they can do about it.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, said he expects U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and Army Gen. David Petraeus, senior U.S. military commander in Iraq, to recommend maintaining current troop levels in Iraq instead of pushing ahead with a planned reduction this summer.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates had talked about a brief pause in troop reductions, but Levin said he expects Crocker and Petraeus to recommend maintaining an open-ended commitment.
Levin and Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, said they disagree that current troops levels should be maintained. But their hands are tied because they cannot muster the 60 votes needed in the Senate to block the certain filibuster that Republicans would launch to prevent any efforts to reduce U.S. troop levels further.
The most votes they can get seems to be about 53, Levin said.
Crocker and Petraeus will testify several times next week, beginning with an appearance Tuesday morning before Levin's committee where two of the three major presidential candidates — Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and John McCain, R-Ariz. — are expected to appear.
The third major candidate in the presidential race, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will hear from Crocker and Petraeus Tuesday afternoon.
Biden said the surge of troops ordered last year as a move toward providing stability in Iraq has been a failure because the Iraqi government did not use the opportunity to resolve issues that were causing sectarian divisions.
"It is a little like ‘Groundhog Day,' " Biden said, referring to the 1993 movie in which the same day repeats itself again and again. "We are right back where we started."
Biden said the surge was sold to Congress as a way to "bring violence down so there was breathing room for warning factions to come together." But, he added, the Iraqis didn't seem to get that message.
The U.S. military "did its job, but the Iraqis have not come together," he said, describing the violence in Iraq as returning to 2005 levels.