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Democrats ask: Has the surge worked?

Apr. 7, 2008 - 05:18AM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 7, 2008 - 05:18AM  |  
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A key point of contention this week as Congress reviews U.S. policy in Iraq policy will be what constitutes progress in a country still rocked by violence.

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A key point of contention this week as Congress reviews U.S. policy in Iraq policy will be what constitutes progress in a country still rocked by violence.

Ahead of two days of testimony before four congressional committees about the next steps in Iraq, Republicans and Democrats seem to disagree on whether the surge of more than 30,000 U.S. combat troops that began a year ago and is now winding down has had any lasting impact on the future of the turbulent country.

"Where are we after the surge? Back to where we were before it started, with 140,000 troops in Iraq and no end in sight," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman.

Biden and other Democrats said the purpose of the surge was to give the Iraqi government breathing room to make progress on political reconciliation, halt sectarian violence and train its own security forces.

"The best that can be said is we've gone from drowning in Iraq to treading water," Biden said Saturday. "That's better, but we can't keep doing it without exhausting ourselves. Every extra day we stay in Iraq with 140,000 troops, that is exactly what we're doing. And the price we're paying keeps getting steeper."

Some Republicans, however, argue that significant progress has been made. A fact sheet circulated Monday by House Republicans said the Iraqi government "recently passed key pieces of legislation that are integral for political reconciliation, including a provincial powers law that sets the stage for fall elections."

"Iraqi leaders are slowly learning to govern," says the Republican memo, which cites as its source the Pentagon's March status report to Congress on stability and security in Iraq.

Iraq's central government approved a pension plan in December for former government workers, passed a justice law in January that allows some former Ba'ath party members to return to government service, and approved an amnesty law in February encouraging reconciliation among sectarian groups. It also approved a $50 billion budget that includes $8.9 billion for security and $13.2 billion for capital investment.

Democrats such as Michigan Sen. Carl Levin, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, are unimpressed. Levin said Friday that Iraq has oil profits of $30 billion or more in U.S. banks, drawing interest every day, while U.S. taxpayers are paying "outrageous" prices for gasoline and also paying not just for Iraq reconstruction for also for training the Iraqi military.

"I want the details," Levin said. "I'm going to be pressing the ambassador about the funding issues."

Violence over the weekend, including mortar attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad that left three American troops dead and others injured, also will factor into the discussion about whether the so-called surge of combat troops has made Iraq any safer.

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