Iraq Critics Concede Military Progress

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By TOM RAUM
The Associated Press
Thursday, August 9, 2007; 4:34 PM

WASHINGTON -- Even some critics of President Bush's Iraq war policies are conceding there is evidence of recent improvements from a military standpoint. But Bush supporters and critics alike agree that these have not been matched by any noticeable progress on the political front.

Despite U.S. pressure, Iraq's parliament went on vacation for a month after failing to pass either legislation to share the nation's oil wealth or to reconcile differences among the factions. And nearly all Sunni representatives in the government have quit, undermining the legitimacy of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite.

Still, there have been signs of changes in attitudes, some on the ground in Iraq, some in the United States:

_Two critics of Bush's recent handling of Iraq, Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, both of the Brookings Institution, penned an op-ed opinion piece in The New York Times suggesting after a visit that "we are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms." They recommended Congress sustain the current troop buildup "at least into 2008."

_Leading anti-war Democrat Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania predicted that U.S. commanders will begin drawing down troop levels early next year and that Congress can be more flexible in setting a fixed deadline for ending the U.S. occupation.

_Polls suggest that Bush has had some degree of success in linking Islamic militants in Iraq with the al-Qaida terrorist movement.

"The administration is aggressively engaged in shifting (public) attitudes. And our side has been less aggressive than it needs to be," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. "The administration has been making inroads on their Iraqi argument, particularly linking it to terrorism."

After sliding to just 28 percent in June, within range of an all-time low, Bush's job approval rating on handling Iraq rose slightly to 31 percent in July, according to AP-Ipsos polling. And a recent CBS/NYT poll showed an increase in the percentage of Americans who think the U.S. did the right thing in going to war with Iraq, up to 42 percent from 35 percent in May.

"I don't claim our recommendation to keep surging into 2008 is a no-brainer. That can be debated. But I think people's opinions need to catch up with the battlefield facts," O'Hanlon said in an interview.

The op-ed piece he wrote with Pollack has been widely circulated by war supporters but denounced by many war critics. "As long as people start to get a sense that what's happening on the battlefield is different and better than what it was, then I feel like we've made our contribution," said O'Hanlon.

O'Hanlon and Pollack supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but they have been sharply critical of the administration's handling of the aftermath.

Like the Iraqi parliament, Congress has recessed for the rest of August, to return in September _ when an eagerly awaited progress report on Iraq will be presented by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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