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Among Top Officials, 'Surge' Has Sparked Dissent, Infighting

More critical was the defense secretary's decision to extend deployments in Iraq from 12 months to 15 months. The generals told Gates that the extra brigades flowing to Iraq had stretched the military close to the breaking point. "We ran out of forces, that's what happened," said a senior Army official. To keep the buildup going, and to offer predictability for troops and families, Gates approved the longest overseas combat deployments since World War II.

In doing so, Gates -- who three months earlier said no one thought the surge would last 18 months -- enabled it to last almost that long. Although that was not the stated reason for the deployment extension, in effect the change redefined the buildup into a longer mission than first envisioned. Bush aides and U.S. military planners in Iraq then began assuming that the extra forces would remain at least through April 2008 -- even as Congress was trying to force a timetable for withdrawal.

Lawmakers were not alone. Fallon, who took command of Centcom in March, worried that Iraq was undermining the military's ability to confront other threats, such as Iran. "When he took over, the reality hit him that he had to deal with Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and a whole bunch of other stuff besides Iraq," said a top military officer.

Fallon was also derisive of Iraqi leaders' intentions and competence, and dubious about the surge. "He's been saying from Day One, 'This isn't working,' " said a senior administration official. And Fallon signaled his departure from Bush by ordering subordinates to avoid the term "long war" -- a phrase the president used to describe the fight against terrorism.

To Bush aides, Gates did not seem fully on board with the president's strategy, either. As a member of the congressionally chartered Iraq Study Group before his selection to head the Pentagon, Gates embraced proposals to scale back the U.S. presence in Iraq. Now that he was in the Cabinet, he kept his own counsel.

But he consulted regularly with former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, a noted critic of the Iraq war; told Army audiences privately that a troop decrease was inevitable; and tried to avoid Sunday talk shows during the fight over the war spending bill to preserve relations with lawmakers, according to administration sources. "With Fallon, it's pretty much in your face," said a senior official. "Gates is quieter."

A Pentagon official said Gates is "very concerned about all of our energy" being devoted to Iraq, an "overcommitment that is consuming and distracting us from everything else. On the other hand, he knows there can't be another Saigon. There's this balance."

He was not the only skeptic. More than half a dozen retired four-star generals turned down Hadley in his search for a "war czar" who could knock heads and make sure requests from the field survived the Washington bureaucracy.

At the same time, in late April, Gates visited Petraeus as Congress was about to pass war-funding legislation mandating troop withdrawals, a bill Bush would veto. Under pressure to show results, Gates and Petraeus played for time. A day after Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) declared that "this war is lost," they decided that Petraeus and Crocker would give an update in September.

They hoped that would buy them another five months. What they didn't anticipate was that a simple progress report would become a make-or-break moment.

Increasing Pressure on Maliki

By that point, there was not much political progress to report in Iraq. Bush became aggravated by Maliki's inability to forge agreements to address grievances fueling sectarian strife, such as allowing low-level members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party back into government, passing a law governing oil revenue distribution and setting provincial elections.

Bush had been using his biweekly videoconferences with Maliki to shore up the Iraqi leader, but he also used the calls to make clear that U.S. patience had grown short. He pressed Maliki several times on the oil law in particular, irritated that the Iraqis had told him repeatedly that they had a deal, only to see it unravel.

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