Biden Faults Petraeus' Assessment

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By HOPE YEN
The Associated Press
Sunday, September 9, 2007; 3:26 PM

WASHINGTON -- President Bush's war strategy is failing and the top military commander in Iraq is "dead flat wrong" for warning against major changes, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Sunday.

Ahead of two days of crucial testimony by Bush's leading military and political advisers on Iraq, Sen. Joseph Biden indicated that he and other Democrats would persist in efforts to set target dates for bringing troops home.

"The reality is that, although there has been some mild progress on the security front, there is, in fact, no real security in Baghdad or Anbar province, where I was dealing with the most serious problem, sectarian violence," said Biden, a 2008 presidential candidate who recently returned from Iraq.

Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker were scheduled to testify before four congressional committees, including Biden's, on Monday and Tuesday. Lawmakers will hear how the commander and the diplomat assess progress in Iraq and offer recommendations about the course of war strategy.

Officials familiar with their thinking told The Associated Press over the weekend that the advisers would urge Congress not to make significant changes. Their report will note that while national political progress has been disappointing, security gains in local areas have shown promise, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal deliberations.

Petraeus and Crocker will say the buildup of 30,000 troops, which bring the current U.S. total to nearly 170,000, is working better than any previous effort to quell the insurgency and restore stability. The officials also disputed suggestions that Petraeus and Crocker would recommend anything more than a symbolic reduction in troop levels and then only in the spring.

The testimony sets the stage for an announcement by Bush later in the week about how he will proceed in the face of widespread public unhappiness and growing congressional discomfort with the war.

Biden, signaling that tough questioning awaits the pair from majority Democrats and moderate Republicans, said Petraeus' assessment missed the point. Biden, D-Del., said focusing on a political solution, such as by creating more local control, was the only way to foster national reconciliation among warring factions.

"I really respect him, and I think he's dead flat wrong," Biden said.

Biden contended that Bush's main strategy was to buy time and extend the troop presence in Iraq long enough to push the burden onto the next president, who takes office in January 2009, to fix the sectarian strife.

"This president has no plan _ how to win and/or how to leave," Biden said.

Stressing that a political solution was the key, he said, "I will insist on a firm beginning to withdraw the troops and I will insist on a target date to get American combat forces out," except for those necessary to protect U.S. civilians and fight al-Qaida.


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© 2007 The Associated Press

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