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Five Years In Iraq

The planning ministry in Baghdad explodes after being hit during the second day of U.S. raids on the Iraqi capital March 20, 2003.
The planning ministry in Baghdad explodes after being hit during the second day of U.S. raids on the Iraqi capital March 20, 2003. (Faleh Kheiber - Reuters)

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One of the more troublesome realities is that Iraqi leaders have been slow to take advantage of the "breathing space" that the troop increase was supposed to create. The administration has often noted that Washington and Baghdad operate on different clocks, with the U.S. timetable for demonstrable progress running far faster than its Iraqi counterpart. In an interview last week, Petraeus, the U.S. military commander, acknowledged that "no one" in the U.S. and Iraqi governments "feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation" or in the provision of basic public services.

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In congressional testimony scheduled for early next month, both Petraeus and Crocker are expected to make the case that enough forward movement has been made to justify continuing the current strategy, and to warn that an abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops could jeopardize the gains of the past year.

But while a strong congressional appearance by the two men last September quieted talk of funding cutoffs and brought a brief rise in public attention, their upcoming testimony appears to have sparked little anticipation.

As the administration struggles to focus on Iraq's future, it is competing with a presidential race locked in debate about how the war began and how to end it, a Democratic Congress determined to fight over every additional dollar, and a weary, distracted public.

Indeed, once a top public concern, Iraq has been muscled aside by the economy and the political campaigns. In a survey released last week by the Pew Research Center, more people knew the names of the head of the Federal Reserve Board and the president of Venezuela than knew the approximate number of U.S. casualties in Iraq.

Some public views about the situation in Iraq have eased over the past year. But others, including baseline judgments about the war itself, have hardly budged. In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, nearly two-thirds said the war was not worth waging. Less than half, 43 percent, think the United States is making significant progress, and majorities continue to judge the war's benefits as not worth its costs.

Polling director Jon Cohen contributed to this report.


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