Lawmakers Respond to Iraq Progress Report

Initial response to testimony on Iraq from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker is split along party lines. Republicans see hope in Petraeus' remarks on progress; Democrats find fault with talk of a "token" withdrawal of troops.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are back on Capitol Hill today to face Senate committees. The nation's top military commander in Iraq and its top diplomat there spent much of yesterday giving assessments to the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Ambassador Crocker sought more time for Iraqi authorities struggling with unmet political benchmarks. General Petraeus said the troop buildup in Iraq has brought down violence there. He added, if progress continues, U.S. troop levels in Iraq will fall back close to pre-surge numbers by next July.

NPR's David Welna reports on lawmakers' reactions to the Iraq updates.

DAVID WELNA: The Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, urged his colleagues to withhold judgment until they heard from General Petraeus. McConnell did not take his own advice. Instead, he went to the Senate floor before the general spoke to give his own take on the troop buildup that Petraeus devised and carried out.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): The early successes of the Petraeus plan gives America hope that we can bring about ample stability in Iraq and it also gives us real hope that we can start to bring our troops back, not in retreat, but with full honor and full pride.

WELNA: And as it turned out, Petraeus did not disappoint McConnell's anticipation.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (U.S. Army): I have recommended a drawdown of the surge forces from Iraq.

WELNA: Petraeus said he had informed the Pentagon that a Marine expeditionary unit associated with the troop surge would not be replaced when its members leave Iraq later this month. And he said one of the five combat brigades in that surge would not be replaced when its rotation is up in December. The rest of the 30,000 forces involved in the surge would be out of Iraq by next July, he said, if the progress they've made continues.

South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who strongly backed the troop surge, said he had a lot of confidence in Petraeus's judgment.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): Military redeployment based on military success is a great event. It's something we should celebrate. It's a statement to the troops, you've accomplished your mission, you're able to come home. To the Iraqi police and army left behind it's a confident statement in your abilities. Doing it with military - based on military commanders' advice is different than a politician's picking an arbitrary number and arbitrary date; that sends the wrong message. So I hope he's right. I hope we can do that.

WELNA: Democrats, though, were far more skeptical of what one called a token withdrawal. Here's California Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): I think the good news is that they recognized that they've got to begin to downsize. Now whether that downsizing is a redeployment or just simply an avoidance of the present situation for them, which is a mounting American opposition to the war, I don't know.

WELNA: And Massachusetts Senator John Kerry chided Petraeus for yesterday dismissing as premature calls from an independent military commission for an immediate transition in the role of U.S. forces in Iraq, one that would move them from primarily protecting the population in Iraq to instead protecting its borders and infrastructure.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts): You have to change the mission. I mean, I think they're planning on the same sort of type of mission, same process, which in my judgment delays the process of reconciliation and delays the assumption of responsibility. So you know, I think a year from now is not precipitous to expect that you could ever changed mission.

WELNA: Other Democrats point out that while the whole point of the troop buildup was to allow a political reconciliation to take place, it's something that despite the claims of military progress is yet to happen.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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