What's the Next Step in Iraq?

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The testimony of Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker before Congress this week, along with President Bush's comments on Iraq, leave far more questions than answers, says Daniel Schorr.


President Bush announced this morning that he is ordering shorter tours of duty for U.S. servicemen and women in Iraq, but he also made clear that the ongoing reduction of troops will halt in July while the U.S. evaluates how it's affecting security.

And later today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that he has given up his hope that troop levels could fall as low as 100,000 by the end of the year.

NPR's senior news analyst Daniel Schorr has been keeping tabs on this week's news about the American presence in Iraq.

DANIEL SCHORR: After the surge, comes the pause, which President Bush declines to call a pause. We have just been a witness through an elaborate piece of theater designed to ease our way into the next stage of the five-year-old war in Iraq. No more benchmarks, no more timelines for withdrawal of troops, and as President Bush announced today, no more tours of duty stretched to 15 months.

After July, where the surge reinforcements are supposed to be withdrawn, there will be a pause of indefinite duration for the roughly 140,000 troops remaining.

To brief the news as gently as possible, the top military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and a top diplomat - Ambassador Ryan Crocker, testified before Senate and House committees. Their message? That there has been some progress - thanks to the surge, but that progress is fragile and reversible. How come?

And here was the real message, because the United States is up against not only insurgents, but against Iran, a veritable proxy war. As the administration sees it, the Maliki government is backed by the U.S., and some of the Shiite militias are backed by Iran.

Ambassador Crocker testified that Tehran has links to nearly every Shiite faction in Iraq. He said that Iran was trying to create a proxy force in Iraq, analogous to the Hezbollah in Lebanon, which rivals the national military army.

The administration has said that President Bush will not tie his successor's hand in Iraq. But if he intends to contend with Iran for influence in Iraq, then he can hardly avoid leaving a war of indefinite duration on the next president's desk.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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