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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

U.S. intelligence agencies released a report this week that says the Bush administration's Iraq war strategy has led to, quote, "measurable but uneven improvements in security." But the report offered little hope for an end to sectarian violence there.

That report capped a busy week of debate over the war. Two leading senators came back from visits to Iraq with critical assessments and calls for troop withdrawals.

President Bush countered by citing military gains that have reduced violence in some parts of Iraq and said that withdrawing troops too quickly could lead to the kind of chaos and suffering that afflicted Vietnam after the departure of U.S. troops.

We turn now to retired U.S. Marine Colonel Gary Anderson who joins us from Virginia.

Colonel Anderson, thank you for being back with us.

Colonel GARY ANDERSON (Retired; U.S. Marine Corps): Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: Are you improved - impressed by the improvements and security in Iraq?

Col. ANDERSON: I think they had done a good job of, you know, quieting down a lot of the areas in Baghdad and Central Iraq that they'd targeted. I think the progress in al Anbar with the Sunni tribesmen has been impressive and that the Marine Corps has been at this for a long time. This is not an overnight thing. They've been chipping away at it since the Fallujah battles of '04.

So I think, overall, General Petraeus is on his track to try to make a turnover to the Iraqi security forces on, you know, on a competent and orderly manner.

SIMON: But what would the practical effect, military effect, do you think, of withdrawing 5,000 troops by Christmas as Senator Warner suggested saying that would be a valuable signal to the Iraqi government that they didn't have all the time in the world?

Col. ANDERSON: You know, I think we really have to be careful about the signals that we send from Washington. Let's take a look at what Senator Levin and Senator Warner are jointly proposing. If you take it and look at the aggregate(ph), we're in the process of creating probably the only really competent mechanism in Iraq in the army. And then at the same time, we're undercutting the civilian government that has been elected under our tutelage.

Now, and if we're saying that they are to be replaced - if you're an Iraqi, what is the most - what is the most competent mechanism to replace that civilian government? It sounds to me like the army. I'm not sure we really want to do that. We really have to be careful about the unintended consequences of what we do.

SIMON: Let me ask you a last question. I know you're part of that generation of officers that came into the U.S. Armed Forces after Vietnam. What do you think about that comparison to post-war Vietnam that the president made?

Col. ANDERSON: Well, I think the comparison is a mixed one because between 1968 and 1972...

SIMON: We've only got about 20 seconds left.

Col. ANDERSON: Well, basically, I think if we get out too quickly, you are going to see a collapse of the Iraqi government.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Well, Colonel Anderson, thank you very, very much for your time.

Col. ANDERSON: Thank you.

SIMON: Gary Anderson, a retired U.S. Marine colonel who now works for a defense contractor that conducts war games. Thanks so much for being with us, Colonel.

Col. ANDERSON: Thank you, sir.

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