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Senate Panel Told Iraq Close to Civil War

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Senate Panel Told Iraq Close to Civil War

Senate Panel Told Iraq Close to Civil War

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

We're joined as we are each Friday by NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Hi, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS reporting:

Good day, Madeleine.

BRAND: Let's start with that hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee as we just heard, the two top U.S. generals say Iraq may be headed toward civil war. Is the administration now officially lowering expectations?

WILLIAMS: I think so, Madeleine. You heard a week ago, when Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki was visiting the White House, President Bush say the situation there is terrible, and I think what you're hearing from Peter Pace, who is of course the joint chiefs of staff chairman, and John Abizaid, commander of U.S. military operations to the Middle East, is that they're saying, listen, we're on the verge of that, and you have to now look forward in terms of what's possible.

How do we handle this? It's not about terrorist insurgents coming in, it's about people - Kurds, Shiite, Sunni - fighting each other and putting Americans in the middle of the crossfire.

BRAND: Lawmakers are going home to their districts for the August recess. What are they expecting to hear from constituents on Iraq and on other matters?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think they're expecting to hear a lot of discontent on Iraq. Most Americans, according to polls now, think that Iraq is not going to be a success, and of course you know, Madeleine, that for the longest time people have been unhappy with the conduct of the war by the Bush administration.

So there's criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the war, criticism going all the way back to the lack of weapons of mass destruction, and even as we've gone through elections in Iraq, the writing of a constitution, Americans just have had moments of increased faith but overall think that we're just going in the wrong direction there. So I think they're going to hear lots of complaints about that.

Secondly, they'll hear support for Israel, but at the same time concern that the United States has to do a better job of being a free hand, not necessarily so aligned with Israel, but in position to negotiate a possible settlement, even to help in terms of securing some security for Israel as it faces Hezbollah.

BRAND: And the Iraq War is the main issue in the Connecticut race, and Senator Joe Lieberman there facing a tense primary challenge, that election on Tuesday. Just how much trouble is Lieberman in?

WILLIAMS: Well, according to the polls that we have seen just recently, he's still 13 points behind - and today is Friday? And the election is Tuesday. That's not good news for Joe Lieberman. It does come as something of a surprise. Bill Clinton was in there for him. But you think about the reaction. We were just talking about that hearing that hearing that took place in Washington, and you know, Hillary Clinton, the Senator from New York later came out and called for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to resign and said she had lost confidence in him.

I think what you're seeing is the base of the party and their discontent with that Iraq issue, the issue that politicians are going to be hearing about as they go home for recess, is having impact on the political process, it's threatening Joe Lieberman's future, and I think the Democratic base, the left-wing base of the party is saying it's time to hold people accountable, and where they hold them accountable may be at the polls.

BRAND: Well, if Lieberman does lose the primary on Tuesday, how successful might he be as an independent, which is what he said he might do if he loses the primary?

WILLIAMS: Well, then I think lots of Republicans might vote for him. Of course, you have a Republican candidate who's invested much money there, but I think lots of Republicans would say Joe Lieberman has served well in the Senate. He's been certainly delivering for the constituents in Connecticut, and they don't have the strong grievance over Iraq. So he might actually come back and surprise Ned Lamont in the general election after losing in the Democratic primary. Then the question would be does he remain a Democrat or does he become an independent or Republican as he begins another term in the Senate?

BRAND: NPR senior correspondent Juan Williams. Thank you, Juan.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Madeleine.

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