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The new U.S. spy chief says that so far Iraq's government is living up to its commitment to try to turn around the security situation there. But Mike McConnell added, there's still a long way to go before Iraqi security forces will be able to control the country. McConnell is testifying, along with other U.S. intelligence leaders, before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
NPR's Mary Louise Kelly was there and she has our report.
MARY LOUISE KELLY: Today marks McConnell's first congressional testimony since he was sworn in as director of National Intelligence. Not surprisingly, many of the questions were on Iraq. Republican Lindsey Graham wanted to know are Iraq's leaders cooperating with the new U.S. plan to insert more than 21,000 additional troops. He put the question first to Defense Intelligence Agency Chief Michael Maples, then, to McConnell, a retired vice admiral. Senator Graham.
Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): Are the Iraqis meeting their end of the bargain, more or less?
General MIKE MAPLES (Director, U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency): Yes, sir. They are.
Sen. GRAHAM: Okay. So your comment regarding the Iraqi participation militarily, politically and economically is that they're meeting their end of the bargain?
Gen. MAPLES: At this point, yes, sir.
Sen. GRAHAM: You agree with that, Admiral?
Admiral MIKE MCCONNELL (U.S. Director of National Intelligence): I do, sir. It's early in the stage, but the trends are going in the right direction.
KELLY: But other senators were skeptical. Here's another Republican, John Warner, who opposes the surge plan that President Bush put forward last month.
Senator JOHN WARNER (Republican, Virginia): I hope I'm wrong, that it will succeed. But I do not see evidence, strong evidence, that the Iraqi forces are measuring up in any amount to what the president laid down on January 10th.
KELLY: General Maples responded that there is evidence of progress. He cited the appointment of new Iraqi commander General Abboud Gambar.
Gen. MAPLES: He is taking charge. He has been very, very active, and he apparently is demonstrating a very level approach to his command. That is, he is not showing a sectarian bias in his approach to the command.
KELLY: Maples said the military is still in the early stages of what he called the Baghdad security plan. Adding, we're in transition right now. A few minutes later, Admiral McConnell added his view of Iraq security forces.
Adm. MCCONNELL: The way I would assess it is they're better today than they were a year ago, but they're still not where we need them to be.
KELLY: Senators also grilled the intelligence chiefs on Iran and the role it's playing inside Iraq. Independent Democrat Joe Lieberman wanted to know about Iran's alleged role in training Iraqi militants to use explosive devices. Lieberman asked General Maples: Do you have any evidence that training is happening outside Iraq?
Gen. MAPLES: Yes, sir. We do.
Senator JOE LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): We do. And some of that training is occurring in Iran?
Gen. MAPLES: Yes, sir.
Sen. JOE LIEBERMAN: And am I right to - because I've heard reports that some may be occurring in Lebanon, in Hezbollah training camps.
Gen. MAPLES: We believe Hezbollah is involved in the training as well.
Sen. LIEBERMAN: Yeah.
KELLY: Admiral McConnell added that he believes Iran's top leaders are aware Iranian weapons have been shipped to Iraqi Shiites. We don't have direct evidence, he said, but I would phrase it as probable.
Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.
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