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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Analysis: A Freeze in the Surge

Council on Foreign Relations

April 8, 2008
Author: Greg Bruno

For years the debate over American involvement in Iraq has centered on how long to stay and at what cost to U.S. forces. But for the top U.S. military official and the chief U.S. diplomat in Baghdad, the answer in April 2008 is no clearer than it was five years ago, when the U.S.-led war effort began. In testimony before the U.S. Congress on April 8, Gen. David H. Petraeus advocated for an open-ended suspension (AP) of troop withdrawals scheduled to begin this summer. The so-called pause, which would be followed by a 45-day period of “consolidation and evaluation” of future troop needs, would leave roughly 140,000 on the ground, more than the 132,000 in Iraq when President Bush announced a “new way forward” in January 2007.

The recommendation for a withdrawal suspension, made during the first of four hearings on Capitol Hill this week, drew heated criticism from Democratic lawmakers and advocates of a quick withdrawal. But more than a debate over troop numbers in Iraq is a larger question of whether or not the mission in Iraq is worth the fight—or if the United States can even win. Both Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker used their initial testimony to paint a mixed picture on prospects of an eventual American victory. They said in spite of the failure of Iraqi forces to subdue militias controlling the city of Basra last week, and despite the fact that security and political progress in Iraq remain fragile, each argued that measurable gains have occurred. Overall violence declined dramatically (PDF) between June 2007 and February 2008, though a surge in internecine Shiite violence in Basra and Baghdad last month did lead to a spike in overall attacks in March 2008.


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