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War on the home front

"War on the home front" Continued...

Issue: "He's in," Sept. 22, 2007

The question now is how quickly Anbar's success can spread to Iraq's other provinces. Crocker said other provinces, such as Diyala and Ninevah, are seeing more political progress on the local, if not national level. Leaders are trying to work out their provincial budgets and rebuild their cities. "No longer is an all-powerful Baghdad seen as the panacea to Iraq's problems," Crocker noted. On the national front, despite an absence of oil-revenue sharing laws, Baghdad is still distributing oil wealth among Iraq's provinces. Iraq is exporting oil through Turkey for the first time in years, and the government was able to sell its cell-phone frequencies for a handy $3.75 billion.

Foreign Relations Chairman Joe Biden (D-Del.) was skeptical: "If we killed or captured every jihadist in Iraq tomorrow, we would still face a major sectarian war that is putting Iraq's future and American lives in jeopardy," he said in his opening statement. Biden once authored a paper calling for just the sort of localized approach that appears to be having success in Iraq, but in the televised hearings the presidential candidate began by calling for an immediate troop withdrawal.

With Bush set to approve Petraeus' request for limited troop withdrawal and to endorse his general's report in a Sept. 13 address to the nation, Petraeus declined to project a further drawdown in Iraq beyond next July. To do so, he said, could be "rushing to failure." That is crucial now that Iran is exerting more influence through Shia militias, responsible for political assassinations and especially deadly explosive devices.

Whatever their complaints, Democrats know that Petraeus has salvaged the Bush administration's case in Iraq for perhaps another year. Despite the persistence of lawmakers who will be running for office at that time, Petraeus admitted, "Our experience in Iraq has repeatedly shown that projecting too far into the future is not just difficult, it can be misleading and even hazardous." In 2004 he wrote an optimistic column about how quickly Iraqi security forces could function. That attitude prompted Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to order the general at the hearing to "take off your rosy glasses." But as Petraeus, his Washington grilling over, returns to Baghdad, he is perhaps more aware than most of the reality: "This is going on three years for me, on top of a year deployment to Bosnia, as well, so my family also knows something about sacrifice."

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