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Petraeus Divides House

Top U.S. military and civilian officials appeared before House lawmakers Monday to present a much-anticipated status report on the Iraq War, but they failed to sway Members, leaving Democrats and Republicans divided over the direction of the war following more than six hours of testimony.

Democratic lawmakers largely dismissed statements from U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus, who appeared before a joint meeting of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees alongside U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and testified about the success of the military build-up initiated earlier this year. “The objectives of the surge are in large part being met,” Petraeus said.

Lawmakers also were skeptical of the general’s assertion that the military in Iraq could be returned to its pre-“surge” levels by summer 2008.

“The free ride is over, and American troops will not be party to [Iraq’s] civil war. The situation in Iraq cries out for a dramatic change in course. We need to get out of Iraq for that country’s sake, and for our own,” Foreign Affairs Chairman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) said at the hearing’s outset.

Although House aides said on Monday that leadership will spend several days reviewing Petraeus and Crocker’s testimonies before offering specific legislation on the war — the chamber is expected to vote on a supplemental war spending bill later this month, and Petraeus and Crocker are scheduled to appear before the Senate today — Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) condemned the general’s statements.

“The President’s strategy in Iraq has failed,” Pelosi said in a statement. “It is time to change the mission of our troops to one that will promote regional stability and combat terrorism, so that the numbers of our brave men and women in uniform in Iraq can be reduced on a much more aggressive timetable than the one outlined today by General Petraeus.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) echoed that sentiment and also called for the military to shift its efforts from Iraq to the broader war on terror.

“On the eve of the sixth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, I believe it is clear that in the interest of our national security, we must effect a strategic redeployment of our troops and refocus our efforts on the war on terror,” Hoyer said.

Republican lawmakers, however, praised Petraeus, as well as Crocker, citing the positive reports as evidence that the military should remain in Iraq in the near future.

“I believe he outlined a responsible strategy for defeating al Qaeda, bringing stability and security in Iraq, solidifying the gains our troops have made, and bringing our troops home after victory, not defeat,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

“His testimony also underscored the stark difference between his thoughtful, responsible strategy and the irresponsible aims of some to precipitously withdraw our troops and leave Iraq in chaos,” he added.

Republicans also repeatedly admonished the anti-war group for an advertisement it published in Monday’s New York Times characterizing Petraeus as “General Betray Us,” which Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) called “outrageous” and said “it is deplorable.”

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he hoped a bipartisan proposal would help lay the groundwork for an agreement on a new plan for Iraq, though he also sharply criticized Democratic leaders for pre-judging the report.

“For any Democrats that are actually interested in the facts, I think what’s being said today is of interest,” McConnell said.

Whether House Democrats could successfully win legislation to establish a timetable to end military involvement in Iraq remains in doubt. While the chamber did pass a similar bill earlier this year, President Bush vetoed the measure and an override vote failed.

“Without Republican support for withdrawal of troops, whether we want to or not, we don’t have the majority to … pass a two-thirds vote,” acknowledged Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), who attended Monday’s hearing as a member of the Foreign Affairs panel.

“We have never expected the break to come overnight,” Crowley added, in reference to Democratic assertions that Republicans will begin to split with Bush over the war, and move to support such a measure.

“This is always going to be a work in progress with them,” he added.

John Stanton contributed to this report.

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