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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Petraeus, Crocker Expect Tough Crowd in Congress

WASHINGTON -- Democrats and moderate Republicans in Congress have tough questions for a top military commander in Iraq who is warning against major changes to U.S. President George W. Bush's war strategy.

General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker were scheduled to testify Monday in the first of three hearings this week on the future course of the unpopular war. Officials familiar with their thinking said over the weekend that the advisers would acknowledge disappointing progress in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's bid to achieve national reconciliation but would urge Congress to maintain the U.S. troop buildup to preserve local security gains.

On Sunday, Democrats sharply questioned Bush administration assertions that seven months of troop increases might be working, citing continuing violence and Maliki's political woes. They said they would not back off efforts to set target dates for bringing troops home.

"The reality is that, although there has been some mild progress on the security front, there is, in fact, no real security in Baghdad or Anbar province, where I was dealing with the most serious problem, sectarian violence," said Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, a 2008 presidential candidate who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and who just returned from Iraq.

Senator Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican, said he respected Petraeus' judgment but would not blindly follow it.

"We're going to look behind the generalizations that General Petraeus or anybody gives us and probe the very hard facts to see exactly what the situation is," Specter said. "As I've said in the past, unless we see some light at the end of the tunnel here ... I think there's a general sense that there needs to be a new policy."

In their long-awaited report to Congress, Petraeus and Crocker will say the buildup of 30,000 troops, which brings the U.S. total to nearly 170,000, is working better than any previous effort to quell the insurgency and restore stability, said the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal deliberations.

The officials also disputed suggestions that Petraeus and Crocker would recommend anything more than a symbolic reduction in troop levels and then only in the spring.

The testimony sets the stage for an announcement by Bush later in the week about how he will proceed in the face of growing congressional discomfort with the war.

Biden said Petraeus' assessment missed the point and that focusing on a political solution, such as by creating more local control, was the only way to foster national reconciliation among warring factions.