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U.S. general calls al Qaeda ‘public enemy No. 1’ in Iraq

- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq briefed members of Congress yesterday on the war in a session that both Democrats and Republicans say reinforced their views.

Democrats said the private briefing by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus highlighted the growing sectarian violence in Iraq, while Republicans said the general emphasized the progress being made toward stability, advances by the Iraqi security forces and deadly attacks by al Qaeda in Iraq foreigners.

"I think that it's clear to many of us, not necessarily from General Petraeus today, that the spectacular attacks that we've seen are the handiwork of al Qaeda," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. "It's part of their trademark. There is evidence to suggest that they are responsible. And they are the major foe that we face in Iraq today." House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, told reporters that "this briefing reinforced our view that the solution in Iraq is a political solution. It was clear from what everybody said, I think, that in order for there to be a solution in Iraq, it has to be a politically forged solution by the Iraqis themselves." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, did not attend the briefing.

Mr. Hoyer said the speaker normally receives individual briefings.

Mr. Boehner, however, criticized Mrs. Pelosi's absence.

"It is shameful that while our troops wake up every morning and courageously face death in defense of our freedom, the politicians in charge of Congress can't even find the time to meet face to face with their commander," the Republican leader said.

Mr. Boehner noted that Mrs. Pelosi met with President Bashir Assad of Syria, "a state sponsor of terrorism," but "somehow can't find the time to meet with the American general in charge of our troops fighting the global war on terror." Gen. Petraeus briefed the lawmakers hours before the House passed a $124 billion supplemental spending bill for the war that contains a provision requiring a pullout of U.S. troops beginning in October. President Bush has threatened to veto the bill.

The commander reported to House and later Senate members on the progress of the 21,500-troop surge in Iraq, which officials say is producing positive results in some areas, despite a series of deadly suicide car bombs over the past several days, said U.S. officials familiar with the briefing.

He also discussed the continuing problem of Iranian support for Iraqi insurgents, including the provision of armored-piercing explosives. He disclosed that Iran is supporting both Shi'ite and Sunni insurgents as part of an effort to foment unrest and to undermine the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

"Certainly, their supplies of munitions and training are helping to stir up that sectarian violence and to fuel it," Mr. Boehner said of the Iranian support.

One senator expressed doubt that yesterday's briefing would change any minds on Capitol Hill.

"What [General Petraeus] is talking about is what he's doing on the ground," Sen. Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican who visited Iraq last weekend, told Reuters news agency. "What Congress is doing is politics. He is not going to change that." Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, said Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the lawmakers that the military opposes a Democrat-added provision of the bill that would require a 15-day waiting period before an American fighting unit can be introduced into Iraq.

"What that means is if you have hostages in Iraq in a location and you want to move a Delta Force in to save them, you have an absolute 15-day waiting period, should this become law, before that unit can move in," Mr. Hunter said.

Mr. Hunter also called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, to resign because of his comments that the war in Iraq is lost.