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Tension over the question of whether the Obama administration intends to authorize new U.S. military action in Iraq rippled through the give-and-take barbs traded by senators and the Pentagon’s top officials throughout the hearing.

Amid the sometimes contentious discussion, Gen. Dempsey expressed to lawmakers “bitter disappointment that Iraq’s leaders failed to unite for the good of their people.”

Some senators expressed concern that the situation in Iraq could be replicated in Afghanistan after U.S. military forces leave the country.

Mr. Hagel argued against comparing Iraq to Afghanistan: “It is my judgment that the two bear very little comparison,” he said.