Leading lawmaker dismisses US scholars' upbeat report on Iraq

WASHINGTON - A top Democratic lawmaker Tuesday dismissed the findings of two longtime Iraq war critics, who cited a dramatic improvement in the situation there following the infusion of thousands of additional US troops.

"I dismiss it at as rhetoric," said US Representative John Murtha, a former marine, congressional heavyweight on military matters, and outspoken Iraq War critic.

"I don't know where they were staying. I don't know what they saw. But I know this: that it's not getting better," Murtha said on CNN television.

"It's over-optimist. It's an illusion," the Pennsylvania lawmaker continued.

Independent Brookings Institution analysts Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, who often have criticized US Iraq policy, on Monday said they noted a marked improvement on their last visit earlier this month to the war-torn country.

Pollack and O'Hanlon returned from eight days of meetings with US generals, diplomats and Iraqis saying they were more hopeful than they had expected.

"We saw considerably greater progress on the security side than I would have expected," Pollack said at a press conference Monday, adding that economic and political strides were evident at local levels.

The two scholars warned however that on the national level, the Iraqi government was making "zero" progress.

Their analysis came around seven weeks before a crucial report is due to be delivered on the surge by US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, which is being seen as a crucial moment for US policy in Iraq.

In an interview with ABC television Monday, Petraeus indicated that US troops were expected to remain in Iraq until mid-2009 in an effort to allow for stable conditions to take hold on the ground.

Meanwhile, the Democratic-led House of Representatives was due this week to hold more symbolic votes on bringing US troops home -- the latest in a string of unsuccessful attempts to dictate President George W. Bush's war strategy.

One of the measures, to be proposed Tuesday by Murtha as an amendment to be inserted into a defense spending bill, calls for US troops to start leaving Iraq within 60 days of enactment, with pullout being completed within a year.

"What we're trying to do is make sure the administration knows we're serious," Murtha told CNN.

"They've always disagreed with the deadline in the end, but the troops have to start coming home."

07/31/2007 16:26 GMT

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