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Associated Press
Gen. David Petraeus, accompanied by Ambassador Ryan Crocker, testifies Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senators grill Petraeus

Bayh, Lugar press commander of U.S. forces, question Bush strategy in Iraq

WASHINGTON - Although they are from different political parties, Indiana's senators conveyed their dismay Tuesday about the Bush administration's approach in Iraq, with both suggesting that there's no clear strategy.

The U.S. military has done all it can in Iraq, the government in Baghdad is corrupt and divided, and the Bush administration hasn't produced a road map for what to do next, said Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., derided Bush's apparent end-point game plan as: “We'll know when we get there, and we don't know when we're going to get there.”

Lugar and Bayh, who both voted to support the invasion of Iraq five years ago, have become increasingly critical of how the war and its aftermath are being waged.

Lugar has urged a diplomatic surge in addition to the military surge, and last June, he said it was time to start a troop withdrawal because the war was doing more harm than good and could irreparably harm U.S. relations with countries all over the world.

At separate hearings Tuesday - Lugar is the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Bayh is a junior member of the Armed Services Committee - the Hoosiers questioned the top U.S. military and diplomatic officers in Iraq.

Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker spent all day on Capitol Hill, testifying and responding to questions from the two committees. They will appear before other committees today.

Bayh attempted - without success - to get Petraeus to pinpoint a time frame for troop withdrawal.

Petraeus said it would be “flat not responsible to try to put down a stake in the ground and say this is when it will be” and that the time would be right when “the conditions are met.”

But Bayh said Americans never expected the war to be in a sixth year. He also asked whether the two men could accept that “reasonable people can disagree” about whether troops should be brought home or whether, as Petraeus has recommended, the withdrawal be put on hiatus.

“We fight for the right of people to have other opinions,” Petraeus said.

Lugar told Petraeus and Crocker that “we need a strategy that anticipates a political endgame and employs every plausible means to achieve it.”

He said the surge of additional U.S. fighting troops begun last year has created breathing space for the Iraqi government, but there's not much more American military operations can do.

“Military operations may realize some marginal security gains in some areas,” he said, “but these gains are unlikely to be transformational for the country beyond what has already occurred. Progress moving forward depends largely on political events in Iraq.”

Lugar described the Baghdad government as “afflicted by corruption and (showing) signs of sectarian bias. It still has not secured the confidence of most Iraqis or demonstrated much competence in performing basic government functions, including managing Iraq's oil wealth, overseeing reconstruction programs, delivering government assistance to the provinces, or creating jobs.”

Lugar said Iraq has “severely strained the U.S. military,” which means future deployments will be limited in size and length, no matter who wins the presidential election in November.

Last summer, Lugar called for a diplomatic surge in Iraq, including a Mideast-wide forum, organized by the U.S. and Iraq, that would sponsor regular and consistent talks among all the countries.

He also said that, as part of the long-term strategy for extracting the U.S. military from Iraq, Washington should develop an energy policy that takes the emphasis away from imported oil, thereby undercutting the pillar of Iraqi foreign policy that counts on the oil dependence of the U.S. and other Western countries.