Washington (CNSNews.com) - Ahead of Gen. David Petraeus's progress report to Congress next week, U.S. officials say there have been dramatic improvements over the last eight months as the troop surge took effect.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), speaking at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, said he was among those who backed the troop surge.
"After about three years it dawned on us that we're going nowhere quickly," he said. "It seemed insane to me to keep the same troop levels and expect a better outcome. The change made perfect sense to me -- more troops in the right areas will create a better outcome if you use them differently."
Graham, a member of the reserves, is the only member of Congress to have served in Iraq.
"We've made remarkable progress," added Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane. "Security has dramatically improved. The number of attacks is down, the number of sectarian killings is dramatically down -- actually 75 percent from a year ago; suicide car bombs are down, U.S. casualties are now coming down."
"There is progress being made in all [neighborhoods] despite the challenges being faced in some of them," said Keane. Iraqis "believe things are improving. Many of them have confidence in the Iraqi security forces."
Keane added that the surge has also been an effective measure in the "war on terror."
"Al Qaeda is seriously hurt and remains on the defensive," he said. "They have lost Anbar province, literally kicked out of there by the Sunni people.
Keane called the development "very significant," noting that Sunni opinions are changing.
"In my judgment, the Sunni insurgency has faded dramatically," Keane said. "They have gone from fighting us to helping us... there are 30,000 people who are now working for us, who weeks and months ago were fighting against us."
Although the U.S. appears to have turned a corner, "we're not out of the wilderness yet," Graham cautioned. He said the only way the enemy can win is if Washington politicians make the wrong decisions on Iraq, but that Republicans won't let that happen.
"There has been a surge here at home among Republicans to hold the line," Graham said, adding that he hopes Democrats "will take a second look" at their position on Iraq.
"Now is the time for the United States government -- its Congress -- to reinforce this surge," Graham said. "We not only need a political reconciliation in Baghdad, we need one in Washington. We need to reconcile ourselves to the fact that whether we should have gone or not, we're there now and we can't afford to lose."
But Rand Beers, president of the liberal-leaning National Security Network, questioned whether there has been progress in Iraq.
"The reality in Iraq today...is a very violent society, whether the violence is crime, or insurgency or inter/intra-sectarian violence," he said during a conference call briefing with reporters on Thursday.
"All of those factors come together and create the dynamic that leads to a lack of security and a large number of displaced persons and refugees, which is tearing Iraqi society apart."
Beers noted that the number of displaced Iraqis has doubled since the surge began.
"Gen. Petraeus has stated in recent days that ethno-sectarian violence is down across the country and he's even gone so far as to say that there was a 75 percent reduction in religious and ethnic violence," noted Ilan Goldenberg, policy director for the National Security Network. "In reality he's essentially cherry-picking the facts and only [promoting] specific data.
"Gen. Petraeus' data does not include Sunni on Sunni violence, which is going on in Anbar and central parts of the country," he added. "It does not include Shi'a on Shi'a violence, which is going on in the South, and is arguably one of the most important parts of stabilizing Iraq."
"There is no way you can present these numbers objectively," argued Goldenberg. "He owes it to the American public and the Congress to just be straight and give us all the numbers and let us take a look ourselves, and let Congress take a look itself, and make a decision on whether violence is really down."
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