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Frustration over Iraq falls on general

Story Highlights

• Former commander in Iraq nominated for the Army's top post
• Sen. McCain questions Gen. Casey's ability while in command in Iraq
• Sen. Levin says Casey shouldn't be blamed for administration "policy failures"
• Senate confirmation is expected
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Gen. George Casey, nominated for the post of Army chief of staff, faced severe questions Thursday from senators about the strategies he implemented when he was the commander of U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq.

During confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the ranking Republican senator on the committee, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, questioned Casey's decisions in Iraq and raised doubts about the general's ability.

"While I do not in any way question your honor, your patriotism or your service to our country, I do question some of the decisions and judgments you have made over the past two and a half years," McCain told Casey. (Watch Sen. McCain's exchanges with Gen. Casey Video)

"We have paid a very, very heavy price in American blood and treasure because of what is now agreed to by literally everyone as a failed policy," said McCain, a Vietnam war veteran.

Casey commanded the Multi-National Force in Iraq from July 2004 to January 2007. He was replaced by Gen. David Petraeus after President Bush nominated Casey for the Army's top post.

Despite frustrations over the war, senators are likely to confirm Casey.

The Democratic chairman of the committee, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, told CNN on Thursday that Casey was qualified for the post and that he would vote to confirm despite the general's record in Iraq.

"I don't think it is right to put on his shoulders the policy failures in Iraq," Levin said. "He should not bear responsibility for the civilian decisions made by this administration."

Casey rejected the notion that the Iraq war had reached the point of being unwinnable.

"I actually don't see it as slow failure," Casey told the committee. "I actually see it as slow progress."

The strategy he implemented "may not have produced the results on the timelines that people expected or wanted, but I do believe that it has laid the foundation for our ultimate success in Iraq," Casey said.

Casey pointed to the February 2006 bombing of the al Askariya mosque in Samarra as a turning point in the war. The destruction of the holy Shiite shrine set off a sectarian struggle between Shias and Sunnis, creating an ongoing security problem.

"The bombing of the al Askariya mosque in February added a completely new dimension to our challenges in Iraq," Casey said. "And dealing with the sectarian violence and helping the Iraqis dealing with sectarian violence has been a very significant challenge. And, as I also mentioned, the country won't be able to move forward with their security forces and won't be able to move forward politically or economically until they come to grips with that situation."

Casey's confirmation hearings also provided senators with another venue to question President Bush's plan to "surge" an additional 21,500 troops into the region. Casey defended that strategy.

Casey as late as last November said he opposed sending additional troops to Iraq. But on Thursday he said he supported the president's plan, now that the Iraqis have agreed to work with the U.S. forces.

"'Do you need more forces?' is one thing. To say, 'Do you need more forces to execute this plan?' is quite another," Casey said. "And we do need an additional two brigades [between 6,000 and 10,000 troops] to implement that plan."

Casey said he believed the new Iraq strategy, announced by President Bush in January, to increase security in Iraq could be implemented with only two brigades rather than the five brigades that are being sent.

"Having the flexibility to have the other three brigades on a deployment cycle gives us and gives General Petraeus great flexibility," Casey said.


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Gen. George Casey on Thursday bore the brunt of senators' dissatisfaction over the war in Iraq during a confirmation hearing.

SPECIAL REPORT

• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide
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