Graham returns from Iraq with renewed confidence in surge

WASHINGTON -- While some Republican senators break with President Bush over Iraq, Sen. Lindsey Graham has returned from his seventh wartime visit there with renewed hope that the U.S. troop buildup is producing results.

At the same time, the South Carolina Republican told Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders that they've made too little progress on steps such as reconciling the country's warring factions and sharing oil revenues among Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslim Arabs and Kurds.

"We left the impression upon them that patience at home (in the United States) is running out," Graham said in a phone call from Paris while en route home Thursday.

In contrast with the stalled political progress, Graham said, the surge -- the dispatch of 30,000 more U.S. troops that Bush began in January -- is yielding clear results.

"The military part of the surge is working beyond my expectations," Graham said. "We literally have the enemy on the run. The Sunni part of Iraq has really rejected al-Qaida all over the country. We're getting more information about al-Qaida operations than we've ever received."

Graham and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona also met with Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, and with Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq.

Graham's guardedly optimistic appraisal of the U.S. military effort in Iraq contrasts with the views of some other key Republican senators.

Sen. Pete Domenici of New Mexico called Thursday for a new Iraq strategy "that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home."

Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and George Voinovich of Ohio, who's also on the committee, urged Bush last week to begin redeploying U.S. troops in Iraq.

In Baghdad, Graham and McCain led an Independence Day military re-enlistment ceremony at an ornate former palace of Saddam Hussein, who was executed last December after being convicted of war crimes.

A total of 588 U.S. troops re-upped at Camp Victory, U.S. headquarters in Iraq, while 161 soldiers became naturalized U.S. citizens.

McCain, who's running for president, addressed the re-enlistees, and Graham led the new citizens in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

"Morale was very high," Graham said.

Graham and McCain ate lunch in Ramadi, a former terrorist stronghold 100 miles west of Baghdad that two U.S. senators couldn't have visited six months ago, Graham said.