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WASHINGTON, June 20: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is of the view that the US engagement in Iraq is ‘a generational commitment’ and the United States will stay in the country for as long as it takes to normalize the situation. “It is a generational commitment to Iraq. But it is not a generational commitment in military terms; it is a commitment of our support to them, our political support and an understanding that democracy takes time,” Ms Rice told Fox News.

Her statement reflects a growing feeling in Washington that the US will have to stay in Iraq much longer than it had earlier anticipated. Recent opinion polls show that as many as 67 per cent Americans believe that the US cannot withdraw from Iraq anytime soon.

Although Ms Rice said the US military engagement in Iraq would be much shorter than its long-term commitment to the Iraqi people, she acknowledged that Iraqi guerillas were capable of causing ‘a lot of havoc’.

She said: “There are a few terrorists and so-called insurgents who are plying their wares in a way that gets a lot of attention. They can create a lot of havoc, wreak a lot of havoc, create carnage against innocent Iraqis and against the coalition.”

While sending troops to Iraq, the Bush administration had promised a swift military engagement and a rapid withdrawal from the country. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had said that the conflict ‘could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months’.

Vice President Dick Cheney had predicted that the US troops would be ‘greeted as liberators’ and the conflict would be over ‘in weeks rather than months’.

And Gen Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had predicted ‘a short, short conflict’ against an Iraqi force that was ‘much weaker’ than it was in the 1991 Gulf war’.

But in his weekly radio address on Saturday, President George Bush said Iraq presented a “vital test” for American security and warned his nation: “The mission isn’t easy, and it will not be accomplished overnight.”

In her interview to Fox News, Ms Rice said any withdrawal of US troops would depend on Iraq’s ability to handle its own security, adding that events were moving in the right direction.

“The security forces of Iraq are getting better. We’re making progress, making steady progress. They’re not yet ready but they are taking over every day more and more of what the coalition has done. And that will mean that there is less need for coalition forces,” she said.

Vice President Cheney, however, was more optimistic than both Mr Bush and Ms Rice and insisted that the resistance is in its ‘last throes’ and would soon be over.

But even in the ruling Republican Party, many do not share Mr Cheney’s optimism. A key Republican senator said on Sunday that President Bush should tell Americans that they face ‘a long, hard slog’ and another said the White House was ‘disconnected from Reality’ in its optimism over Iraq.

“Too often we’ve been told and the American people have been told that we’re at a turning point,” Sen John McCain, an Arizona Republican, said on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’. “What the American people should have been told and should be told ... (is that) it’s long; it’s hard; it’s tough.”

“It’s going to be at least a couple more years,” said Mr McCain, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, told US News and World Report the administration’s Iraq policy was failing.

“Things aren’t getting better; they’re getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality,” said Mr Hagel, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “It’s like they’re just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we’re losing in Iraq.”

Mr McCain said Mr Cheney’s claim that the Iraqi resistance was in its last throes was ‘inaccurate’, although there were some hopeful signs.

“I don’t think Americans believe that we should cut and run out of Iraq by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “But I think they also would like to be told, in reality, what’s going on,” he said.

CIA Director Porter Goss, however, said Mr Cheney’s assessment was not too wide of the mark. “I think they’re not quite in the last throes, but I think they are very close to it,” Mr Goss told Time magazine in an interview.

The emergence of an Iraqi government shows the guerillas are ‘unwanted’, he said.

Sen Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Mr Goss’s statement did not comport with what he heard on a recent visit to Iraq.

“I wish Porter Goss would speak to his intelligence people on the ground,” Mr Biden said on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation’.

“They didn’t suggest at all it was near its last throes. Matter of fact it’s getting worse, not better,” he added.