The comments drew criticism that Gen. Peter Pace is glossing over problems in the three-year-old U.S. campaign.
"Why would I believe him?" asked Rep. Murtha, D-Pa., a major critic of the Bush administration's handling of the war. "This administration, including the president, (has) mischaracterized this war for the last two years."
Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cited political progress such as holding elections and writing a constitution as well as military progress like training Iraqi security forces.
"No matter where you look _ at their military, their police, their society _ things are much better this year than they were last," Pace said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Murtha, responding to Pace in an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation," said that Iraq has 60 percent unemployment, oil production below prewar levels, and water service to only 30 percent of the population.
American troops are doing everything they can militarily but "are caught in a civil war," said Murtha, a former Marine who has called on the administration to bring U.S. troops home.
"There's two participants fighting for survival and fighting for supremacy inside that country," he said of ethnic divisions. "And that's my definition of a civil war."
Murtha added: "The rhetoric is so frustrating _ when they keep making statements which are very optimistic, and then it turns out to be the opposite. ... And the public has caught on to that, and they're very pessimistic about the outcome."
Pace and Murtha spoke as Iraqis continued a stalemate over forming a new government, a delay that has prevented parliament from meeting since it was elected Dec. 15.
Pressure mounted Sunday on Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to give up his bid for a new term amid anger over the recent surge in sectarian killings that has complicated already snarled negotiations on a new Iraqi government.
Pace said the violent firestorm that followed the bombing of a revered Shiite mosque two weeks ago had forced Iraqis to look into "that abyss" and realize "that's not where they want to go."
"Anything can happen, I agree," Pace said, then added: "I believe the Iraqi people have shown in the last week to 10 days that they do not want civil war."
Ending the insurgency depends not only on military efforts but also on whether the Iraqi government can give the people what they want, Pace said. He said the number of people in the insurgency will drop if people see that the new government can come through with jobs and services.
"If you have an opportunity to get a job and feed your family, you're much less likely to accept $100 to go plant a bomb inside a road," Pace said.
Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the U.S. must stick with the Iraqis.
"They're talking about putting their act together," Lugar, R-Ind., said on CBS. "Now, the fact is that they may or may not be successful, but we better hope that they are, because the consequences for our country and the war against terror are very fateful if they are not."
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