The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved Gen. George Casey, the outgoing commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, as the next Army chief of staff despite criticism of his performance as a war commander.

The Senate voted 83-14 to confirm Casey, who last week told senators he did not believe U.S. policy in Iraq had failed.

Casey’s defenders, many of them Democrats who are critics of the Iraq war, said he could not be made a scapegoat for all that had gone wrong in the conflict.

“He should not be condemned because he was carrying out a strategy and a policy that was seriously flawed when he arrived on the ground in Iraq,” said Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat, West Point graduate and former Army Ranger.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis and more than 3,000 troops have died in Iraq since U.S.-led forces invaded in 2003 and toppled Saddam Hussein. American forces now are battling a stubborn insurgency amid widespread concerns about Iraq sliding into sectarian civil war.

Even President George W. Bush recently referred to the Iraq policy under Casey as “maybe a slow failure” as he made his case for his new plan to send in 21,500 more troops. Casey, asked about this, said he would call it “slow progress.”

Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who voted against Casey but supports Bush’s decision to add troops in Iraq, said the general had been a rosy optimist about Iraq for the past 2 1/2 years as the situation had steadily worsened.

“This is a judgment issue, not an honor issue,” McCain, a decorated Vietnam veteran and front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, told the Senate.

While civilian leaders also bore responsibility for mistakes, “to somehow absolve the military commander on the ground there, conducting the operations, of any responsibility, flies in the face of anything I ever learned in my lifetime of involvement with the military,” McCain said.

Casey’s defenders noted he had acknowledged his own mistakes, from underestimating the ability of al Qaeda and Sunni insurgents to provoke sectarian conflict to being slow to anticipate the emergence of Shi’ite death squads.

Copyright © 2007 Reuters Limited

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