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The U.S. military says it has dealt devastating and potentially irreversible blows to Al Qaeda in Iraq in recent months, leading some generals to advocate a declaration of victory over the group, which the Bush administration has long described as the most lethal U.S. adversary in Iraq, the Washington Post reported Monday.

But as the White House and its military commanders plan the next phase of the war, other officials have cautioned against taking what they see as a premature step that could create strategic and political difficulties for the United States, the newspaper said. Such a declaration could fuel criticism that the Iraq conflict has become a civil war in which U.S. combat forces should not be involved. Simultaneously, the intelligence community, and some military members, worry about underestimating an enemy that has shown surprising resilience in the past.

"I think it would be premature at this point," a senior intelligence official said to the Washington Post of a victory declaration over AQI, as the group is known. Despite recent U.S. gains, he said, AQI retains "the ability for surprise and for catastrophic attacks." Earlier periods of optimism, such as immediately following the June 2006 death of AQI founder Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi in a U.S. air raid, not only proved unfounded but were followed by expanded operations by the militant organization, the Post reported.

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