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New year brings a new death toll in Iraq

Hardball takes a look at the situation overseas
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With the death toll increasingly rising for the U.S. military in Iraq, many are wondering when will it all end?  MSNBC's chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell sat down with the American commander in Iraq, General George Casey on Hardball to talk about the situation overseas. 

To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

NORAH O'DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  They called yesterday in Iraq a bloody Thursday for a reason -180 people dead, as you mentioned, a number of our men and women who were serving over there.  General Casey said today that the spike in violence is, quote, “clearly not progress,” but he does insist we are winning the war in Iraq. 

GEN. GEORGE CASEY JR., COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE IN IRAQ:  I don't think that we should allow ourselves to be distracted by this spike in violence, because that's exactly what the terrorists want.  And if you think back to the progress in Iraq that has been made over the last year, we shouldn't let this overshadow it, Norah. 

O'DONNELL:  But when 180 people are killed in two days, how can you describe that as progress? 

CASEY:  That clearly is not progress.  But what I'm telling you, Norah, is that that's exactly the mindset that the insurgents and the terrorists are trying to put in people's minds. 

O'DONNELL:  So this is a scenario under which that you would have to increase troop levels in Iraq? 

CASEY:  Certainly.  That's why—exactly one of the brigades that we kept out of Iraq is a call forward force in Kuwait, and it's a standard military method to have a force that you can hedge against the uncertainty and there is uncertainty in Iraq. 

O'DONNELL:  The president likes to says when the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.  When are they going to stand up? 

CASEY:  I think by the summer I think almost three-quarters of the Iraqi brigades will be in a position to take the lead. 

O'DONNELL:  When do you make your next recommendation to the president? 

CASEY:  I'm looking at the spring, probably not before the spring. 

O'DONNELL:  And when you have those conversations with the secretary of defense of the president, what does he say to you? 

CASEY:  I'm not going to talk about what he says to me and what I say to the president and the secretary. 

O'DONNELL:  Does he say when can we bring more troops home? 

CASEY:  I have never been directed by the president or the secretary to bring troops home. 

O'DONNELL:  Congressman Jack Murtha, a former marine, has recently said that if he were to ask to rejoin the military again, he would not.

CASEY:  I haven't seen what he said.  But if he said that, especially at a time of war against an enemy who has threatened our way of life, I think that's very damaging. 

O'DONNELL:  Well, General Casey today, following the lead of Joint Chiefs Chairman Pete Pace who yesterday said Murtha's comments are damaging to recruits, damaging to morale and damaging to the families who, quote, “believe in what they're doing to service this country.” 

Watch each night at 5 and 7 p.m. ET on MSNBC.