WASHINGTON - The screams of pink-clad female protestors could be heard but General David Petraeus could not. The US commander in Iraq had a dud microphone.
What was billed as the most electrifying day of testimony in Congress for many years lurched into farce Monday as Petraeus struggled to be heard and members of the anti-war group Code Pink were dragged kicking from the room.
"I'll bet (Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-) Maliki's sitting there watching this and thinking, 'at least my mike works'," one congressional staffer was heard to grumble.
The audio failure seemed all too apposite for anti-war campaigners who accuse President George W. Bush of turning a deaf ear to the groundswell of US opinion that wants the Iraq adventure to come to an end.
At least seven hecklers, including prominent anti-war campaigner, Cindy Sheehan were hustled out of the committee room and arrested by police, with one Code Pink woman screaming "I have a right to speak out! This is not Russia!"
The technological gremlins eventually fixed and order restored, the US military's top counterinsurgency expert got down to business explaining why Congress should give him more time to pacify the bloodstained nation.
But his message was already at risk of being drowned out as opposing camps square off over what is probably the most emotive debate to engulf the United States since the Vietnam War.
Before she was evicted, Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin said that Petraeus was "nothing but a messenger for the White House," echoing the left-wing group MoveOn.org's denunciation of "General Betray US."
"We've had the wool pulled over our eyes right from the start of this war. We're sick of the lies and want our troops home," she said, proudly leading Code Pink's self-confessed contingent of "rabble rousers" into battle.
But the cerebral Petraeus, who has a doctorate in international relations from Princeton University, remained unflappable as he laid out the "devastating consequences" that would erupt from an abrupt US exit from Iraq.