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General Petraeus briefed House and Senate members this week. Perhaps surprisingly, the San Francisco Chronicle offers a fairly straightforward report
Top general in Iraq asks Congress for more timeSome Republicans had hoped to make political hay over the fact that Democrats originally planned to boycott the briefings before voting on their (choose one or more: "funding" "surrender" "massive pork") Bill
Gen. David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to convince lawmakers that additional U.S. forces dispatched to Baghdad have helped reduce sectarian bloodshed, and that Congress must allow more time to bring security to Iraq.
Petraeus, who oversees Washington's latest effort to provide security in Baghdad, said Wednesday that the so-called Baghdad security plan has helped reduce sectarian killings by about one-third since the beginning of the year.
"That is an important development, because sectarian murders can be a cancer in a neighborhood," he told reporters hours before the legislators were scheduled to vote on a war funding package that includes a timetable for withdrawing most U.S. troops from Iraq.
Reducing sectarian killings in Baghdad "is an area where there has been progress," he said.
Petraeus called progress in the volatile western Anbar province "breathtaking" and said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is "doing his best" at leading the country.
The vote came after a classified briefing by Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the multi-national forces in Iraq, turned into a public spectacle surrounded by political charges and followed by two press conferences.Back then I pointed out that Republicans had nothing to gain from that.
Last week, Democrats initially declined an invitation to the briefing due to scheduling conflicts, but they reconsidered after Republicans chided them for skipping a briefing with a key commander while setting policies on the conflict.
Still, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did not attend. It was not clear where she was Wednesday afternoon. Aides did not return calls Wednesday.
“I think the speaker’s got better things to do, frankly,” agreed Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.). “They didn’t say anything they haven’t said in public.”
Likewise, the Democrats have little to fear from attending hearings with General Petraeus. While they might not like what they hear, that will matter very little - because American voters aren't going to hear it anyway.Because the briefing was classified, all attendees are forbidden from sharing the specific details of its content. While they can describe what was said, that leaves us with only their characterization of the content.
WASHINGTON - Hours before the House of Representatives narrowly passed a $124-billion bill to fund the war in Iraq, the commander of the multinational forces there delivered a classified briefing to Congress.But while we can't know some specific details (future plans and operations) that were shared in that briefing, we can review the public briefing General Petraeus gave a few hours later:
But at dueling Democratic and Republican news conferences after Petraeus' closed-door meeting with the House, it seemed as if the members had attended different briefings.
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well good morning. It's good to be with you all, and nice to see some familiar faces here this morning. My purpose this morning is to provide a short update on the situation in Iraq, including a brief description of the operational environment, the challenges Iraq faces, and the status of our operations, and then to take your questions. This is similar to my briefings to the House and Senate yesterday afternoon, but without the classified information that I provided to them, obviously.
And we can compare the statements of all parties (or Parties) involved. Statements attributed to "Republicans" and "Democrats" below are from the St Petersburg Times coverage linked above. Quotes from General Petraeus are from the briefing above.
Let's dispense with this one right off. On how the debate in Congress might affect conditions in Iraq:
Democrats: It's helpful. Hoyer said he asked Petraeus about recent comments by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that the congressional debate warns the Iraqi government that American patience and resources aren't unlimited. "It seemed to me that Gen. Petraeus certainly did not disagree," Hoyer said.
Republicans: It's harmful. "One thing that he reminded us was, this is a test of wills and he admonished us, reminded us that what we say to the world, to our adversaries and our allies, is listened to by the other side," Hunter said.
GEN. PETRAEUS: I have, as you know, in fact tried to stay clear of the political minefields of various legislative proposals and so forth...
He did add this comment: "Moreover, it is not a government of national unity. Rather, it is one comprised of political leaders from different parties that often default to narrow agendas and a zero-sum approach to legislation." - but he was talking about the Iraqi government.
Now on to the issues.
On the biggest threat to U.S. forces and stability in Iraq:
Republicans: Al-Qaida, the shadowy terrorist group responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and whose involvement with Iraq - later disproved - was cited by President Bush as a key reason to invade four years ago. Iran also is causing trouble.
"Al-Qaida, he made clear, continues to make this the central front in their war with us," Boehner said. "And I would remind everyone that we didn't start this war with al-Qaida, they started it. ... And they are the major foe that we face in Iraq today."
Democrats: Homegrown insurgents and the rampant violence between Sunnis and Shiites.
"Gen. Petraeus made it very clear that the sectarian violence was the most disruptive element," Hoyer said.
GEN. PETRAEUS: "Iraq is, in fact, the central front of al Qaeda's global campaign."
Q: You say that Iraq is now the central focus of al Qaeda's worldwide effort. Are you saying that al Qaeda in Iraq is now the sort of principal enemy of the U.S. forces stationed there?
A: I think it is probably public enemy number one.
On how the bill's timetable for withdrawal and benchmarks for the Iraqi government may affect conditions in Iraq:
Democrats: Positively. "Our belief that we must hold the Iraqis accountable for achieving real progress and establish a timetable for a responsible deployment of American forces was also reinforced" by the briefing, Hoyer said.
Republicans: Negatively. "I believe generally what was said by the general and others is that that would not be helpful to his cause, and, quite frankly, went on to say that it would be - it would hurt the very cause that we seek to win there," Boehner said.
GEN. PETRAEUS:I have, as you know, in fact tried to stay clear of the political minefields of various legislative proposals and so forth...
My sense is that there would be an increase in sectarian violence, a resumption of sectarian violence, were the presence of our forces and Iraqi forces at that time to be reduced and not to be doing what it is that they are doing right now.
On how the war is going, and whether the recent surge of U.S. troops to Baghdad is working:
Democrats: Badly. And it is clear peace will not be achieved militarily.
"This briefing reinforced our view that the solution in Iraq is a political solution," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. "Our troops are mired in a civil war with no clear enemy and no clear strategy for success."
Republicans: Tough, but not so bad. "Considering where we are, I think the general feels good about the progress thus far in the reinforcements that are there, in the performance of the Iraqi troops," said Minority Leader John Boehner, D-Ohio.
Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, added that the Iraqi military is making progress, and Iraqis soon may replace some Americans.
(And sorry - there's no way to reduce this further because there's a lot of equally important evidence presented) GEN. PETRAEUS: The situation is, in short, exceedingly challenging, though as I will briefly explain, there has been progress in several areas in recent months despite the sensational attacks by al Qaeda, which have, of course, been significant blows to our effort and which cause psychological damage that is typically even greater than their physical damage.
We have achieved some notable successes in the past two months, killing the security emir of eastern Anbar province, detaining a number of key network leaders, discovering how various elements of al Qaeda Iraq operate, taking apart a car bomb network that had killed 650 citizens of Baghdad, and destroying several significant car bomb factories. Nonetheless, al Qaeda Iraq remains a formidable foe with considerable resilience and a capability to produce horrific attacks, but a group whose ideology and methods have increasingly alienated many in Iraq.
This group's activities must be significantly disrupted, at the least, for the new Iraq to succeed, and it has been heartening to see Sunni Arabs in Anbar province and several other areas turning against al Qaeda and joining the Iraqi security forces to fight against it. That has been a very significant development.
The extremist militias in Iraq also are a substantial problem and must be significantly disrupted. There can be no sustainable outcome if militia death squads are allowed to lie low during the surge only to resurface later and resume killing and intimidation.
There have been some significant successes in this arena as well, including the detentions -- detention of the heads of the Sadr secret cell network, the Iraqi leader of an explosively formed projectile network from Iran, the former deputy minister of Health and his facility protection security force brigadier, who had effectively hijacked the Ministry of Health, and a national police officer accused of torture, with several of these detained by Iraqi forces.
Sunni insurgents and the so-called Sunni resistance are still forces that must be reckoned with, as well. However, while we continue to battle a number of such groups, we are seeing some others joining Sunni Arab tribes in turning against al Qaeda Iraq and helping transform Anbar province and other areas from being assessed as lost as little as six months ago to being relatively heartening. We will continue to engage with Sunni tribal sheikhs and former insurgent leaders to support the newfound opposition of some to al Qaeda, ensuring that their fighters join legitimate Iraqi security force elements to become part of the fight against extremists, just as we reach out to moderate members of all sects and ethnic groups to try to drive a wedge between the irreconcilables and the reconcilables, and help the latter become part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
There are also a number of challenges in the area of governance that the embassy and Multinational Force Iraq are helping the Iraqis to address. It is in fact important to recall that the government of Prime Minister Maliki is Iraq's fourth government in as many years. Moreover, it is not a government of national unity. Rather, it is one comprised of political leaders from different parties that often default to narrow agendas and a zero-sum approach to legislation.
That is one reason that progress on key laws has been slow, though there has been some progress. The budget law, the base hydrocarbon law approved by the Council of Ministers, the emergency powers law and so forth have all been noteworthy. And it is in fact just noteworthy to acknowledge, as Ambassador Negroponte did yesterday, just what Iraq has achieved since he served there as the ambassador in 2004, with respect to its elections, its constitution, its government and so forth. I believe Prime Minister Maliki and many other Iraqi leaders are committed to achieving more in this area in the months ahead.
Though its institutions are slowly developing, Iraq still suffers from a lack of the governmental capacity needed to put Iraq's oil revenues to work sufficiently for all its people. In view of this, we are working hard, together with the U.S. embassy again, to help strengthen institutions, doubling the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams, establishing a law and order task force, developing an energy fusion cell, and increasing emphasis on ministerial mentorship.
The focus of Multinational Force Iraq is, of course, on working with our Iraqi counterparts to help improve security for the people of Iraq in order to give Iraqi leaders the time and space they need to come to grips with the tough political issues that must be resolved. Resolution of these issues is the key to the achievement of reconciliation among the various ethnic and sectarian groups, political parties and leaders in order to achieve a lasting solution to Iraq's problems.
We are still in the relatively early stages of our new effort, about two months into it, with three of five Army surge brigades and two additional Marine battalions on the ground, and the remainder of the additional combat forces scheduled to be operating in their areas by mid-June.
Baghdad is the main effort, and we continue to establish joint security stations and combat outposts in the city and in the belts around it. The presence of coalition and Iraqi forces and increased operational tempo, especially in areas where until recently we had no sustained presence, have begun to produce results. Most significantly, Iraqi and coalition forces have helped to bring about a substantial reduction in the rate of sectarian murders each month from January until now in Baghdad, a reduction of about two-thirds. There have also been increases in weapons caches seized and the number of actionable tips received.
In the Ramadi area, for example, U.S. and Iraqi forces have found nearly as many caches in the first four months of this year as they found in all of last year.
Beyond this, we are seeing a revival of markets, renewed commerce, the return of some displaced families and the slow resumption of services, though I want to be very clear that there is vastly more work to be done across the board and in many areas, and I again note that we are really just getting started with the new effort.
Our achievements have not come without sacrifice. Our increase in operational tempo, location of our forces in the populations they are securing and conduct of operations in areas where we previously had no presence, as well as the enemy's greater use of certain types of explosive devices, have led to an increase in our losses. Our Iraqi partners have sacrificed heavily as well, with losses generally two to three times ours or even more.
Indeed, while some Iraqi forces remain a work in progress, there should be no question that Iraq's soldiers and police are fighting and dying for their country, and a number of them have impressively shouldered their part of the burden of the fight against al Qaeda and the other enemies of the new Iraq. To help them progress, we have steadily been increasing the number of transition teams, the train and equip effort, and steadily strengthening the partnership programs between our forces and Iraqi elements.
As I mentioned, we generally in many areas -- not all, but in many areas -- have a sense of sort of incremental progress. Again, that is not transmitted at all. Of course it will never break through the noise and the understandable coverage given to it in the press of a sensational attack that kills many Iraqis.
Now, with respect to returnees, we're seeing small numbers, and that's, I think, what you heard me say in the statement. Again, I don't know that you would yet call it a trend. We have seen, again, some neighborhoods that were really depopulated, in which there have been the early signs of returns.
We have seen -- I mean, you look at a place, for example, like Dura, the Dura market down in East Rashid in Baghdad, a real difficult area, perhaps one of the toughest in all of Baghdad. I went on a couple of patrols the day after I took command back in February, and candidly, I was sort of shocked at what I saw in terms of what sectarian violence had done to Baghdad. And the Dura area in particular struck me because there was not a single shop open at all; and there now are -- I think it's over 200 and literally climbing every day.
The reason is because Iraqi and coalition soldiers hardened that market, located Iraqi and U.S. combat outposts right in the center of the market, and then on its periphery. And in fact, I walked through that area with a CNN reporter, in fact, a few weeks ago, and it has continued to expand over time down there despite attacks.
So there's a degree of resilience there as well.
But that's what we are seeing. And again, too soon, I think, to call that a trend, too soon to say that what we've done in just the first couple of months has -- with our Iraqi partners, again, enabled them to stitch together the fabric of society that was so torn.
Anbar province made the progress that it did because of the courageous action of some sheikhs who said, enough, to the killing by al Qaeda of their brothers, sons, sheikhs and so forth. It started with Sheikh Sattar near Ramadi, working with Colonel Sean MacFarland. He came to Colonel MacFarland and said, I'd like to join the coalition in fighting against al Qaeda, and they made a pretty courageous choice. He volunteered some of his young men to be part of the Iraqi police structure, and it literally just started to ripple on out from there, with each sort of contiguous tribe joining in the same fashion. And what you have now is a very, very significant movement.
By the way, that tribal movement is now turning into a political movement. And Sheikh Sattar had a meeting with a number of the tribal leaders just, I think it was, last week, where they came together to discuss when provincial elections are held, as the process moves forward in Anbar province, should this effort that has been focused largely on helping the security forces be moved forward also as somewhat of a political movement? And in fact, Prime Minister Maliki went out there, as I think you know, to Ramadi and met with not just the governor or the provincial council but also with the sheikhs and with the leaders of the Iraqi security forces.
Again, none of this would have been possible without these sheikhs, particularly the early ones, taking a very courageous stand at a time that was actually very, very dangerous, and has now enabled the Iraqi and coalition forces in partnership to largely clear Ramadi, which only two months or two-and-a-half months ago was largely al Qaeda central. And just to get to the governance center, you literally had to fight your way downtown.
By the way, I found the same enthusiasm in Western Nineveh province, an area that I knew from the first year there with the 101st Airborne Division, met with the sheikhs of the Shammar tribe up there.
And these are individuals who sadly in the period of the most intimidation by al Qaeda of Sunni Arabs in the fall of 2004 and well into 2005, the period when they boycotted the election and so forth, and really now know that they lost out -- we could not get volunteers from those particular tribes. Now they want to help form new battalions and so forth.
Now, this is not just because they want to fight against al Qaeda. It is also because of a very good and realistic appraisal of this situation, and that is that the Sunni Arabs lost out by not participating in the past. They lost influence in government. They lost influence, if you will, or participation, jobs in the Iraqi security forces, and I think they now recognize that they need to participate, they want to participate. And that is a very, very important development, again. And once again, this never could have -- the progress in Anbar would not have happened without that.
Q (Off mike) -- progress are less than obvious to a person in the United States, much less Iraq or Europe. Is it possible that these things could improve while spectacular bombing attacks still occur in parallel?
GEN. PETRAEUS: Well, I think first of all -- look, I think you have to be realistic and acknowledge there is going to be a continuation of some level of sensational attacks. In an environment where to prevent those, you know, the Iraqi and coalition forces have to protect everything and they only have to attack one thing, some of that is going to happen. I used the analogy the other day of Northern Ireland, which some of you are very familiar with and in which for some decades there was a level of violence that actually the Northern Ireland citizens learned to live with, really.
And actually, to be fair to the Iraqis, I mean they're an exceedingly resilient people. I actually the other night was talking to one of your colleagues from The Washington Post and talked about this idea that there is -- you know, we feel this incremental progress; it's very difficult to demonstrate. In fact, the progress is interesting, because it's a negative. It means nothing happened, in most cases. In other words, there were not sectarian murders. Whether that is newsworthy before it goes on for several weeks is obviously arguable.
But anyway, so what I asked was, "Hey, come on, it's about dusk, let's go -- we'll fly around the city a little bit." And we flew around. And so -- I mean, it was unbelievable.
This is a day in which I think there was a car bomb in Iraq, some of Iraq’s seven million citizens were affected by that, but you could not have told that from what we saw over the city. There were three big amusement parks operational. I'm talking about, you know, roller coaster kinds of -- these are not just a couple little merry-go-rounds in small neighborhood parks. Restaurants in some parts of the city were booming. Lots of markets were open. The people were on the street. There were -- there had to be a thousand soccer games ongoing. They're watering the grass in various professional soccer fields -- the soccer leagues.
You know, all of this is actually so foreign, I think, in the mind of most people who see the news and of course do see that day's explosion or something like that. And actually there is a city of seven million in which life goes on, and again, citizens are determined to carry on with their life.
Those responses seem to favor the Republican's characterization of General Petraeus' remarks. So to be fair - the last word goes to Harry Reid:
General Petraeus is going to come to the Hill and make it clear to you that there is progress going on in Iraq, that the so-called surge is working. Will you believe him when he says that?
REID: No, I don't believe him, because it's not happening.
Amazing isn't it? The General the Leftinistra confirmed they now call a liar. Simply amazing.
reid...moron. 'nuf said.Posted by Snooper at April 28, 2007 06:15 AM
The Democrats know they have the election winning trump cards because of Iraq. Americans will blame the Republicans for the debacle.Posted by JohnRyan at May 1, 2007 01:57 AM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(2) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)