Military Goals of 'Surge' Largely Met, Petraeus Says

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A chart presented to House lawmakers by Gen. David Petraeus shows declining civilian deaths in Iraq. Multi-National Force-Iraq hide caption

See Charts Accompanying Gen. Petraeus' Testimony (PDF)
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His microphone wouldn't work. He was heckled by protesters. But in the end, Gen. David Petraeus delivered a loud message Monday to two congressional committees: The surge is working, and the additional troops dispatched to Iraq will soon be able to return home.

Petraeus' assessment didn't seem to change many minds, though, with Republicans mostly applauding the general's testimony, Democrats questioning it—and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle treating the four–star general and Princeton graduate with deference.

Petraeus said troop levels could return to pre-"surge" levels by next summer, allowing the withdrawal of some 30,000 combat forces, beginning with a Marine contingent later this month. That would leave roughly 130,000 troops still in Iraq. He also recommended further troop cuts eventually, though he didn't specify how deep those cuts might be.

Sober Assessments

Petraeus used a phalanx of charts and graphs to hammer his case home: Despite tactical setbacks, violence is down throughout Iraq, especially in key regions of the country such as Baghdad and Anbar province — where, he said, Iraqis are turning against terrorists. But he added that "civilian deaths remain at an unacceptable level."

"The security situation in Iraq is improving," Petraeus said, but "innumerable challenges lie ahead."

The general also said that the Iraqi military is assuming more responsibility for the country's security.

"I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve," said Petraeus, who acknowledged that the situation in the country remains "complex, difficult and sometimes downright frustrating."

Petraeus' civilian counterpart in Baghdad, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, delivered a decidedly more sober assessment. "There will be no single moment when we can claim victory. Any turning point will likely be recognized only in retrospect," Crocker said. "(Iraq) is, and will remain for some time to come, a traumatized society."

Yet Crocker, like Petraeus, warned against a precipitous withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq and said he was optimistic about the long-term prospect for the country. He compared the situation in Iraq to the struggle for states' rights and civil rights in the United States.

Hearings Marked by Protests

Petraeus and Crocker presented their testimony before a packed congressional hearing room and a nationwide TV audience. Protesters from antiwar groups interrupted the proceedings several times with shouts of "tell the truth" and "troops home now." One of the protesters was Cindy Sheehan, a well-known figure in the antiwar movement whose son was killed in Iraq.

"This is intolerable," said Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-MO), as he banged his gavel and ordered Capital Hill police to remove the protesters.

Petraeus wore his crisp Amy uniform, his chest gleaming with medals. Lawmakers, Democrat and Republican alike, went out of their way to praise Petraeus, who is widely respected in military and civilian circles.

An ad paid for by the liberal group MoveOn.org was considerably less deferential. "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" it asked, a word play on his name. During Monday's hearing, several lawmakers sharply criticized the ad, and nearly two dozen lawmakers, mostly Republican, called on Democrats to denounce it.

"These childish tactics are an insult to everyone fighting for our freedom in Iraq, and they should be condemned," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Petraeus did face some tough questioning, most notably from Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA).

"The administration's myopic policies on Iraq have created a fiasco," Lantos said. "We cannot take the administration's assertions on Iraq seriously, and no amount of charts or statistics will improve its credibility."

War Skepticism in America and Iraq

Petraeus' largely upbeat testimony clashes with recent surveys, which show wide skepticism among both the American and Iraqi publics. A USA Today-Gallup poll taken in the past few days found that 60 percent of those surveyed favor setting a timetable for removing troops. Only 35 percent favor keeping the troops in Iraq until the situation improves.

In Iraq, a poll conducted by ABC News and other broadcasters found 47 percent want American forces and their coalition allies to leave the country immediately, a jump of 12 percentage points from March. A total of 57 percent of Iraqis said they consider attacks on coalition forces acceptable.

Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, began his testimony by answering critics who have suggested his report was all but approved by the Bush administration.

"I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared by, nor shared with, anyone in the Pentagon, the White House or the Congress," he said.

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