Impending Iraq Report's Authorship Questioned

Gen. David Petraeus is scheduled to deliver his progress report on the war in Iraq on Sept. 15. But now there are suggestions that Petraeus will not be the only author of the report, and that members of the Bush administration will be involved.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Not a lot is happening in Washington these days. Congress is on recess. The president is meeting world leaders in Canada. So everyone is looking towards September for the pace to pick up and one day in particular, September 15th. That's when General David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, will report on the progress of military efforts in that country since the U.S. troop build-up began - the so-called surge.

NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving joins us now to sort through the latest controversy on that report. Hi, Ron.

RON ELVNG: Hello, Madeleine.

BRAND: So what is the latest controversy on that report?

ELVING: This White House has been putting out a number of trial balloons suggesting that while General Petraeus will certainly be involved in presenting this report, he might not be the only person involved in writing it. In other words, it might be massaged by the message-meisters in the White House and others in the administration to make sure, of course, that it reflected the overall view of the administration about the progress of General Petraeus' efforts. So it would not be a solo report from him, or for that matter, from the U.S. Ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker.

BRAND: Do we know what is going to be in these reports, or at least some hints?

ELVING: Specific successes in the Anbar province, west of Baghdad. What had been a sight of terrific Sunni resistance in the past, has now become a kind of success story for the surge because the larger numbers of U.S. troops and the concentration of them in this province has allowed a new relationship to blossom between some of our units there and their commanders, and some of the tribal leaders on the Sunni side. Now, these are Sunnis that have turned against al-Qaida, and they had been cooperating with al-Qaida in the past, and sided, at least temporarily, with the United States.

So in this particular area the tactics are working and holds out some hope. Now, it doesn't really address the question of how this heals the rift between Sunnis and Shia, or the larger questions of the country. And we don't know what will happen in Anbar if we start and when we start pulling out of there. But it is a ray of hope. And we know we're going to hear a lot about that in the Petraeus report.

BRAND: Are we not going to hear a lot about the rest of the country, which is, of course, Shia dominated?

ELVING: We're not going to hear as much about the areas, I think, where problems remain. And I don't know how much the report will address the very different situation in the Kurdish north.

BRAND: So Ron, you're talking about the military side. What about the diplomatic side, the political side? There are benchmarks for the Maliki government. And will there be any mention of those, whether or not they've been met in this report?

ELVING: Whether or not General Petraeus reports on that specifically, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, must do so because ultimately that is the crux of U.S. policy in Iraq. The surge is not just a military strategy, just a way to say we've won the war. It's a way to make political progress possible in Baghdad, between all the different warring parties and throughout the country. So if the surge works but that the political progress is not there, it's futile in the end.

BRAND: And Ron, since the surge began, there has been an increase in skepticism on - here in the U.S. on the part of the public and on the part of Congress. What kinds of questioning are we to expect when General Petraeus goes before Congress to deliver his report. Is he going to face a barrage of hostile questions?

ELVING: I think he will face some hostile questions. But I think the most important questions for him to answer are going to come from highly sympathetic people who want him to succeed, Republican senators and congressmen who want very much for the United States to succeed in Iraq, who want to support the policy of the Bush administration but feel the pressure, realize how disillusioned the country is with this entire endeavor, and want the general to persuade them that this is really worth pursuing.

And in the end what the general is going to be proposing is a timetable for how the United States draws down it's involvement. He has said over and over we cannot maintain the surge levels of troop strengths. We don't have the manpower. We don't have the forces to do so. So after March or April of next year we're going to start drawing down. The only question if how fast does it begin, as fast as some of the Democrats want or as slowly as the administration wants? And ultimately then how many troops do you leave in Iraq or the immediate area to maintain a presence there after we have withdrawn?

BRAND: NPR's senior Washington editor Ron Elving, thank you again.

ELVING: Thank you, Madeline.

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