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Gen. Petraeus Set to Report on Iraq War

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Gen. Petraeus Set to Report on Iraq War

Iraq

Gen. Petraeus Set to Report on Iraq War

Gen. Petraeus Set to Report on Iraq War

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Gen. David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, will testify before Congress four days from now. What he says could play a big role in determining the future of the Iraq war. Speculation and spin over the contents of his report have already begun. Is his strategy working?

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Even before he got the job as commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus promised to provide an honest assessment of the war and of Iraqis.

INSKEEP: I need to get back to a country that I haven't been in in 16 months and determine what the will is. If I detect that they don't want it as much as we want it, I will report that to my boss.

INSKEEP: Petraeus made that promise before Congress. Next week, he returns to give a report. And in a moment we'll hear about the numbers that may shape that assessment.

We begin this morning with NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. And Tom, I guess people want to know if Petraeus is going to say his strategy is working well enough to continue with it.

TOM BOWMAN: And I think he will. I'm told what Petraeus is doing now is he'll spend the next several days working on his testimony, and then over the weekend meet with top military officers at the Pentagon talking about what questions might come up when he meets Congress. And I'm told that Petraeus will press for the so-called surge in troops to continue into the spring and summer. That's the extra 30,000 troops that were sent over.

Now, it's not that surprising because both he and his commanders have been telegraphing that for months now. But there may be some wiggle room, we're hearing. There's talk that either he or President Bush may decide to reduce troops by maybe one brigade - that's four to 5,000 troops - perhaps early next year, or move troops out at the Anbar province, where they're having success, perhaps to elsewhere in Iraq.

And a couple of other things, too. He's going to really prod the Iraqi government to spend more of its money. President Bush said in January the Iraqis were supposed to spend $10 billion on reconstruction. So far they have spent less than one-third of that. So, he'll be pushing hard on that.

And then finally, increasing the size of the Iraqi security forces by tens of thousands, we expect.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about those security forces. Last spring we spoke with General Petraeus about the security forces. And this is what he said about their loyalty.

PETRAEUS: There are certainly units that were hijacked by sectarian interests during the sectarian violence of 2006. Some subset of the units are works in progress.

INSKEEP: Well, Tom, what kind of progress has the military made since the spring on that front?

BOWMAN: A mixed bag. I mean the one serious problem is the national police force. And a commission today will suggest scrapping the police force. And one of the big reasons is because they're full of militia members. And then, of course, the Mahdi Army is still operating. That's controlled by Moqtada al-Sadr, a political ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. So there are some serious sectarian problems within the army and particularly the national police.

INSKEEP: Tom, General Petraeus spoke to NPR's Michele Norris in July. And she pointed out that it seems like every day President Bush says wait until General Petraeus's report.

(SOUNDBITE OF NPR BROADCAST)

MICHELE NORRIS: I'm just wondering what kind of pressure you feel right now.

PETRAEUS: I feel another rock put in my rucksack every time I hear that. Needless to say, there's a pretty huge sense of responsibility that goes along with that. Having said that, I mean you just put the rucksack on and move out and try to do the best you can.

INSKEEP: How much is riding on this report?

BOWMAN: It's an enormous amount of pressure on him. It's probably the most important testimony to Congress he'll ever make. Some liken it to when William Westmoreland came before Congress later in 1968, pressing for more troops - this is after the Tet Offensive - and he met a highly skeptical Congress and didn't get all that he wanted.

MONTAGNE: Comparisons to Vietnam.

NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, thanks very much.

BOWMAN: You're welcome, Steve.

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