Lawmakers Weigh Iraq Data, Upcoming Report

Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will testify this week before Congress on the military and political landscape in Iraq. There are already questions about whether Petraeus has too much of an interest in defending the so-called "surge," as both its architect and chief administrator.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

It's a shame to leave the transcendent realm where Pavarotti's voice carries us but we must return to the news.

Now, we look ahead to next week's long-awaited Iraq briefings on Capitol Hill by General David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker. We'll hear what the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee is expecting.

But first, this report from NPR's David Welna on what senators want to hear.

DAVID WELNA: Even before General Petraeus has said a word to Congress, there are already questions about whether he has too much of an interest in defending the so-called surge as both its architect and chief administrator.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): He's made a number of statements over the years that have not proven to be factual.

WELNA: That's Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recalling how Petraeus assured him three years ago during a trip to Iraq that the Iraqi troops he was training at the time would be able to takeover the entire country's security. But Petraeus is also widely respected so Reid took pains to cast him as a well-meaning messenger for the commander in chief.

Sen. REID: I have every belief that this good man, General Petraeus, will give us what he feels is the right thing to do in this report, that is now not his report. It's President Bush's report.

WELNA: Petraeus enjoys broad support in Congress. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham is one of his biggest backers. Graham, who was just in Iraq, says the troop surge has helped quell violence in Anbar province to the point were troop levels might be drawn down there.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): So the question is, if we withdraw people from Anbar, does it undercut the gains made? I think that's the ultimate question for General Petraeus. In my view of Anbar, it's getting very maturely developed in terms of its own security.

WELNA: Another Republican senator, Georgia's Saxby Chambliss, says he was impressed with recent figures on violence in Iraq that showed the areas where it's occurring appeared to be shrinking.

Senator SAXBY CHAMBLISS (Republican, Georgia): That bears out exactly what I expect to hear from General Petraeus next week. And what I have personally seen on the ground in Iraq when I've been there. And that is that we are making great strides from a military perspective.

WELNA: But there is likely to be heated debate next week over what the figures on violence in Iraq really mean. A report to Congress this week from the Government Accountability Office questions the methodology used by the Pentagon to tally sectarian violence. But that section of the GAO report is classified. That prompted this complaint during questioning of GAO chief David Walker by Rhode Island Democratic Senator Jack Reed.

Senator JACK REED (Democrat, Rhode Island): The only people not getting this information, frankly, are the American people and the Congress, in an open session where we can honestly and fairly debate these issues with people who have access to information and can choose to divulge what they want or not.

WELNA: Democrats have written Defense Secretary Robert Gates, requesting that the classified data on sectarian violence be made public for next week's hearings. There are also likely to be many questions for Ambassador Crocker. Maine Republican Senator Olympia Snowe wants to know why Iraqi authorities have done so little to achieve political reconciliation.

Senator OLYMPIA SNOWE (Republican, Maine): And that's the key question. Because obviously, the surge was predicated on the ability of - to create a secure conditions and so to enable the government to make their political decisions and create the political unity. And that, obviously, hasn't happened. We're not even close.

WELNA: And that may be the ultimate question next week - what should happen in Iraq if its political leaders can't strike the deals needed to bring peace.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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