The Buildup to the War Report

Although Gen. David Petraeus' assessment of the situation in Iraq wasn't released until the last minute, there had been earlier hints about what he planned to say.

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ROBERT SMITH, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Robert Smith.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

As we said earlier, all eyes and ears are on Capitol Hill today, on General David Petraeus. As we speak, Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, is delivering his assessment of how the troop surge has worked.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates brings us up to date.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: When General David Petraeus finally got to take his turn at the microphones this afternoon, the first thing he wanted to do was assure his audiences that his report was independent and that the surge was to some degree working.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (U.S. Army): As a bottom line up front, the military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met. In recent months, in the face of tough enemies in the brutal summer heat of Iraq, coalition and Iraqi security forces have achieved progress in the security arena. Though the improvements have been uneven across Iraq, the overall number of security incidents in Iraq has declined in eight of the past 12 weeks, with the number of incidents in the last two weeks at the lowest levels seen since June (unintelligible).

ANNE GARRELS: When he arrived here, Petraeus told me it might be too little too late. But he clearly now thinks the military has a good change if the effort is sustained, and he's going to ask for more time to reassess the situation in March before making further reductions.

BATES: That would mean an additional six months with a second assessment to come on the first anniversary of the surge. Even the war's critics agree that there has been progress in some parts of Iraq, such as the notoriously violent Anbar province. But there's disagreement as to who should get the credit for the progress that has been made.

Michigan Senator Carl Levin talked with NPR's Jacki Lyden about that yesterday.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): There's going to be disagreement over whether or not the progress in Anbar province is a result of the surge or whether or not the Sunni sheikhs in Anbar province decided even before this surge that they just had enough of al-Qaida.

BATES: And so, Levin says, the launch of the surge and the reduction of al-Qaida may be coincidental. Whatever the reason, one of the larger questions remains whether the progress the troops are making is sustainable.

In a recent letter to his troops, Petraeus acknowledged the toll the war has taken on their ranks and their families - in fatalities, and casualties, and in sheer mental stress. As General Petraeus makes his assessment public, the question now is what continued sacrifices will be required of his people, for what reason, and for how long.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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