Petraeus Cites Progress in Iraq

Gen. David Petraeus tells members of the House that last winter's buildup of U.S. troops has met most of its military objectives. He said he envisions the withdrawal of roughly 30,000 U.S. combat troops from Iraq by next summer, leaving 130,000 in place.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

After months of anticipation, the top Americans in Iraq came to Capitol Hill today to testify about the war effort and the state of the Iraqi government. General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker were greeted by protesters in and outside the House hearing room. And there were some terse words from a few representatives, but nothing truly hostile.

In a surprise move, General Petraeus said he is recommending to President Bush that the drawdown in U.S. troops start next month with the Marine unit from California, and that the surge forces could be out by next summer.

NPR's Tom Bowman reports.

TOM BOWMAN: There were hints over the past week that American troops may soon start coming home - maybe one Army brigade. But General Petraeus said those drawdowns would start this month and there would be more than one unit.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (Commander, Multi-national Forces, Iraq): I have recommended a drawdown of the surge forces from Iraq. In fact, later this month, the Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed as part of the surge will depart Iraq. Beyond that, if my recommendations are approved, that unit's departure will be followed by the withdrawal of a brigade combat team without replacement in mid-December.

BOWMAN: That means the remaining 30,000 so-called surge forces would be home by next summer, bringing the overall American force down to a pre-surge level of 130,000 troops. And will U.S. forces continue to drop? Petraeus said he would report back in March on whether that could happen. Meantime, the general told the lawmakers the so-called surge is showing results.

Gen. PETRAEUS: In recent months, in the face of tough enemies and 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 level seen since June 2006.

BOWMAN: To counter claims that the White House was orchestrating his testimony, Petraeus made it clear that his words were his own.

Gen. PETRAEUS: Although I have briefed my assessment and recommendations to my chain of command, I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared by nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House or the Congress until it was just handed out.

BOWMAN: Republicans tried to link Democrats with a full-page newspaper ad that appeared today. It was placed by the anti-war group MoveOn.org. It said that when it came to statistics, General Petraeus was cooking the books for the White House.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida.

Congresswoman ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (Republican, Florida): The personal attacks launched today by MoveOn.org against General Petraeus, calling this man of honor and courage General Betray Us in a full page ad in the New York Times, is outrageous and it is deplorable. It has been reported that the organization that paid for this ad has been coordinating its efforts in the last few months with certain members to derail the strategy spearheaded by you, General Petraeus. I sincerely hope that those reports are untrue.

BOWMAN: But Democrat Ike Skelton of Missouri, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he was supportive of Petraeus. But he echoed other Democrats and a growing number of Republicans. The Iraqis were supposed to take advantage of the surge by reconciling their political differences.

Representative IKE SKELTON (Democrat, Missouri; Chairman, Armed Services Committee): The witnesses must tell us why we should continue sending our young men and women to fight and die if the Iraqis won't make the tough sacrifices leading to reconciliation. What's the likelihood that things will change dramatically? And will there be political progress in the nearer term? Are we merely beating a dead horse?

BOWMAN: The general delivered his testimony in an even tone despite several interruptions by anti-war protesters. He sipped water as one yelling protestor was pulled from the room.

Rep. SKELTON: And I've also say that we're going to have no disturbances in this room. And those that disturb are immediately asked to be escorted out. Do that right now. Out they go.

BOWMAN: Petraeus was armed with color-coded maps and numerous charts. He said they pointed to decreases in sectarian killings and high-profile bombings. He said they were making headway against al-Qaida in Iraq and against Shiite death squads. And he said there was more to do.

Gen. PETRAEUS: In describing the recommendations I have made, I should note again that like Ambassador Crocker, I believe Iraq's problems will require a long-term effort. There are no easy answers or quick solutions. And although we both believe this effort can succeed, it will take time. Our assessments underscoring fact the importance of recognizing that a premature draw down of our forces would likely have devastating consequences.

BOWMAN: Ambassador Ryan Crocker, appearing with Petraeus, acknowledged that the Iraqi government wasn't moving fast enough, but he was hopeful.

Ambassador RYAN CROCKER (United States Ambassador to Iraq): I do believe that Iraq's leaders have the will to tackle the country's pressing problems.

BOWMAN: And Crocker conceded that will take longer than we anticipated.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Military Goals of 'Surge' Largely Met, Petraeus Says

NPR News Special Report

Download a one-hour report on Monday's hearing:

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)
itoggle caption Multi-National Force-Iraq

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.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.