Weighing Petraeus' Claims on Security in Iraq
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
You heard General Petraeus referred to the numbers that in his view show improvements inside Iraq.
General DAVID PETRAEUS (U.S. Commander in Iraq): 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.
INSKEEP: The general relied on more than a dozen charts to make his case.
A couple of reporters who've covered Iraq are going to help us sort through the numbers and also what they mean.
We begin with NPR's Anne Garrels who was in Baghdad now. She's spending time with U.S. troops there.
And Anne, where are you?
ANNE GARRELS: I'm in Adhamiya, a Sunni enclave in northeastern Baghdad, at combat outpost Apache.
INSKEEP: And Anne, what kinds of improvements are visible there on the ground, if any?
GARRELS: There are dramatic improvements here. This is a Sunni enclave. North of me are mixed neighborhoods. They are still mixed. They were in danger of being cleansed like much of the rest of Baghdad, because of the surge that has not happened according to commanders and Iraqis who live here.
INSKEEP: What role have Americans played in this? And what role have Iraqi security forces played, if any, in stabilizing the situation where you are?
GARRELS: Well, the big difference is that U.S. troops are now living in the neighborhoods. They know their areas of operation very well. They know the people. And they are working very, very closely with the Iraqi army, particularly here - less so than with the national police. The Sunnis don't trust them. They're believed to be infiltrated by militias.
I mean, obviously, the big issue that gets raised from the testimony and for commanders here is how do you make the transition from being a partner with the Iraqis to being in the overwatch situation. And the commanders all agree with Petraeus, that you can't move too quickly. When you moved too quickly before and they brought all the troops off the streets for the most part, put them back in big bases, the violence erupted.
INSKEEP: Let's talk a little bit more about trying to make that transition to a more stable situation with NPR's Tom Bowman who covers the Pentagon and is been monitoring testimony from here, in and around Washington.
And, Tom, you've also spent a lot of time in Iraq. What about the claims that have been made west of Baghdad, in Anbar province, which is an area that the U.S. says has been stabilized to some degree?
TOM BOWMAN: Well, that's right. I was there in February, just as the surge was starting. And success in Anbar really had been achieved already. In fact, it had been going on for a number of months. And a lot of this came about because of the decision by the Sunni sheikhs to cooperate with the Americans. They were being brutalized by al-Qaida. Families were being killed. And al-Qaida was muscling into their oil smuggling business.
The Americans' helped, there's no question, by moving from their large bases out into the neighborhoods to small security stations with the Iraqi forces. But again, this took place long before the surge had started.
INSKEEP: Hmm. Does that mean, in your mind, that the surge hasn't made much difference?
BOWMAN: No, I think it made a difference in Anbar province. They sent some extra Marines out there that went up along the Euphrates River Valley, cleaned out some al-Qaida pockets. So they've done some good work. But again, at least in Anbar, a lot of this took place long before the surge.
INSKEEP: Is any of this improvement that's been described, lasting?
BOWMAN: Well, the big question is going to be the Iraqi security forces: can they pick up the slack from the Americans? And that's the question that everyone is wondering. And the report by former Marine General Jim Jones that just came out on the Iraqi security forces, estimated that it would take another 12 to 18 months before they could become independent.
Now, we've been hearing for a number of years now, that the independence of the Iraqi security forces is just around the corner. But as they showed, it's going to be quite some time.
INSKEEP: Now, I should mention there's statistics here, which states that the number of Iraqi units described as actually fully independent has gone down in recent months, even though the total number of security forces has gone up.
Anne Garrels, your thoughts in Baghdad.
GARRELS: Well, I think that that's partly because the American military is simply being more realistic now than it was in the past. They're being more honest about the overall situation. They're paying the price for gilding the lily in the past, though.
But there are two things that are going on. One is that the U.S. and the Iraqis together have made progress against both al-Qaida and, importantly, against Shiite militias. So much so that radical cleric Moqtada Sadr is rethinking his strategy. That may be an opening - a key opening into resolving at least some of the violence.
INSKEEP: NPR's Anne Garrels is in Baghdad.
Anne, thanks very much as always.
GARRELS: Thank you.
INSKEEP: And NPR's Tom Bowman is in Washington.
Tom, thank you.
BOWMAN: You're welcome, Steve.
INSKEEP: And here in Washington, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker continue their testimony today, and we'll bring you more as we learn more.
This is NPR News.