Analyst: Petraeus Left No 'Wiggle Room' for Pullout

Gen. David Petraeus

hide captionGen. David Petraeus testifies Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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In addition to hammering Iran for its role in Iraq, Ambassador Ryan Crocker and top American commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus left no "comfort or wiggle room" for those advocating withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, according to analyst Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations.

From testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Cooks says, it's clear "Petraeus and his chain of command are not at all convinced the gains of the surge will stick. If things go crazy again, they want to have enough troops there to at least handle the situation. It's indicative of the fact they have real second thoughts about what's going on."

As for U.S. troop numbers and Iraqi readiness to replace them, Cook says there will be "at least 100,000 troops, maybe even more," will be in Iraq up until the presidential election.

Cook, who was also an adviser to the Iraq Study Group led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, stresses that hammering Iran was one of two interesting points in the hearings. He says in particular that Petraeus and Crocker blamed Iranian influence in the past two weeks' violence in Basra. But Cook points out that it was the Iranians who helped secure the cease-fire there and who were responsible for holding back the Mahdi Army.

"That's not to suggest the Iranians have been constructive in Iraq," Cook says. "It's clear the Iranians are bad actors," he says, but U.S. officials who slam Iran must recognize that it's a neighbor to Iraq. "It's only natural they're going to seek to extend their influence. They're going to play every side. It's not just that the Iranians are supporting Shia militias. ... All [parties in Iraq] have strong ties to the Iranians. ... They have better ties with the Iranians than we know, which may be a good thing, but then again it also may not be a good thing."

The second interesting point in the testimony was Petraeus and Crocker calling the surge gains "fragile" or "reversible" while also saying things in Iraq are "going really pretty well." Those statements contradict each other, Cook says.

The truth, Cook says, is more complicated and difficult to measure. He points to the fact that absent from the testimony was any significant mention of benchmarks, the set of 14 basic indicators stressed the last time Petraeus spoke to Congress. "There's been very little progress," Cook says. "We haven't gotten very far since September."

Absent any talk of benchmarks, Cook says, a key to understanding the dire situation in Iraq is the fact that 1,000 Iraqi troops refused to fight in Basra two weeks ago. "A, a thousand guys did desert," Cook says. "B, [U.S. commanders] had to call in close air support. ... After the billions of dollars spent on training 400,000-plus Iraqi security forces, they're not ready to do the job."

The state of Iraqi readiness to fight is the same as four years ago, Cook says. For the battle of Fallujah in 2004, he says, Iraq soldiers were "fully trained up and ready to fight."

Now, Cook says, the Iraqi forces "basically melted away."

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