Petraeus, Crocker Brief Congress on 'Surge' Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, joins U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker for long-awaited testimony before Congress. Petraeus, in particular, pointed to progress he associated with a so-called troop surge.
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Petraeus, Crocker Brief Congress on 'Surge'

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Petraeus, Crocker Brief Congress on 'Surge'

Petraeus, Crocker Brief Congress on 'Surge'

Petraeus, Crocker Brief Congress on 'Surge'

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Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, joins U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker for long-awaited testimony before Congress. Petraeus, in particular, pointed to progress he associated with a so-called troop surge.

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, General Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, and the ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, delivered their long-awaited status report on Capitol Hill today.

With a chest full of ribbons and decorations, seated in packed hearing room, the four-star general said progress has been made. And an initial drawdown of U.S. forces could begin later this month. He said troop strength could be brought to pre-surge levels by next summer. General Petraeus' underlying message was, essentially, be patience. The overall objectives in Iraq, he said, are neither quick nor easy.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (Commander, Iraq): Our assessments underscore, in fact, the importance of recognizing that a premature drawdown of our forces would likely have devastating consequences.

NORRIS: It was the beginning of two days of congressional testimony from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. All summer, President Bush has urged critics of the war to wait until Petraeus and Crocker had a chance to assess whether the surge had improved security or created enough breathing room for political progress in Iraq.

In a moment, we'll talk with NPR's Anne Garrels. She's embedded with the Army in east Baghdad.

First, today's hearings. Much anticipated and temporarily delayed by technical difficulties, just as testimony was going to begin.

Representative IKE SKELTON (Democrat, Missouri; Chairman, House Armed Services Committee): Would somebody please fix the microphone?

NORRIS: The microphone mishap might have made for a moment of humor, but from the stern expressions worn by Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus, it was clear both were eager to get down to business.

Rep. SKELTON: Testing, one, two, three.

Unidentified Man: Test, test, test, test.

NORRIS: Microphone fixed, General Petraeus began by trying to dispel the allegation that the White House had a hand in his report.

Gen. PETRAEUS: I would like to note that this is my testimony. Although, I have briefed my assessment and recommendations to my chain of command, I wrote this testimony myself.

NORRIS: General Petraeus presented multiple charts and graphs, generally suggesting that violence in Iraq is down since last year. He referred to a drop in attacks on U.S. troops, on Iraqi civilians, and a reduction in sectarian violence. And as he had said before, the general touted collaborations between American troops and tribal leaders in Anbar province. And he confirmed his plans to begin bringing some troops home.

Gen. PETRAEUS: I have recommended the 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, and the further redeployment without replacement of four other brigade combat teams, and the two surge Marine battalions in the first seven months of 2008, until we reach the pre-surge levels of 15 brigade combat teams by mid-July 2008.

NORRIS: As to the question of whether troop levels could decrease further, General Petraeus said it was too early to make that decision.

Gen. PETRAEUS: I do not believe it is reasonable to have an adequate appreciation for the pace of further reductions and mission adjustments beyond the summer of 2008 until about mid-March of next year. We will, no later than that time, consider factors similar to those on which I base the current recommendations. Having by then, of course, a better feel for the security situation, the improvements and the capabilities of our Iraqi counterparts, and the enemy situation.

NORRIS: The hearing was punctuated by several eruptions from anti-war protesters. Two women decked out in pink Statue of Liberty costumes began yelling as General Petraeus finished up his statements. And they were quickly ushered out of the room.

Next up, Ambassador Ryan Crocker. He drew parallels between Iraq's current political situation and it's past.

Ambassador RYAN CROCKER (U.S. Ambassador to Iraq): Much progress has been made particularly in building an institutional framework where there was none before. But rather than being a period in which old animosities and suspicions were overcome, the past 18 months have further strained the Iraqi society. The sectarian violence of 2006 and early 2007 had its seeds in Saddam's social deconstruction and it had dire consequences for the people of Iraq as well as its politics.

Extensive displacement and widespread sectarian killings by al-Qaida and other extremist groups have gnawed away at the already-frayed fabric of Iraqi society and politics. It is no exaggeration to say that Iraq is, and will remain for some time to come, a traumatized society.

NORRIS: Ambassador Crocker continued, and he said that he has faith Iraq's current leaders.

Ambassador CROCKER: I do believe that Iraq's leaders have the will to tackle the country's pressing problems, although it will take longer than we originally anticipated because of the environment and the gravity of the issues before them. Prime Minister Maliki and other Iraqi leaders face enormous obstacles in their efforts to govern effectively.

NORRIS: Still, Ambassador Crocker said the surge has helped bring stability to Iraq.

Ambassador CROCKER: Our increased presence made besieged communities feel that they could defeat al-Qaida by working with us. Our population security measures have made it much harder for terrorists to conduct attacks. We have given Iraqis the time and space to reflect on what sort of country they want. Most Iraqis genuinely accept Iraq as a multiethnic, multi-sectarian society. It has a balance of power that is yet to be sorted out. Enormous challenges remain. Iraqis still struggle with fundamental questions about how to share power, accept their differences, and overcome their past.

NORRIS: And Ambassador Crocker reiterated concerns about a premature pullout.

Ambassador CROCKER: I am certain that abandoning or drastically curtailing our efforts will bring failure. And the consequences of such a failure must be clearly understood by us all. An Iraq that falls into chaos or civil war will mean massive human suffering well beyond what has already occurred within Iraq's borders.

NORRIS: That was U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker testifying today alongside General David Petraeus on Capitol Hill.

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Military Goals of 'Surge' Largely Met, Petraeus Says

Hear a One-Hour Special on Monday's Hearings from NPR News

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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)
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Audio Highlights

Listen to excerpts from Gen. David Petraeus' and Ambassador Ryan Crocker's testimony so far:

Petraeus Summarizes Progress in Iraq: 'The military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met'

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Crocker Warns Against Pulling Out of Iraq: 'Our current course is hard. The alternatives are far worse.'

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Reaction to the Report

Iraqi Lawmakers Give Their Own Assessment of the Troop 'Surge'

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Father of a Fallen Soldier on What He's Looking for from the Petraeus Report

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U.S. Forces in Baghdad Keep Ear on Iraq Testimony

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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.