- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus began his highly anticipated report on the Iraq war yesterday by asserting his independence and rebuking attacks on his integrity by Democrats and antiwar groups.

“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,” Gen. Petraeus, U.S. commander in Iraq, said of his assessment of the war.

Ahead of his presentation to a House panel, Democrats portrayed the general as a flunky for President Bush who couldn’t be trusted to tell the truth about the war.

The attacks on his character culminated yesterday with MoveOn.org buying a full-page ad in the New York Times that read: “General Petraeus or General Betray Us? Cooking the books for the White House.”

Calls for Democratic congressional leaders to denounce the MoveOn.org ad went unheeded.

“Democratic leaders must make a choice today: Either embrace the character-assassination tactics Moveon.org has leveled against the four-star general leading our troops in the fight against al Qaeda, or denounce it as disgraceful,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

Pete Hegseth, executive director of Vets for Freedom, a group of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who support the mission, said the ad was “disgusting.”

MoveOn.org, said to coordinate its antiwar campaign with the Democratic leaders, released a statement saying the organization stands by the ad.

“It should come as no surprise that General Petraeus’ claims have come under critical scrutiny,” the group said. “The facts all point in one direction — the surge isn’t working — and General Petraeus and the White House are pointing in another.”

Testy rhetoric that preceded the hearing for the most part did not bubble over into the hearing, where Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker delivered their assessment of the war.

The general managed to defuse the few tense exchanges that emerged, such as a challenge to the success of the troop-surge strategy by Rep. Robert Wexler.

“With all due respect, General, among unbiased, nonpartisan experts, the consensus is stark; the surge has failed, based on most parameters,” the Florida Democrat said.

“In truth, war-related deaths have doubled in Iraq in 2007 compared to last year. Tragically, it is my understanding that seven more American troops have died while we’ve been talking today. Cherry-picking statistics or selectively massaging information will not change the basic truth.”

Gen. Petraeus, who took copious notes during Mr. Wexler’s fiery speech, responded in a firm tone.

“I would say, Congressman, that no one is more conscious of the loss of life than the commander of the forces,” the general said.

“That is something I take and feel very deeply. And if I did not think that this was a hugely important endeavor, and if I did not think that it was an endeavor in which we could succeed, I would not have testified as I did to you all here today.”

c Sara A. Carter contributed to this article.

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