- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker yesterday warned lawmakers that “fragile and reversible” security gains in Iraq would be shattered by Democrats’ pullout plans and stressed the urgency of keeping Iran in check.

“Iran continues to undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government to establish a stable, secure state through … training of criminal militia elements engaged in violence against Iraqi security forces, coalition forces and Iraqi civilians,” Mr. Crocker told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Gen. Petraeus, who appeared with the ambassador to give the war report mandated by the Democrat-led Congress, said the U.S. troop surge had drastically reduced violence and helped the Iraqi government take control of about half the country’s 18 provinces.

But the general said he did not know how many U.S. troops would be in Iraq at year’s end. He said he’s recommended a pause in troop withdrawals in midsummer to ensure that U.S. forces can keep pressure on al Qaeda terrorists and other destabilizing elements.

“External actors like Iran could stoke violence within Iraq, and actions by other neighbors could undermine the security situation as well,” the general said.



Democrats at the hearings pushed for a pullout strategy and said the Bush administration has been saying for five years that it was turning the corner in Iraq.

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  • They also questioned the general and the ambassador about the slow pace of political reform by the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the oil-rich country’s failure to pay for the war or reconstruction.

    Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Bush had failed to hold the Iraqi government accountable, resulting in the high price paid by U.S. troops and taxpayers. He said a pullout was the answer.

    “An announcement of an open-ended pause in troop reduction starting in July would simply send the wrong message to the Iraqi leaders,” the Michigan Democrat said. “Rather, we need to put continuous and increasing pressure on the Iraqis to settle their political differences, to pay for their own reconstruction with their oil windfalls and to take the lead in conducting military operations.”

    He continued, “The way to do that is to adopt a reasonable timetable for a change of mission and redeployment of most of our troops, promptly shifting responsibility to the Iraqis for their own future, politically, militarily and economically is the best hope for a successful outcome in Iraq and represents finally an exit strategy for most of our troops.”

    Gen. Petraeus, in answering similar follow-up questions, said it would defy logic to establish a timetable before knowing what conditions will be like this summer.

    “If you believe as I do — and the commanders on the ground believe — that the way forward on reductions should be conditions-based, then it is just flat not responsible to try to put down a stake in the ground and say this is when it would be or that is when it would be,” Gen. Petraeus said.

    Other signs of progress cited by Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker include the Iraqi parliament’s passing a budget and laws to promote national reconciliation, significantly larger and more capable Iraqi security forces, the organization of provincial elections this year, and the revival of marketplace businesses throughout the country.

    Despite Democrats’ criticism of the continued war effort, the political climate in Washington has shifted markedly since Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker delivered a war report to Congress in September, when the fighting and the number of U.S. casualties were escalating.

    At that time, critics openly accused Gen. Petraeus of lying about the war situation to protect Mr. Bush.

    The attacks on the general’s character culminated with the liberal group MoveOn.org’s buying a full-page ad in the New York Times the day of the September hearing that read: “General Petraeus or General Betray Us? Cooking the books for the White House.”

    Few on Capitol Hill today would voice doubt about Gen. Petraeus’ military achievements in Iraq, but war protests persisted inside the hearing room.

    Capitol Police escorted a man from the hearing when he disrupted Gen. Petraeus’ testimony by repeatedly shouting, “Bring them home.”

    About a dozen women in the hearing room lodged a silent protest by wearing Muslim dress with their faces painted white and hands painted red. They held placards emblazoned with anti-war slogans.

    Republicans remain united on the war issue and in support of Mr. Bush’s pledge to return in victory from Iraq.

    Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona said that the U.S. mission in Iraq is succeeding but that more time is needed to achieve the goal of a “peaceful, stable, prosperous, democratic state that poses no threat to its neighbors and contributes to the defeat of terrorists.”

    “This success is within reach,” Mr. McCain said, emphasizing that he does not want to keep U.S. forces in Iraq “one minute longer than necessary.”

    “We must continue to help the Iraqis protect themselves against the terrorists and the insurgents. We must press ahead against al Qaeda, the radical Shi’a militias and the Iranian-backed [fighters],” he said. “This means rejecting, as we did in 2007, the calls for a reckless and irresponsible withdrawal of our forces at the moment when they are succeeding.”

    Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker also testified yesterday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and are scheduled to appear today before House committees.

    The hearings also provided the Democratic presidential candidates — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois — a platform to articulate their war policy. Both pledge an orderly but immediate pullout if they are elected president.

    The war issue has been eclipsed lately by the country’s economic downturn, prompting Democratic leaders to stress the war’s high price tag — more than $500 billion today and estimated to hit $3 trillion in 10 years.

    Iraq is set to regain prominence next month as lawmakers debate the supplemental $102.5 billion request for 2008 war spending, which Democratic leaders plan to link to a pullout plan.

    Democrats failed in repeated attempts last year to use war funds to force Mr. Bush to accept a pullout timetable, backing down each time from a standoff with the White House.

    Gen. Petraeus said he recommended to Mr. Bush a continuation of the drawdown of combat forces deployed in the surge until July. Commanders then would undertake a 45-day period of “consolidation and evaluation” before starting an assessment process to determine plans for further troop reductions.

    “This process will be continuous, with recommendations for further reductions made as conditions permit,” Gen. Petraeus said. “This approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable; however, it does provide the flexibility those of us on the ground need to preserve the still-fragile security gains our troopers have fought so hard and sacrificed so much to achieve.”

    The general’s recommendation is expected to result in about 140,000 troops in Iraq for at least six months, down from the 160,000 deployed at the height of the troop surge.

    The reduced force level would be about 10,000 more troops than were in Iraq before the surge last year that helped stifle insurgent and sectarian attacks.

    Mr. Bush will announce his decision about troop levels tomorrow in a speech about the war.

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