Petraeus: ‘Surge’ meets objectives
Top general in Iraq says troops could return to “pre-surge level” by July 2008.
Later this week the White House is due to release an official report on the “surge” strategy, which will include Monday’s testimony.
Petraeus recommended that US forces be reduced by 4,000 troops in December with more to follow next year that would bring the total number back to “pre-surge” levels by the Summer of 2008.
“I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level … by next summer without jeopardising the security gains we have fought so hard to achieve.”
He said that a “premature drawdown of our forces would likely have devastating consequences”.
Petraeus said that the security situation had improved, particularly in the Western province of Anbar, but acknowledged that the number of civilian deaths was still too high and of “obvious concern”.
“Iraq is still under foreign occupation and Iraqis continue to die in great numbers”
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As he was addressing congress, there were reports from the military that nine US soldiers had been killed in Iraq, including seven personnel in a vehicle accident in western Baghdad.
Testifying alongside Petraeus, the US ambassador to Iraq said that although he could not guarantee “success” in Iraq, he believed “it is still possible to achieve a stable, democratic Iraq at peace with its neighbours”.
But Crocker warned it would be slow coming and said a new Iraq had to be built “from scratch”.
Crocker also said that Iran “will be a winner” if the US leaves Iraq by consolidating the country’s influence over the country and its resources.
“The military objectives of the surge are being met.”
“I believe that we will be able to reduce our troop presence to pre-surge levels by next summer.”
“The level of civilian deaths is clearly still too high and continues to be of serious concern.”
“In Baghdad, ‘ethno-sectarian’ deaths are down 80 per cent since December.”
“The change in the security situation in Anbar province has been particularly dramatic.”
“The number of high-profile attacks is still too high.”
“Al-Qaeda is still not defeated. However, it is off balance and we are pursuing its
“Iran seeks to fight a proxy war in Iraq.”
Hecklers repeatedly shouted during the hearing and were ordered to be evicted from the chamber by Ike Skelton, the representative chairing the proceedings.
Skelton opened the session by welcoming attendees to “probably the most important hearing of the year”.
Leaks ahead of Petraeus’ testimony exacerbated sharp political divisions in the US and Petraeus began his speech stressing the testimony was his own and had not been shown to anyone in the Pentagon or White House prior to it being distributed to congress.
Addressing congress before Petraeus’ testimony, Tom Lantos, a senior Democrat, described the Bush administration’s policy in Iraq as “myopic”.
“The majority of this congress and the American people want our troops out,” he said.
“The administration’s myopic policy in Iraq have created a fiasco.”
George Bush, the US president, has repeatedly asked for congress and the American people to listen to the evidence in the hearing before making any judgments on his administration’s strategy in Iraq.
Kimberly Halkett, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Washington, says Bush has great faith in Petraeus and Crocker and was reportedly not going to listen to the hearing.
Petraeus fulfilled predictions that he would ask for more time to fully implement his strategy and approve a partial troop withdrawal.
Josh Rushing, Al Jazeera’s military analyst, said the offer to bring home US troops was a “political bone”.
“There will be no single point at which we can claim victory.”
“It is possible for the United States to see its goals realised in Iraq.”
“It is no exaggeration to say Iraq is … a traumatised society.”
“Iraqis are facing the most profound political and economic challenges imaginable.”
“The trajectory of political, economic and diplomatic developments in Iraq is upwards, although the slope of that line is not steep.”
“The seeds of reconciliation are being planted.”
“Prime Minister Maliki and other Iraqi leaders face enormous obstacles in efforts to govern effectively.”
He said: “The army can’t sustain the deployment they have now without changing the rotation system.
“So he’s looking at having to draw down by next spring. They are overstretched.”
Zibakalam Sadegh, a professor of political science at Tehran university, dismissed claims by Crocker that Iran would benefit from continued instability in Iraq.
“Whatever has gone wrong and whenever there are security failures, they keep blaming Iran for that,” he told Al Jazeera.
“None of the American leaders have ever been able to answer the simple question of ‘what has Iran to gain from insecurity in Iraq?’.
“Indeed, Iran has everything to gain from a stable Iraq.”
Further congressional hearings will take place on Tuesday when the two men will discuss whether the overall strategy in the country is working.