Petraeus delivers report of Iraq progress to Senate skeptics
Some senators accuse the Bush administration of diverting resources to Iraq that could be used elsewhere in the war on terrorism.
Reprising their testimony that an improved security situation in Iraq is sowing seeds for a national political reconciliation between warring sectarians, Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker clashed Tuesday with skeptical senators who demanded clearer signs of a workable strategy in the four-year-old conflict.
Senators also accused the Bush administration of diverting resources to that struggle from the war on terrorism elsewhere and against al-Qaeda. At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that coincided with the sixth anniversary of al-Qaeda's attack on New York City and the Pentagon, the general and ambassador largely repeated their rationales for continuing the fighting in Iraq that they had presented Monday to two House committees.
But this time they encountered a barrage of questions about the validity of their analyses and the vagueness of their predictions about when and how the United States could expect to withdraw its troops from Iraq and leave that ravaged country with a chance to achieve peace.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del., said an ongoing dispute between conflicting assessments of exactly how much improved security has occurred in Iraq "misses the point ... The one thing virtually everyone now agrees is that there is no purely military solution in Iraq. Lasting stability requires a political settlement among the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds."
The evidence, he said, indicates that a political settlement remains indefinite and undefinable, and he expressed grave doubt that a continuation of current U.S. battlefield tactics and overall strategy would change anything, now or in the foreseeable future.
Petraeus insisted that measurable improvement in the tactical struggle has been achieved in Baghdad and the western Anbar province, and that by year's end the Iraqi government will have 480,000 national police on hand to pick up a larger share of the security burden now borne mainly by U.S. troops. "I believe," he said, repeating his testimony to the House, "that we'll be able to withdraw one-fourth of our [combat] brigades by next summer."
Several senators noted that after such a withdrawal, about 130,000 would remain in the country.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said his own assessment of the problem there, after a recent trip to Iraq and talks with non-commissioned soldiers doing the actual fighting, indicates that once Americans leave a pacified area, insurgents will re-emerge within hours and resume the ethnic and religious conflict that has prevented a national political settlement.
While acknowledging that the struggle in Iraq will continue to be difficult and uncertain of outcome, Crocker said "a secure, stable, democratic Iraq at peace with its neighbors is attainable." But it will not be easy.
"The process will not be quick, it will be uneven, punctuated by setbacks as well as achievements, and it will require substantial U.S. resolve [to help repair] the frayed fabric of Iraqi society and politics." That nation, he went on, "will remain for some time to come a traumatized society."