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Petraeus, Crocker Brief Congress on '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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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