Washington Times – Editorial: In their congressional testimony on Iraq this week, Army Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker did a superb job of outlining the progress made in Iraq thus far and the dire consequences of prematurely withdrawing troops from there. The Washington Times
In their congressional testimony on Iraq this week, Army Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker did a superb job of outlining the progress made in Iraq thus far and the dire consequences of prematurely withdrawing troops from there. Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker made a powerful case that while the U.S. troop surge is responsible for a dramatic reduction in violence during the past year, progress remains fragile and Iran is doing all it can to subvert its western neighbor. “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 on Tuesday.
The general and the ambassador did not shy away from pointing out the serious problems remaining in the Iraqi government. Gen. Petraeus, for example, noted that Iraqi Security Forces “are not yet ready to defend Iraq or maintain security throughout the country on their own,” pointing to the uneven performance in fighting well-armed militias last month in Basra. But both men avoided the petulant tone adopted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who sounded less concerned about defeating jihadists than about getting a troop withdrawal timetable regardless of conditions on the ground. “With 160,000 courageous troops serving in Iraq, President Bush has an exit strategy for just one man himself on Jan. 20, 2009,” he complained.
By contrast, Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker offered a careful, measured assessment of where military and political efforts in Iraq are succeeding and where they are not. “Recent operations in Basra highlight improvements in the ability of the Iraqi Security Forces to deploy substantial numbers of units, supplies, and replacements on very short notice; they certainly could not have deployed a divisions worth of Army and Police units on such short notice a year ago,” Gen. Petraeus said.
“On the other hand, the recent operations also underscored the considerable work still to be done in the areas of logistics, force enablers, staff development, and command and control.” While many Iraqi military units were unprepared for last month’s fighting in Basra, they demonstrated that they can move around the country in ways they could not six months ago, he added.
To be sure, many positive developments have occurred since the U.S. troop surge began last year. Sunni “Awakening” movements have arisen in response to the brutal behavior of al Qaeda forces. This has added tens of thousands of Iraqis some of them former members of the terrorist insurgency to government security forces working in concert with the United States. Some of them are in the process of being integrated into the security forces. Coalition and Iraqi security forces are conducting counterinsurgency operations across the country. Ethnic and sectarian violence have dropped substantially as a result of the greater number of American and Iraqi forces deployed against terrorists, insurgents and militias.
At the same time, massive challenges remain that will require an American troop presence for years to come. “Terrorists, insurgents, militia extremists and criminal gangs pose significant threats,” Gen. Petraeus noted. “Al Qaeda’s senior leaders, who still view Iraq as a central front in their global strategy, send funding, direction and foreign fighters to Iraq. Actions by neighboring states compound Iraq’s challenges. Syria has taken some steps to reduce the flow of foreign fighters through its territory, but not enough to shut down the key network that supports [al Qaeda in Iraq.”> And Iran has fueled the violence in a particularly damaging way through its support to the Special Groups [militias supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.”>”
While Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker provided a nuanced account of what is taking place in Iraq, it was striking to observe the reactions of three senators who are still in the running for the presidency Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Republican Sen. John McCain. Both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton repeated their calls for withdrawing troops from Iraq (although this time Mrs. Clinton had the decency not to suggest that Gen. Petraeus was lying, as she did in September).
As for Mr. McCain, who supported the surge long before anyone else, he appeared dignified and statesmanlike, questioning Gen. Petraeus about the problems with the Iraqi security forces. The contrast between Mr. McCain and his prospective challengers could hardly be more stark.