dog_and_pony_show.jpgIt’s “gimme more FUs day.” I’m going to try and liveblog as much of the Petraeus/Crocker Dog and Pony Show and WH-Written Talking Points as I can. Do try to have a light hand in the comments to be kind to the servers and your liveblogger. Thanks!

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After a short delay due to non-working microphones, we are resuming.  1:29 pm ET

GEN. PETRAEUS: Thank you myriad members of Congress for giving me an opportunity to discuss the security situation in Iraq.  This is my testimony, although I have briefed my testimony to my chain of command, it has not been reviewed or written by anyone other than me.

The security incidents in Iraq have declined in 8 of the last 12 weeks, with the last 2 weeks having been lowest we’ve seen.  Coalition forces have dealt significant blows by taking away a number of their sanctuaries.  We’ve also hit a number of shi’ite militia extremists, capturing the head and numerous other leaders of Iranian-supported special groups and a member of the Lebanese Hezbollah-supported group in Iraq.  Levels of violence are still at troubling levels, however.

There are still concerns about sectarian problems within the ranks of Iraqi security forces, although they have been doing better in standing up in incursions.  Based on all this and the further progress I believe we can sustain in the next few months, I believe we can begin to reduce combat troop levels to pre-surge numbers by next summer.  I believe it is still possible to achiee our objectives in Iraq over time, although doing so with be neither easy nor quick.

There is competition among sectarian and ethnic communities for power and control.  This competition must take place, and is key to political reconciliation — the key question is whether this will take place more or less violently. 

SKELTON interrupts to say the members have copies of the chart Petraeus references. 

Chart entitled “Major Threats To Iraq.”  Says this is security challenges.  Foreign and home-grown terrorists, insurgents, lilitia extremists and criminals all push the ethno-sectarian competition toward violence.  Malign actions by Syria and especially by Iran fuel that violence.  Lack of adequate governmental capacity, lingering governmental mistrust and corruption add to these challenges.

We have found it useful to revisit the past.  Goes back to the bombing of the Golden Mosque.  Casey/Khalilzad said things were failing in Iraq — focus since then has been improving security in Baghdad, disrupting sanctuaries of sectarian control and disrupting outside influence — especially Iran’s — from disrupting safety.  Talking about mid-June series of operations in Baquba and Anbar and the belts around Baghdad, and several other areas.

Engaged in dialogue with insurgent groups and tribes, which led to several of these standing up to al qaeda and outside forces.  [CHS notes:  so much for the Ros-Lehtinen talking point on no diplomatic efforts.  ooops.]  Overall, tactical commanders see improvements on the environment — analyze data from coalition and Iraqi operation centers, using methodology that has been used for well over a year.  We try to ensure that the analysis of that data is done with rigor and consistency.  Two US intelligence agencies recently reviewed our data, and they liked it.  (No word as to which agencies these were.)

Going through a number of charts and numbers now.  Sorry, but Petraeus speaks quickly, and I’m not getting accurate numbers here — but someone will certainly grab these charts.  I’ll link them up as I find them for analysis.  Says ethno-sectarian violence is down in Baghdad neighborhoods some 80% over a period of time.

We have found significant numbers of arms and explosives caches — some 4,409 caches this year — more than the total of the last few years.  Petraeus says this may account for the disruption of attack levels, with the dramatic decrease of armaments.  Also reduction of al-Anbar problems, and they are seeing similar actions in other locations as well.  This has not been a uniform decline in all areas of Iraq.  [CHS notes:  No mention of the fact that August has always been a decline month over the four years of the conflict there.  Will be interesting to see if the media picks up on that number/scheduling trick at all.]

In the past 8 months, says that they have reduced the areas in which al qaeda enjoys sanctuary in Iraq.  Certainly not defeated, but certainly off balance and they are pursuing their leaders and operations capacity aggressively through conventional forces, special ops and better intel operations — a combination of these efforts is necessary to prevent a terrorist safe haven in Iraq.  [CHS notes:  Not to mention an urban warfare training ground, which is disastrous.]   Going into munitions which he says are provided by Iran — increasingly apparent that they are hoping to turn insurgent groups with Iranian loyalties into an Hezbollah-like group to push forward its agenda in Iraq.

The most significant development in the last 6 months ahs been individual tribes, local leaders and citizens rejecting al qaeda and working with the Iraqi government and/or coalition forces to reject them.  Anbar is unique, however, but we will try to do the same sort of engagement in other areas.   Despite concerns about sectarian problems and loyalty issues, Iraqi officers are engaged around the country.  There are around 140 Iraqi batallions in the fight, with 90 of them sort of able to work with a bit of American support.  Despite their shortages, many units operate with minimal American assistance.  Helping Iraqis to expand their forces.

The number of Iraq’s security forces may grow as much as 40,000 more troops this year.  Continuing to expand basic capacity, leadership programs, and other essential services to support these forces.  Iraq will spend more on its security forces than it will receive in aid from the US — they are one of our best military FMS customers, and thanks to members of Congress who are speeding that process up. 

The US will be in a position to reduce its forces in Iraq in the months ahead.  [CHS notes:  no mention of the fact that, by the numbers of ready troops, they pretty much have to do so.]  There is a need to continue the counterinsurgency strategy that we are already employing, with Iraqis shouldering more of the burden in the days ahead.  Need to contest the enemy’s growing use of internet operations to advance their objectives– military aspects of the surge have achieved progress and momentum.  Sucess requires conventional forces as well as special-ops forces, and security and local political progress and national political progress will take place only if security exists.

Iraqi leaders want to assume greater sovereignty in their nation.  Iraq wants to negotiate a long-term security deal with the US and other nations.  Rolling out that the marine expeditionary unit withdrawing by October, several combat brigade teams and other marine units until we reach pre-surge numbers in mid-July 2008.  In my professional judgment, it would be premature to make projections on this — it can be misleading and even hazardous, because events change quickly on the ground in Iraq.  Uses Anbar and Baghdad areas as examples. 

Need to consider these factors in mid-March of next year.  [CHS notes:  And there it is.  The next FU request -- exactly another 6 months of delay.  Shocked.  Shocked, I tell ya.]   Lovely colored chart on potential reductions over several years, I think (they don’t exactly spell that out in bold on the chart).  There is a real danger in handing things over to the Iraqis before they are ready to handle them in the local areas and among themselves. 

I believe Iraq’s problems will require a long-term effort.  We believe this will succeed, but it will take time.  Cites the 8/16/07 DIA report:  rapid withdrawal would result in a number of dangerous results, including a high risk of disintegration of Iraqi security forces, rapid deterioration of local security initiatives, al qaeda Iraq regaining initiative., more refugee flows, and internal and external forces gaining footholds to use the chaos to their advantage…and several other problems.  Need more time in Iraq to keep this from happening.

Want to thank Congress for support of military in Iraq.  The forces there are our most professional — and they continue to raise their hands and agree to fight in our nation’s uniform despite all of the problems we have seen the last few years.  All of us appreciate what you have done to ensure that they have everything they need to accomplish their mission, and to enable their families to keep going as well.  Making a plug for all the weapons’ systems investments.  Funding of commanders’ emergency response system has made a huge difference.

It remains an enormous privilege to soldier again in Iraq.  Our soldiers have done a magnificent job in the most difficult circumstances imaginable. 

Starting a new thread for Amb. Crocker…