CQ Transcripts Wire
Wednesday, April 9, 2008 1:56 PM
PETRAEUS: Well, Mr. Chairman, Congressman Hunter, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide an update on the situation in Iraq and to discuss the recommendations I recently provided to my chain of command.
Since Ambassador Crocker and I appeared before you seven months ago, there has been significant but uneven security progress in Iraq. Levels of violence and civilian deaths have been reduced substantially.
Al Qaida Iraq and a number of other extremist elements have been dealt serious blows. The capabilities of Iraqi security force elements have grown. And there has been noteworthy involvement of local Iraqis in local security
Nonetheless, the situation in certain areas is still unsatisfactory and innumerable challenges remain. Moreover, as events in the past two weeks have reminded us, the progress made since last spring is still fragile and reversible.
Nonetheless, security in Iraq is better than it was when we reported to you last September, and it is significantly better than it was 15 months ago when Iraq was on the brink of civil war and the decision was made to deploy additional U.S. forces to Iraq.
A number of factors have contributed to the progress. First has been the impact of increased numbers of coalition and Iraqi forces. You're well aware of the U.S. surge.
Less recognized is that Iraq has also conducted a surge, adding well over 100,000 additional soldiers and police to its security force ranks in 2007 and slowly increasing its capability to deploy and employ these forces.
A second factor has been the employment of coalition and Iraqi forces in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations, deployed together to safeguard the Iraqi people, to pursue Al Qaida Iraq, to combat criminals and militia extremists, to foster local reconciliation, and to enable political and economic progress.
Another important factor has been the attitudinal shift among certain elements of the Iraqi population. Since the first Sunni "awakening" in late 2006, Sunni communities in Iraq increasingly have rejected Al Qaida Iraq's indiscriminate violence and extremist ideology.
Over time, "awakenings" have prompted tens of thousands of Iraqis, some former insurgents, to contribute to local security as so- called "Sons of Iraq." With their assistance and with relentless pursuit of Al Qaida Iraq, the threat posed by AQI, while still lethal and substantial, has been reduced significantly.
The recent flare-up in Basra, southern Iraq and Baghdad underscored the importance of the cease-fire declared by Muqtada al- Sadr last fall as another factor in the overall reduction in violence.
Recently, of course, some militia elements have become active again. Though a Sadr stand down order resolved the situation to a degree, the flare-up also highlighted the destructive role Iran has played in funding, training, arming and directing the so-called "special groups" and generated renewed concern about Iran in the minds of many Iraqi leaders.
Unchecked, the "special groups" pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq.
As we look to the future, our tasks, together with our Iraqi partners, will be to build on the progress achieved and to deal with the many challenges that remain.
I do believe that we can do this while continuing the ongoing drawdown of the surge forces.
In September, I described the fundamental nature of the conflict in Iraq as a competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources.
This competition continues, influenced heavily by outside actors, and its resolution remains the key to producing long-term stability in Iraq. Various elements push Iraq's ethno-sectarian competition toward violence.
Terrorists, insurgents, militia extremists and criminal gangs all pose significant threats. Al Qaida's senior leaders, who still view Iraq as the central front in their global strategy, send funding, direction and foreign fighters to Iraq.
Actions by neighboring states compound the 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 AQI. And Iran has fueled the violence in a particularly damaging way, through its lethal support to the "special groups."
These challenges in recent weeks' violence notwithstanding, Iraq's ethno-sectarian competition in many areas is now taking place more through debate and less through violence.
In fact, the recent escalation of violence in Baghdad and southern Iraq was dealt with, temporarily, at least, by most parties acknowledging that the rational way ahead is political dialogue rather than street fighting.
Though Iraq obviously remains a violent country, we do see progress in the security arena.
As this chart illustrates, for nearly six months security incidents have been at a level not seen since early to mid 2005, though the level did spike in recent weeks as a result of the violence in Basra and Baghdad, but has begun to turn down again, though the period ahead will be a sensitive one.
As our primary mission is to help protect the population, we closely monitor the number of Iraqi civilians killed due to violence.
As this chart reflects, civilian deaths have decreased over the past year to a level not seen since the February 2006 Samarra mosque bombing that set off the cycle of sectarian violence that tore the very fabric of Iraqi society in 2006 and early 2007.
Ethno-sectarian violence is of particular concern in Iraq, because it is a cancer that continues to spread if left unchecked. As the box on the bottom left of this chart shows, the number of deaths due to ethno-sectarian violence has fallen since we testified last September.
A big factor has been the reduction of that violence in Baghdad. Some of this decrease is, to be sure, due to sectarian hardening of certain Baghdad neighborhoods. However, that is only a partial explanation, as numerous mixed neighborhoods still exist.
In fact, coalition and Iraqi forces have focused along the fault lines to reduce the violence and enable Sunni and Shia leaders to begin the long process of healing in their local communities.
As the next chart shows, even though the number of high-profile attacks increased in March as Al Qaida lashed out, the current level of such attacks remains far below its height a year ago.
Moreover, as we have helped improve security and focused on enemy networks, we have seen a decrease in the effectiveness of such attacks.
The number of deaths due to ethno-sectarian violence in particular, as I noted, has remained relatively low, illustrating the enemy's inability to date to reignite the cycle of ethno-sectarian violence.
The emergence of Iraqi volunteers helping to secure their local communities has been an important development. As this chart depicts, there are now over 91,000 "Sons of Iraq," Shia as well as Sunni, under contract to help coalition and Iraqi forces protect their neighborhoods and secure infrastructure and roads.
These volunteers have contributed significantly in various areas, and the savings in vehicles not lost because of reduced violence, not to mention the priceless lives saved, have far outweighed the cost of their monthly contracts.
"Sons of Iraq" have also contributed to the discovery of improvised explosive devices and weapons and explosives caches. As this next chart shows, in fact, we have already found more caches in 2008 than we found in all of 2006.
Given the importance of the "Sons of Iraq," we're working closely with the Iraqi government to transition them into Iraqi security forces or other employment. And over 21,000 have already been accepted into the police or army or other government jobs. This process has been slow, but it is taking place.
Al Qaida also recognizes the significance of the "Sons of Iraq," and Al Qaida Iraq elements have targeted them repeatedly. However, these attacks, in addition to Al Qaida Iraq's use of women, children and the handicapped as suicide bombers, have further alienated AQI from the Iraqi people.
And the tenacious pursuit of Al Qaida Iraq, together with AQI's loss of local support in many areas, has substantially reduced its capability, numbers and freedom of movement.
This chart displays the cumulative effect of the effort against AQI and its insurgent allies. As you can see, we have reduced considerably the areas in which AQI enjoys support and sanctuary, though there clearly is more to be done.
Having noted that progress, Al Qaida Iraq is still capable of lethal attacks, and we must maintain relentless pressure on the organization, on the networks outside Iraq that support it and on the resource flows that sustain it.
This chart lays out the comprehensive strategy that we, the Iraqis and our interagency and international partners are employing to reduce what AQI needs.
As you can see, defeating Al Qaida in Iraq requires not just actions by our elite counterterrorist forces but also major operations by coalition and Iraqi conventional forces, a sophisticated intelligence effort, political reconciliation, economic and social programs, information operations initiatives, diplomatic activity, the employment of counterinsurgency principles in detainee operations, and many other actions.
Related to this effort, I applaud Congress' support for additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets in the upcoming supplemental as ISR is vital to the success of our operations in Iraq and elsewhere.
As we combat AQI, we must remember that doing so not only reduces a major source of instability in Iraq, it also weakens an organization that Al Qaida's senior leaders view as a tool to spread its influence and foment regional instability.
Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have consistently advocated exploiting the situation in Iraq, and we have also seen Al Qaida Iraq involved in destabilizing activities in the wider Mideast region.
Together with the Iraqi security forces, we have also focused on the "special groups." These elements are funded, trained, armed and directed by Iran's Quds force with help from Lebanese Hezbollah.
It was these groups that have launched Iranian rockets and mortar rounds at Iraq's seat of government in the International Zone.
Iraqi and coalition leaders have repeatedly noted their desire that Iran live up to promises made by President Ahmadinejad and other senior Iranian leaders to stop their support for the "special groups."
However, nefarious activities by the Quds force have continued, and Iraqi leaders now clearly recognize the threat they pose to Iraq.
We should all watch Iranian actions closely in the weeks and months ahead, as they will show the kind of relationship Iran wishes to have with its neighbor and the character of future Iranian involvement in Iraq.
We have transferred responsibilities to Iraqi forces as their capabilities and the conditions on the ground have permitted. Currently, as this chart shows, half of Iraq's 18 provinces are under provincial Iraqi control.
Many of these provinces, not just the successful ones in the Kurdish regional government area, but also a number of southern provinces, have done well. Challenges have emerged in some others, including, of course, Basra.
Nonetheless, this process will continue, and we expect Anbar and Qadisiyah provinces to transition in the months ahead.
Iraqi forces have grown significantly since September, and over 540,000 individuals now serve in the Iraqi security forces. The number of combat battalions capable of taking the lead in operations, albeit with some coalition support, has grown to well over 100.
These units are bearing an increasing share of the burden as evidenced by the fact that Iraqi security force losses have recently been three times our own.
We will, of course, conduct careful after-action reviews with our Iraqi partners in the wake of recent operations, as there were units and leaders found wanting in some cases, and some of our assessments may be downgraded as a result.
Nonetheless, the performance of many units was solid, especially once they got their footing and gained a degree of confidence, and certain Iraqi elements proved very capable.
Underpinning the advances of the past year have been improvements in Iraq's security institutions.
An increasingly robust Iraqi-run training base enabled the Iraqi security forces to grow by over 133,000 soldiers and police over the past 16 months, and this still-expanding training base is expected to generate an additional 73,000 soldiers and police through the rest of 2008.
Additionally, Iraq's security ministries are steadily improving their ability to execute their budgets. As this chart shows, in 2007, as in 2006, Iraq's security ministries spent more on their forces than the United States provided through the Iraqi security forces fund.
We anticipate that Iraq will spend over $8 billion on security this year and $11 billion next year, and this projection enabled us recently to reduce significantly our Iraqi security forces fund request for fiscal year 2009 from $5.1 billion to $2.8 billion.
While improved, Iraqi security forces are not yet ready to defend Iraq or maintain security throughout the country on their own. 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 division's worth of army and police units on such short notice a year ago.
On the other hand, the recent operations also underscored the considerable work to be done in the areas of expeditionary logistics, force enablers, staff development, and command and control.
We also continue to help Iraq through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. As of March 2008, the Iraqi government has purchased over $2 billion worth of equipment and services of American origin through FMS. Since September, and with your encouragement of the organizations in the FMS process, FMS deliveries have improved.
While security has improved in many areas and the Iraqi security forces are shouldering more of the load, the situation in Iraq remains exceeding complex and challenging. Iraq could face a resurgence of AQI or additional Shia groups could violate Sadr's cease-fire order. External actors like Iran could stoke violence within Iraq, and actions by other neighbors could undermine the security situation, as well.
The Commanders' Emergency Response Program, the State Department's quick response fund, and USAID programs enable us to help Iran deal with these and other challenges. To that end, I respectfully ask that you provide us by June the additional CERP funds requested by the supplemental.
Encouragingly, the Iraqi government recently allocated $300 million for us to manage its Iraqi CERP, to perform projects for their people while building their own capacity to do so, recognizing our capacity to help them.
The Iraqi government has also committed $163 million to gradually assume Sons of Iraq contracts, $510 million for small business loans, and $196 million for a joint training, education and reintegration program.
The Iraqi government pledges to provide more as they execute their budget passed two months ago. Nonetheless, it is hugely important to have our resources continue, even as Iraqi funding begins to outstrip ours.
Last month, I provided by chain of command recommendations for the way ahead in Iraq. During that process, I noted the objective of retaining and building on our hard-fought security gains while we draw down to the pre-surge level of 15 brigade combat teams.
I emphasized the need to continue work with our Iraqi partners to secure the population and to transition responsibilities to the Iraqis as quickly as conditions permit, but without jeopardizing the security gains that have been made.
As in September, my recommendations are informed by operational and strategic considerations. The operational considerations include recognition that the military surge has achieved progress, but that that progress is reversible. Iraqi security forces have strengthened their capabilities, but still must grow further.
The provincial elections in the fall, refugee returns, detainee releases, and efforts to resolve provincial boundary disputes will be challenging. The transition of Sons of Iraq will require time and careful monitoring. Withdrawing too many forces too quickly could jeopardize the progress of the past year. And performing the necessary tasks in Iraq will require sizable conventional forces, as well as special operations forces and adviser teams.
The strategic considerations include recognition that the strain on the U.S. military, especially on its ground forces, has been considerable.
A number of the security challenges inside Iraq are also related to significant regional and global threats. And a failed state in Iraq would pose serious consequences for the greater fight against Al Qaida, for regional stability, for the already-existing humanitarian crisis in Iraq, and for the effort to counter-malign Iranian influence.
After weighing these factors, I recommended to my chain of command that we continue the drawdown of the surge forces and that, upon the withdrawal of the last surge brigade combat team in July, we undertake a 45-day period of consolidation and evaluation.
At the end of that period, we will assess the conditions on the ground and determine where and when we can make recommendations for further reductions.
This process will be continuous, with recommendations for further reductions made as conditions permit. The approach does not, to be sure, allow establishment of a set withdrawal timetable. However, it does provide the flexibility those of us on the ground need to preserve the still-fragile security gains our troopers have fought so hard and sacrificed so much to achieve.
With this approach, the security achievements of 2007 and early 2008 can form a foundation for the gradual establishment of sustainable security in Iraq. This is not only important to the 27 million citizens of Iraq; it is also vitally important to those in the gulf region, to the citizens of the United States, and to the global community.
It is clearly in our national interest to help Iraq prevent the resurgence of Al Qaida in the heart of the Arab world, to help Iraq resist Iranian encroachment on its sovereignty, to avoid renewed ethno-sectarian violence that could spill over Iraq's borders and make the existing refugee crisis even worse, and to enable Iraq to expand its role in the regional and global economies.
In closing, I want to comment briefly on those serving our nation in Iraq. We've asked a great deal of them and of their families, and they have made enormous sacrifices. My keen personal awareness of the strain on them and on the force as a whole has been an important factor in my recommendations.
The Congress, the executive branch, and our fellow citizens have done an enormous amount to support our troopers and their loved ones. And all of us are grateful for that. Nothing means more to those in harm's way than the knowledge that their country appreciates their sacrifices and those of their families.
Indeed, all Americans should take great pride in the men and women serving our nation in Iraq, civilian as well as military, and in the courage, determination, resilience and initiative they demonstrate each and every day. It remains the greatest of honors to soldier with them.
Thank you very much.