Petraeus, Crocker Testify at Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Iraq

CQ Transcripts Wire

April, 8 2008

SPEAKERS: SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., D-DEL. CHAIRMAN SEN. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, D-CONN. SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS. SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, D-WIS. SEN. BARBARA BOXER, D-CALIF. SEN. BILL NELSON, D-FLA. SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL. SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ, D-N.J. SEN. BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, D-MD. SEN. BOB CASEY, D-PA. SEN. JIM WEBB, D-VA.

SEN. RICHARD G. LUGAR, R-IND. RANKING MEMBER SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-NEB. SEN. NORM COLEMAN, R-MINN. SEN. BOB CORKER, R-TENN. SEN. JOHN E. SUNUNU, R-N.H. SEN. GEORGE V. VOINOVICH, R-OHIO SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI, R-ALASKA SEN. JIM DEMINT, R-S.C. SEN. JOHNNY ISAKSON, R-GA. SEN. DAVID VITTER, R-LA. SEN. JOHN BARRASSO, R-WYO.

WITNESSES: GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS (USA), COMMANDER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ RYAN CROCKER

[*] BIDEN: While our witnesses are taking their seat, let me begin by saying to the audience you are welcome. We're delighted to have you here. But I will tell you now anyone who speaks up, whether it's praiseworthy or otherwise, under any circumstances during the hearing, I will ask the Capitol Police to escort them permanently from the hearing room so that we can spend our time talking to the witnesses.

As I said in the anteroom to our distinguished witnesses, we're delighted to have you back.

I don't know how delighted you are to be back. But thank you for your patience. And, again, welcome to the Foreign Relations Committee.

To state the obvious, gentlemen, we, the two of you, and all of us on this platform share a common responsibility to defend the security of the United States of America. And your assignment to do so is focused on Iraq, and you perform that mission with extraordinary skill and courage in my view.

This country owes you and all the women and men who serve under each of you a genuine debt of gratitude, both those in uniform and out of uniform.

I want to, as one of the many on this platform who've visited Iraq on scores of occasions, or on many occasions, point out that there are -- that civilians are being killed. U.S. foreign service personnel are wounded, civilian personnel are injured, as well as our military women and men, and we owe them all, all of them, a great debt of gratitude. A debt, to state the obvious, we're not going to be able to fully repay.

But, gentlemen, your mission is limited to Iraq, and Congress and the president have a broader responsibility. We have to decide where and when to send troops, how to spend our treasure, not just in Iraq but around the entire world. We have to prioritize among the many challenges to our security -- I know you're fully aware of what they are -- but the many challenges to our security and the many needs of the American people that extend and exceed Iraq.

BIDEN: We have to judge how our actions in one place affect ability to act in other places. And we have to make hard choices, based on finite resources.

As you rightly said this morning, General, it is not your job to answer those questions, although you're fully capable of answering those broader questions. It's the responsibility of those, as you put it in an exchange, as I recall, with Senator Warner, who have a broader view to make these larger decisions about allocation of resources.

Your focus is, and should be, and has been, well-focused on America's interests in Iraq and how our interests are affected, based on how things go in Iraq.

Our focus, then, must be America's security in the world and how to make us more secure at home overall.

The purpose of the surge was to bring violence down so that Iraq leaders could come together politically. Violence has come down. But the Iraqis have not come together, at least not in the fashion that was anticipated.

Our military has played a very important role in the surge, has played a role in reducing the violence. But so, as you've acknowledged, did other developments.

First, the Sunni Awakening, which preceded the surge, but was in fact enabled by the surge. Second, the Sadr cease-fire, which to state the obvious, could end as we're speaking. And, third, the sectarian cleansing that has left Baghdad, much of Baghdad, separated, with fewer targets to shoot at and to bomb -- over 4.5 million people displaced in and out of Iraq.

And these tactical gains are real, but they are relative. Violence is now where it was in 2005 and spiking up again. Iraq is still incredibly dangerous. And despite what the president said last week, it is very, very, very far from normal.

These are gains, but they are fragile gains. Awakening members, frustrated at the government's refusal to integrate them into the normal security forces, as you know better than I, General and Ambassador, could turn their guns on us tomorrow.

Sadr could end his cease-fire at any moment, and maybe his cease- fire is beyond his control to maintain. Sectarian chaos could resume with the bombing of another major mosque.

Most importantly, the strategic purpose of our surge, in my view, has not been realized, and that is genuine power sharing that gives Iraqi factions the confidence to pursue their interests peacefully.

What progress we've seen has come at the local level, with deal and truces made among tribes and tribe members and other grassroots groups. That is political progress, very different than was anticipated.

There is little sustainable progress, though, at the national level. And in my view, little evidence we're going to see any anytime soon.

Yes, Iraqi leaders have passed some law, but the details as they emerge and implementation as it lags, this progress seems likely to, in many cases, undermine reconciliation as opposed to advance it.

Despite this reality, it is your recommendation that when the surge ends, we should not further draw down American forces so that we would, for fear we'd jeopardize the progress we've made.

If that's the case, we're appreciably closer -- are we -- the question is, are we appreciably closer than we were 15 months ago to the goal the president set for Iraq when he announced the surge, and that is a country that can, quote, "govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself in peace."

If we stay the course, will we be any closer 15 months from now to that goal than we are today?

It seems to me that we're stuck where we started before the surge, with 140,000 troops in Iraq and no end in sight. That, in my view, is unsustainable.

It is unsustainable from a military perspective, according to serving and retired military officers, and it is unacceptable to the American people.

The president likes to talk about the consequences of drawing down our forces in Iraq. And he makes a dire case, which you echoed this morning. That's a debate we should have.

The president's premises are highly debatable. We've heard detailed testimony in this committee from military and civilian experts that disagree with the premises and the conclusions as what would follow if, in fact, we withdrew from Iraq.

Would starting to leave really strengthen Al Qaida in Iraq and give it a launching pad to attack America, as has been asserted, or would it eliminate what's left of Al Qaida's indigenous support in Iraq?

What about Al Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the people who actually attacked us on 9/11? We know where they live. We know who they are. And we don't have the capacity to do much about it. If we leave, would they be emboldened? Or would, to paraphrase a national intelligence estimate on terrorism, would they lose one of their most effective recruiting tools, the notion that we're in Iraq to stay with permanent military bases and control over the oil? Not our stated goals, but the propaganda tool being used.

And would they, in fact, if we left Iraq, risk the full measure of American might which they're able to avoid now in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

What about Iran? Would leaving actually increase it's already huge influence on Iraq? Or would it shift the burden of Iraq from us to them and make our forces a much more credible deterrent to Iranian misbehavior?

These are open questions. Equally competent people as you have testified before us that the results would be the opposite that you and the president have posited. Worth debating.

BIDEN: Would our departure accelerate sectarian chaos or would it cause the Iraqi leaders and Iraqi neighbors to finally begin to act responsibly and make the compromises they have to make in order to literally be able to live -- if they're as exhausted with fighting as is asserted?

We could debate the consequences of starting to leave Iraq. It's totally legitimate. But more importantly is the debate we're not having.

We should also talk about what the president refuses to acknowledge: the increasingly intolerable cost of staying in Iraq. The risks of leaving Iraq are debatable.

The cost of staying with 140,000 troops are totally knowable, and they get steeper and steeper and steeper every single day.

The continued loss of life and limb of our soldiers; the emotional and economic strain on our troops and their families due to repeated extended tours, as Army Chief of Staff George Casey recently told us; the drain on our treasury, $12 billion every month, that we could spend on housing, education, health care, or reducing the deficit; the impact on the readiness of our armed forces, tying down so many troops that we've heard from vice chief of staff of the Army, Richard Cody, we don't have any left over to deal with new emergencies; the inability to send soldiers to the real central front in the war on terror which lies between Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Al Qaida has regrouped and is plotting new attacks and is alive and well, and we know where they live.

Last month in Afghanistan, General McNeill, who commands the international forces, told me that with two extra combat brigades -- about 10,000 soldiers -- he could turn around the security situation in the south where the Taliban is on the move. But he then readily acknowledged he knows they're not available. There's no way he can get 10,000 troops, because they're tied down in Iraq.

Even when we do pull troops out of Iraq, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen says we would have on to send them home for a year of rest and retraining before we could even send them to Afghanistan, where everyone acknowledges more troops are needed.

BIDEN: Senator Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and I wrote to Secretaries Rice and Gates to request that, like you, General McNeill and our ambassador to Afghanistan testify jointly before our committees so we can make logical choices based on specific requests coming out of each of those theaters as to which is the place we should spend our limited resources.

We've spent less in six years in Afghanistan than we spend in three weeks -- three weeks in Iraq. So we still don't have a response, I might add.

And 15 months into the surge, we've gone from drowning to treading water. We're still spending $3 billion every week and we're still losing -- thank God it's less -- but 30 to 40 American lives every month.

We can't keep treading water without exhausting ourselves. But that's what the president seem to be asking us to do. He can't tell us when or even if Iraqis will come together politically. He can't tell us when or even if we will draw down below the pre-surge level. He can't tell us when or even if Iraq will be able to stand on its own two feet.

He says the Iraqi army will stand down -- the Iraqi army stands up -- which Iraqi army? A sectarian Iraqi army made up of all the Shia, or an inter-ethnic Iraqi army trusted by all the people?

He can't tell us when or even if this war will end.

BIDEN: Most Americans want this war to end. I believe all do, including you gentlemen. They want us to come together around a plan to leave Iraq without leaving chaos behind. They are not defeatist, as some have suggested. They're patriots. They understand the national interest and the great things America can achieve if we responsibly end the war we should not have started.

I believe it's fully within our power to do that, and the future of our soldiers, our security and our country will be much brighter when we succeed in getting out of Iraq without leaving chaos behind.

I yield to my colleague, Chairman Lugar.

LUGAR: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I join you in welcoming General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker back to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

We truly commend their skilled service in Iraq and the achievements that United States military and diplomatic personnel have been able to bring forward under their leadership.

We're grateful for the decline in fatalities among Iraqi civilians and United States personnel and the expansion of security in many regions and neighborhoods throughout Iraq.

Last week, our committee held a series of hearings in anticipation of today's hearing. We engaged numerous experts on the situation in Iraq and on strategies for moving forward. Our discussions yielded several premises that might guide our discussion today.

First, the surge has succeed in improving the conditions on the ground in many areas of Iraq and creating, quote, "breathing space," end of quote, for exploring political accommodation. Economic activity has improved and a few initial political benchmarks have been achieved.

The United States took advantage of Sunni disillusionment with Al Qaida tactics, the Sadr faction's desire for a cease-fire, and other factors to construct multiple cease-fire agreements with tribal and sectarian leaders. Tens of thousands of Iraqi Sunnis who previously had sheltered Al Qaida and targeted Americans are currently contributing security operations drawn by their interest in self- preservation and United States payments.

Second, security improvements derived purely from American operations have reached or almost reached a plateau. Military operations may realize some marginal security gains in some areas, but these gains are unlikely to be transformational for the country beyond what has already occurred. Progress moving forward depends largely on political events in Iraq.

LUGAR: Third, despite the improvements in security, the central government has not demonstrated that it can construct a top-down political accommodation for Iraq. The Iraqi government is afflicted by corruption and shows signs of sectarian bias. It still has not secured the confidence of most Iraqis or demonstrated much competence in forming the basic government functions, including managing Iraq's oil wealth, overseeing reconstruction programs, delivering government assistance to the provinces or creating jobs.

Fourth, though portions of the Iraqi population are tired of the violence and would embrace some type of permanent cease-fire or political accommodation. Sectarian and tribal groups remain heavily armed and are focused on expanding or solidifying their positions.

The lack of technical competence within the Iraqi government, external interference by the Iranians and others, the corruption and criminality at all levels of Iraqi society, a departure of Iraq of many of it's most talented citizens, the lingering terrorist capability of Al Qaida in Iraq seemingly intractable disputes over territories and oil assets, and power struggles between and within sectarian and tribal groups all impede a sustainable national reconciliation.

Iraq will be an unstable country for the foreseeable future. And if some type of political settlement can be reached, it will be inherently fragile.

Fifth, operations in Iraq have severely strained the United States military.

LUGAR: And these strains will impose limit on the size and length of future deployments to Iraq, irrespective of political divisions or the outcome of the elections in our country.

Last week, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General Richard Cody, the vice chief of staff for the Army, testified, and I quote, "Today our Army is out of balance. The current demand for forces in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds our sustainable supply of soldiers, of units and equipment, and limits our ability to provide ready forces for other contingencies.

"Our readiness, quite frankly, is being consumed as fast as we build it. Lengthy and repeated deployments, with insufficient recovery time at home stations have placed incredible stress on our soldiers and on their families, testing the resolve of the all- volunteer force like never before," end of quote, from the general.

Later in the hearing, General Cody said, and I quote again, "I've never seen our lack of strength of strategic depth be at where it is today," end of quote.

Limitations imposed by these stresses were echoed in our own hearings. General Barry McCaffrey asserted that troop levels in Iraq have to be reduced, stating that the Army is experiencing significant recruiting and retention problems and that 10 percent of recruits should not be in uniform.

Major General Robert Scales testified, and I quote, "In a strange twist of irony, for the first time since the summer of 1863, the number of ground soldiers available is determining American policy rather than policy determining how many troops we need.

"The only point of contention is how precipitous will be the withdrawal and whether the schedule of withdrawal should be a matter of administration policy," end of quote.

If one accepts the validity of all or most of these five premises, the terms of our inquiry today are much different than they were last September.

At that time, the president was appealing to Congress to allow the surge to continue to create breathing space for a political accommodation. Today, the questions are whether and how improvements in security can be converted into political gains that can stabilize Iraq, despite the impending drawdown of United States troops. Simply appealing for more time to make progress is insufficient. Debate over how much progress we have made and whether we can make more is less illuminating than determining whether the administration has a definable political strategy that recognizes the time limitations we face and seeks a realistic outcome designed to protect American vital interests.

Our witnesses last week offered a wide variety of political strategies for how we might achieve an outcome that would preserve regional stability, prevent the worst scenarios for bloodshed, and protect basic United States national security interests.

LUGAR: These included focusing more attention on building of the Iraqi army, embracing the concept of federalism, expanding the current bottom-up cease fire matrix into a broader national accommodation, negotiating with the Iraqis in the context of an announced U.S. withdrawal, and creating a regional framework to bolster Iraqi security.

But none of our witnesses last week claimed that the task in Iraq was simple or the outcome would likely fulfill the idea of a pluralist democratic nation closely aligned with the United States.

All suggested that spoiling activities and the fissures in Iraqi society could undermine even the most well-designed efforts by the United States.

Unless the United States is able to convert progress made thus far into a sustainable political accommodation that supports our long- term national security objectives in Iraq, this progress will have limited meaning.

We cannot assume that sustaining some level of progress is enough to achieve success, especially when we know that current American troop levels in Iraq have to be reduced and spoiling forces will be at work in Iraq. We need a strategy that anticipates a political end game and employs every plausible means to achieve it.

I thank General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker for joining us. I look forward to our discussion of how the United States can define success and then achieve our vital objectives in Iraq.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BIDEN: Thank you.

Gentlemen, Mr. Ambassador, I think it's on.

CROCKER: Mr. Chairman, Senator Lugar, members of the committee, it is an honor to appear before you today to provide my assessment on political, economic and diplomatic developments in Iraq.

When General Petraeus and I reported to you in September, I gave my considered judgment on whether our goals in Iraq were attainable.

Can Iraq develop into a united, stable country with a democratically elected government operating under the rule of law? Last September, I said that the (inaudible) trajectory, of political, economic and diplomatic developments in Iraq was upwards, although the slope of that line was not steep.

Developments over the past seven months have strengthened my sense of a positive trend. Immense challenges remain and progress is uneven and often frustratingly slow, but there is progress. Sustaining that progress will require continuing U.S. resolve and commitment.

What has been achieved is substantial, but it is also reversible. Five years ago, the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad.

CROCKER: The euphoria of that moment evaporated long ago. But as Iraq emerges from the shattering violence of 2006 and the early part of 2007, there is reason to sustain that commitment and the enormous investment we have made in the lives of our young men and women and our resources.

Let me describe the developments upon which I base such a judgment.

The first is at the national level in the form of legislation and the development of Iraq's parliament. In September, we were disappointed that Iraq had not yet completed key laws. In the last several months, Iraq's parliament has formulated, debated vigorously, and in many cases passed legislation dealing with vital issues of reconciliation and nation building.

A pension law extended benefits to individuals who had been denied them because of service with the previous regime.

The accountability and justice law, de-Baathification reform, passed after lengthy and often contentious debate, reflecting a strengthened spirit of reconciliation, as does a far-reaching amnesty law.

The provincial powers law is a major step forward in defining the relationship between the federal and provincial governments. This involved a debate about the fundamental nature of the state similar in its complexity to our own lengthy and difficult debate over states' rights.

The provincial powers law also called for provincial elections by October 1 of this year, and an electoral law is now under discussion that will set the parameters for these elections.

All major parties have announced their support for elections, which will be a major step forward in Iraq's political development and will set the stage for national elections in late 2009.

A vote by the Council of Representatives in January to change the design of the Iraqi flag means that flag now flies in all parts of the country for the first time in years.

And the passage of the 2008 budget, with record amounts for capital expenditures, ensures that the federal and provincial governments will have the resources for public spending.

CROCKER: All of this has been done since September. These laws are not perfect and much depends on their implementation, but they are important steps.

Also important has been the development of Iraq's council of representatives as a national institution. Last summer, the parliament suffered from persistent and often paralyzing disputes over leadership and procedure. Now it is successfully grappling with complex issues and producing viable trade-offs and compromised packaged.

As debates in Iraq's parliament become more about how to resolve tough problems in a practical way, Iraqi politics have become more fluid. While these politics still have a sectarian bent and basis, coalitions have formed around issues and sectarian political groupings, which often were barriers to progress -- have become more flexible.

Let me also talk about the intangibles: attitudes among the Iraqi people. In 2006 and in 2007, many understandably questioned whether hatred between Iraqis of different sectarian backgrounds was so deep that a civil war was inevitable.

A Sunni Awakening movement in Anbar, which so courageously confronted Al Qaida continues to keep the peace in the area and keep Al Qaida out.

Fallujah, once a symbol for violence and terror, is now one of Iraq's safest cities.

The Shia holy cities of Karbala and Najaf are enjoying security and growing prosperity in the wake of popular rejection of extremist militia activity. The Shia clerical leadership, the (inaudible), based in Najaf, has played a quiet but important role in support of moderation and reconciliation.

In Baghdad, we can see Iraqis are not pitted against each other purely on the basis of sectarian affiliation.

The security improvements of the last -- of the past month have diminished atmosphere of suspicion and allowed for acts of humanity that transcend sectarian identities.

CROCKER: When I arrived in Baghdad a year ago, my first visit to a city district was to the predominantly Sunni area of Durra. Surge forces were just moving into neighborhoods still gripped by Al Qaida. Residents were also terrorized by extremist Shia militias.

Less than a year later, at the end of February, tens of thousands of Shia pilgrims walked through those same streets on their way to Karbala to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. Sunni residents offered food and water as they passed through, and some joined the pilgrimage.

News from Iraq in recent weeks has been dominated by the situation in Basra. Taken as a snapshot, with scenes of increasing violence and masked gunmen in the streets, it is hard to see how the situation supports a narrative of progress in Iraq. And there is still very much to be done to bring full government control to the streets of Basra and eliminate entrenched extremist, criminal and militia groups.

But when viewed with a broader lens, the Iraqi decision to take on these groups in Basra has major significance.

First, a Shia-majority government led by Prime Minister Maliki has demonstrated its commitment to taking on criminals and extremists regardless of sectarian identity.

Second, Iraqi security forces led these operations in Basra and in towns and cities throughout the south. British and U.S. elements played important roles, but these were supporting roles, as they should be.

The operation in Basra has also shaken up Iraqi politics. The prime minister returned to Baghdad from Basra shortly before General Petraeus and I left for Washington, and he is confident in his decision and determined to press the fight against these illegal groups, but also determined to take a hard look at lessons learned.

The efforts of the government against extremist militia elements have broad political support, as a statement April 5 by virtually all of Iraq's main political leaders -- Sunni, Shia and Kurd -- made clear.

A wild card remains the Sadrist trend and whether the Iraqis can continue to drive a wedge between the other elements of the trend and Iranian-supported special groups.

CROCKER: A dangerous development in the immediate wake of the Basra operation was what appeared to be a reunification between special groups and mainline Jaish al-Mahdi. We also saw a potential collapse of the Jaish al-Mahdi freeze in military operations.

As the situation unfolded, however, Muqtada al-Sadr issued a statement that disavowed anyone possessing heavy weapons, which would include the signature weapons of the special groups.

This statement can further sharpen the distinction between members of the Sadrist trend, who should not pose a threat to the Iraqi state, and members of the special groups, who very much do.

One conclusion I draw from these signs of progress is that the strategy that began with the surge is working. This does not mean that U.S. support should be open-ended, or that the level and nature of our engagement should not diminish over time.

It is in this context that we have begun negotiating a bilateral relationship between Iraq and the United States.

In August, Iraq's five principal leaders requested a long-term relationship with the United States, to include economic, political, diplomatic and security cooperation.

The heart of this relationship will be a legal framework for the presence of American troops similar to that which exists in nearly 80 countries around the world.

The Iraqis view the negotiation of this framework as a strong affirmation of Iraqi sovereignty, placing Iraq on par with other U.S. allies and removing the stigma of Chapter 7 status under the U.N. Charter, pursuant to which coalition forces presently operate.

Such an agreement is in Iraq's interest and ours.

U.S. forces will remain in Iraq beyond December 31, 2008, when the U.N. resolution presently governing their presence expires. Our troops will need basic authorizations and protections to continue operations, and this agreement will provide those authorizations and protections.

The agreement will not establish permanent bases in Iraq, and we anticipate that it will expressly forswear them.

CROCKER: The agreement will not specify troop levels, and it will not tie the hands of the next administration. Our aim is to ensure that the next president arrives in office with a stable foundation upon which to base policy decisions, and that is precisely what this agreement will do. Congress will remain fully informed as these negotiations proceed in the coming weeks and months.

Mr. Chairman, significant challenges remain in Iraq. A reinvigorated cabinet is necessary both for political balance and to improve the delivery of services to Iraq's people. Challenges to the rule of law, especially corruption, are enormous. Disputed internal boundaries, the Article 140 process, must be resolved. The return of refugees and the internally displaced must be managed. The rights of women and minorities must be better protected.

Iraqis are aware of the challenges they face and are working on them.

Iraq's political progress will not be linear. Developments, which are on the whole positive, can still have unanticipated or destabilizing consequences. The decision to hold provincial elections, vital for Iraq's democratic development and long-term stability, will also produce new strains.

Some of the violence we have seen recently in southern Iraq reflects changing dynamics within the Shia community as the political and security context changes.

Such inflection points underscore the fragility of the situation in Iraq, but it would be wrong to conclude that any eruption of violence marks the beginning of an inevitable backslide.

CROCKER: With respect to economics and capacity-building, in September, I reported to you that there had been some gains in Iraq's economy and in the country's efforts to build capacity to translate these gains into more effective governance and services.

The Iraqis have built on these gains over the past months, as is most evident in the revival of marketplaces across Iraq and the reopening of long-shuttered businesses.

According to a Center for International Private Enterprise poll last month, 78 percent of Iraqi business owners surveyed expect the Iraqi economy to grow significantly in the next two years.

With improving security and rising government expenditures, the IMF projects that Iraq's GDP will grow 7 percent in real terms this year, and inflation has been tamed. The dinar remains strong, and the central bank has begun to bring down interest rates.

Iraq's 2008 budget has allocated $13 billion for reconstruction, and a $5 billion supplemental budget this summer will further invest export revenues in building the infrastructure and providing the services that Iraq so badly needs.

This spending also benefits the United States. Iraq recently announced its decision to purchase 40 commercial aircraft from the U.S. at an estimated cost of $5 billion.

As Iraq is now earning the financial resources it needs for bricks-and-mortar construction through oil production and export, our assistance has shifted to capacity development and an emphasis on local and post-kinetic development through our network of provincial reconstruction teams and ministerial advisers.

The era of U.S.-funded major infrastructure projects is over. We are seeking to ensure that our assistance in partnership with the Iraqis leverages Iraq's own resources.

Our 25 PRTs throughout Iraq have been working to improve provincial and local governance capabilities, particularly in budget design and execution.

CROCKER: They're also helping to establish critical linkages between provincial and federal governments.

Our PRTs are great enablers, and we are working to ensure their continued viability as our forces redeploy. The relatively small amounts they disburse through quick response funds have major impacts in local communities, and congressional support is important, as it is for other vital programs in the F.Y. '08 global war on terrorism supplemental request.

Iraq increasingly is using its own resources to support projects and programs that we have developed. It has committed approximately $200 million in support of a program to provide vocational training for concerned local citizens who stood up with us in the Awakening.

Our technical assistance advisers have helped design new procurement procedures for Iraq's Oil Ministry. We developed the technical specifications from which Iraq's state-owned oil company will build new oil export platforms and underwater pipelines worth over $1 billion.

And in Baghdad, in the last three months, the municipality has stepped up to take over labor contracts worth $100 million that we had been covering under the Community Stabilization Program.

Like so much else, Iraq's economy is fragile, the gains reversible, and the challenges ahead substantial. Iraq will need to continue to improve governmental capacity, pass national-level hydrocarbon legislation, improve electrical production and distribution, improve the climate for foreign and domestic investment, create short- and long-term jobs, and tackle the structural and economic problems of the vital agricultural sector.

We will be helping the Iraqis as they take on this challenging agenda, along with other international partners, including the United Nations and the World Bank.

Mr. Chairman, along with the security surge last year, we also launched a diplomatic surge focused on enhancing U.N. engagement in Iraq, anchoring the International Compact with Iraq and establishing an expanded neighbors process, which serves as a contact group in support of Iraq.

CROCKER: The United Nations has taken advantage of an expanded mandate granted to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, UNAMI, to increase the scope of its activities and the size of its staff. Under dynamic new leadership, UNAMI is playing a key role in preparing for provincial elections and in providing technical assistance to resolve disputed internal boundaries.

UNHCR has returned international staff to Iraq to assist with the return of internally displaced persons and refugees.

The International Compact with Iraq provides a five-year framework for Iraq to reform its economy and to achieve economic self- sufficiency in exchange for long overdue Saddam error debt relief.

Preparations are under way for a ministerial-level compact meeting in Sweden next month. Seventy-four nations were represented in last year's gathering in Egypt.

Iraq's neighbors also understand they have a major interest in Iraq's future. Turkey hosted the second ministerial meeting of Iraq's neighbors in November and Kuwait will host a third meeting later this month. In addition to all of Iraq's neighbors, these expanded conferences also include the Permanent Five members of the Security Council, the Arab League and the G-8.

Support from Arab capitals has not been strong and it must improve for the sake of Iraq and for the sake of the region. Bahrain's recent announcement that it will return an ambassador to Baghdad is welcomed and other Arab states should follow suit.

Iraq is a multi-ethnic state, but it is also a founding member of the Arab League and an integral part of the Arab world.

Last month Iraq hosted a meeting of the Arab Parliamentary Union, bringing the leaders of Arab parliaments and consultative counsels to Iraq for the first major inter-Arab gathering since 1990.

CROCKER: It is noteworthy that the meeting was held in the Kurdish city of Irbil under the recently redesigned Iraqi flag, highlighting both the remarkable prosperity and stability of Iraq's Kurdish region and the presence of the Iraqi federal state.

We hope that this event will encourage more active Arab engagements with Iraq, and we expect that Prime Minister Maliki's effort against Shia extremist militias in Basra will receive Arab support.

The presence of the PKK terrorist organization in the remote mountains of Iraq along the Turkish border have produced tension between Turkey and Iraq and led to a Turkish cross-border operation in February, including movement of Turkish ground forces into Iraq.

At the same time, both governments are working to strengthen their ties, and Iraqi President Talabani made a successful visit to Turkey in March.

Syria plays an ambivalent role. We have seen evidence of efforts to interdict some foreign fighters seeking to transit Syria to Iraq, but others continues to cross the border. Syria also harbors individuals who finance and support the Iraqi insurgency.

Iran continues to undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government to establish a stable, secure state through the arming and training of criminal militia elements engaged in violence against Iraqi security forces, coalition forces, and Iraqi civilians.

The extent of Iran's malign influence was dramatically demonstrated when these militia elements clashed with Iraqi government forces in Basra and Baghdad.

CROCKER: When the president announced the surge, he pledged to seek and destroy Iranian-supported lethal networks inside Iraq. We know more about those networks and their Quds Force sponsors than ever before, and we will continue to aggressively uproot and destroy them.

At the same time, we support constructive relations between Iran and Iraq and are participating in a tripartite process to discuss the security situation in Iraq. Iran has a choice to make.

Mr. Chairman, almost everything about Iraq is hard. It will continue to be hard as Iraqis struggle with the damage and trauma inflicted by 35 years of totalitarian Baathist rule.

But hard does not mean hopeless, and the political and economic progress of the past few months is significant. These gains are fragile and they are reversible.

Americans have invested a great deal in Iraq in blood, as well as treasure, and they have the right to ask whether this is worth it, whether it is now time to walk away and let the Iraqis fend for themselves.

Iraq has the potential to develop into a stable, secure, multiethnic, multi-sectarian democracy under the rule of law. Whether it realizes that potential is ultimately up to the Iraqi people. Our support, however, will continue to be critical.

I said in September that I cannot guarantee success in Iraq. This is still the case, although I think we are now closer.

I remain convinced that a major departure from our current engagement would bring failure, and we have to be clear with ourselves about what failure would mean.

CROCKER: Al Qaida is in retreat in Iraq, but it is not yet defeated. Al Qaida's leaders are looking for every opportunity they can to hang on.

Osama bin Laden has called Iraq the perfect base, and it reminds us that a fundamental aim of Al Qaida is to establish itself in the Arab world. It almost succeeded in Iraq. We cannot allow it a second chance.

And it is not only Al Qaida that would benefit. Iran has said publicly it will fill any vacuum in Iraq, and extremist Shia militias would reassert themselves. We saw them try in Basra and Baghdad two weeks ago.

And in all of this, the Iraqi people would suffer on a scale far beyond what we have already seen. Spiraling conflict could also draw in neighbors, with devastating consequences for the region and the world.

Mr. Chairman, as monumental as the events of the last five years have been in Iraq, Iraqis, Americans and the world ultimately will judge us far more on the basis of what will happen than what has happened. In the end, how we leave and what we leave behind will be more important than how we came.

Our current course is hard, but it is working. Progress is real, although still fragile. We need to stay with it.

Mr. Chairman, in the months ahead, we will continue to assist Iraq as it pursues further steps toward reconciliation and economic development. Over time, this will become increasingly an Iraqi process, as it should be.

Our efforts will focus on increasing Iraq's integration regionally and internationally, assisting Iraqi institutions locally and nationally, to strengthen the political process and promote economic activity, and supporting the United Nations as Iraq carries out local elections toward the end of the year.

These efforts will require an enhanced civilian commitment and continued support from the Congress and the American people.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, I want to recognize and thank all those who serve our country in Iraq, military and civilian. Their courage and commitment at great sacrifice has earned the admiration of all Americans.

CROCKER: They certainly have mine, and it is an honor to be with them out there.

Thank you, sir.

BIDEN: General Petraeus?

PETRAEUS: Mr. Chairman, Senator Lugar, members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide an update on the security 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 progress in Iraq.

Since September, 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, and capabilities of Iraqi security force elements have grown. 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 and as I have repeatedly cautioned, the progress made since last spring is fragile and reversible.

Still, security in Iraq is better than it was when Ambassador Crocker and I 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 that has been made.

First, of course, 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 the ranks of its security forces in 2007 and slowly increasing its capacity to deploy and employ these forces.

A second factor has been the employment of coalition and Iraqi forces in the conduct of counterinsurgency operations across the country, deployed together to safeguard the Iraqi people, to pursue Al Qaida, 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's indiscriminate violence and extremist ideology.

These communities also recognize that they could not share in Iraq's bounty if they didn't participate in the political arena.

PETRAEUS: Over time, the 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 substantially.

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 became 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 task, 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 completion 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 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 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 Qaida-Iraq. And Iran has fueled the violence, in a particularly damaging way through its lethal support to the special groups.

Finally, insufficient Iraqi government capacity, lingering sectarian mistrust and corruption add to Iraq's problems.

PETRAEUS: These challenges in recent weeks, violence not withstanding, 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 forward is through political dialogue rather than street fighting.

As I stated at the outset, 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. The level of incidents has, however, 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.

This chart also reflects our increasing use of Iraqi-provided reports, with the top line reflecting coalition and Iraqi data, and the bottom line reflecting coalition-confirmed data only.

No matter which data set is used, civilian deaths due to violence have been reduced significantly, though more work clearly needs to be done.

Ethno-sectarian violence is a particular concern in Iraq, as it is a cancer that continues to spread if left unchecked. As the box in 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 ethno-sectarian violence in Baghdad, density plots for which are shown in the boxes depicting Iraq's capital over time.

Some of this decrease is, to be sure, due to sectarian hardening of certain Baghdad neighborhoods. However, that is only a partial explanation, as countless sectarian fault lines in numerous mixed neighborhoods still exist in Baghdad and elsewhere.

PETRAEUS: 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 this next chart shows, even though the number of high-profile attacks increased in March as Al Qaida-Iraq 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 mentioned, 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 have contributed to the discovery of improvised explosive devices and weapons and explosive 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 are working closely with the Iraqi government to transition them into the Iraqi security forces or other forms of 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, and we will continue to monitor it carefully.

Al Qaida also recognizes the significance of the Sons of Iraq, and Al Qaida elements have targeted them repeatedly. However, these attacks, in addition to AQI's use of women, children and the handicapped as suicide bombers, have further alienated Al Qaida-Iraq from the Iraqi people.

PETRAEUS: 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 the 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 Al Qaida-Iraq 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, intelligent effort, political reconciliation, economic and social programs, information operations initiatives, diplomatic activity, the employment of counterinsurgency principles in detainee operations, and many other actions.

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 Middle East region.

Together with 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 launched Iranian rockets and mortar rounds at Iraq's seat of government, two weeks ago, causing loss of innocent life and fear in the capital, and requiring Iraqi and coalition actions in response.

Iraqi and coalition leaders have repeatedly noted their desire that Iran live up to promises made by President Ahmadinejad and other senior leaders to stop their support for the special groups.

However, nefarious activities by the Quds Force have continued, and Iraq leaders now clearly recognize the threat they pose to Iraq. We should all watch Iranian actions closely in the weeks and months and weeks ahead, as they will show the kind of relationship Iran wishes to have with its neighbor and the characters of future Iranian involvement in Iraq.

PETRAEUS: The Iraqi security forces have continued to develop since September, and 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 provinces 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 ISF.

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 get their footing and gained a degree of confluence and certain Iraqi elements proved quite capable.

Underpinning the advances of the past year has 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 last 16 months. And the still-expanding training base is expected to generate an additional 50,000 Iraqi soldiers and 16 army and special operations battalions throughout the rest of 2008, along with over 23,000 police and eight national police battalions.

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.

PETRAEUS: 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 entire 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 still 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 and the FMS process, delivery has improved, as the FMS system has strived to support urgent war-time requirements.

While security has improved in many areas and the Iraqi security forces are shouldering more of the load, the situation in Iraq remains exceedingly complex and challenging.

Iraq could face a resurgence of AQI, or additional Shia groups could violate Muqtada al-Sadr's cease-fire order and return to violence. External actors, like Iran, could stoke violence within Iraq and actions by other neighbors could undermine the security situation as well.

Other challenges result, paradoxically, from improved security, which has provided opportunities for political and economic progress and improved services at the local, provision -- provincial and national levels.

But the improvements have also created expectations that progress will continue.

The Commander's Emergency Response Program, the State Department's Quick Response Fund, and USAID programs enable us to help Iraq deal with its challenges. To that end, I respectfully ask that you provide us by June the additional CERP funds requested in the supplemental. These funds have an enormous impact.

PETRAEUS: As I noted earlier, the salaries paid to the Sons of Iraq alone cost far less than the cost savings in vehicles not lost due to the enhanced security in local communities.

Encouragingly, the Iraqi government recently allocated $300 million for us to manage as Iraqi CERP to perform projects for their people, while building their own capacity to do so.

The 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 the 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 my 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 boundaries disputes and Article 140 issues will be very challenging; the transition of Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi security forces or other pursuits 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.

PETRAEUS: 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; 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 efforts to counter-malign Iranian influence.

After weighing these factors, I recommended to my chain of command that we continue the drawdown of the surge combat forces and that upon the withdrawal of the last surge brigade combat team in July, we undertake a 45-day period of consolidation of our forces and evaluation.

At the end of that period, we'll commence a period of assessment to examine the conditions on the ground and determine when we can make recommendations for further reductions.

This process will be continuous, with recommendations for further reductions made as conditions permit.

This approach does not allow establishment of a set withdrawal timeline, 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 far and sacrifice 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.

PETRAEUS: It clearly is in our national interests 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, too, 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, our civilians, 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, civilian as well as military, serving our nation in Iraq, 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.

BIDEN: Thank you very much, gentlemen.

With Chairman Lugar's permission, I think we should do seven- minute rounds. And thank you, gentlemen, for your physical constitution here of being able to sustain all this.

Let me begin with a statement.

Mr. Ambassador, I would not presume that if the security agreement with Iraq goes beyond a status of forces agreement that you need only inform the Congress. You need to do much more than inform the Congress, you need the permission of the Congress if you're going to bind the next president of the United States in anything you agree to. But that'll be something...

(APPLAUSE)

There will be no response, please, from the audience.

But we have plenty of time to discuss that.

Let's assume, gentlemen, all the progress you assert has been made, and I don't think anybody denies there's been progress made. And let's assume that -- and I believe you mean what you say, that our commitment is not open-ended. How far along this continuum if, as they say, as average Americans say, on a scale of 1 to 10, how far along are we on the progress scale before we get to the point we can significantly reduce American forces?

BIDEN: Three, four, five, seven, eight, nine? Where are we?

PETRAEUS: Well Senator...

BIDEN: Give us some sense of how much progress has been made relative to how much needs to be made, not in specific kinds of progress -- that needs to be made in order for you to recommend to the President of the United States, "Mr. President, we cannot only draw down totally the surge but well below, well below, what we have committed, having had in place the last three years?"

PETRAEUS: Well again, Senator, you just mentioned the fact that we are in fact drawing down the forces that did constitute the surge and that was part of the recommendation. It would have been a very, very difficult recommendation to do otherwise, but certainly it was in the realm of the possible. And that was made possible by the progress that we have made, particularly against Al Qaida...

BIDEN: You allowed the draw -- you recommended drawing down before a pause to the level that's 10,000 above what it was before the surge.

Is that is right about?

PETRAEUS: Sir, it's actually less than that. But, again, it's in the ballpark.

BIDEN: But it's above what it was.

PETRAEUS: It is above because of certain enablers in particular...

BIDEN: But the interest of time, can you give me a sense -- if you don't want to answer, just tell me you don't answer -- on this scale of one to 10 to get to the point where you turn to the president and say, "Mr. President, we can go down well below 130, which is the pre-surge level," how far along are we?

PETRAEUS: Well, I think we're in a six or seven or somewhere along there, Senator Biden.

BIDEN: Thank you very much.

PETRAEUS: And what we'll do, again, is assess conditions.

Now that doesn't mean we have to wait beyond... BIDEN: No.

PETRAEUS: ... much longer..

BIDEN: I understand. I just want to get a sense of where we are in the continuum.

PETRAEUS: OK, sir.

BIDEN: Secondly, Mr. Ambassador, is Al Qaida a greater threat to U.S. interests in Iraq or in the Afghan/Pakistan border region?

CROCKER: Mr. Chairman, Al Qaida is a strategic threat to the United States wherever it is, in my...

BIDEN: Where is most of it? If you can take it out, if you had a choice, the Lord almighty came down, sat in the middle of the table there and said, "Mr. Ambassador, you can eliminate every Al Qaida source in Afghanistan and Pakistan or every Al Qaida personnel in Iraq," which would you pick?

CROCKER: Well, given the progress that has been made against Al Qaida in Iraq, the significant decrease in its capabilities and the fact it is solidly on the defensive and not in a position as far...

BIDEN: Which would you pick, Mr. Ambassador?

CROCKER: I would therefore pick Al Qaida in the Pakistan/Afghanistan border area.

BIDEN: That would be a smart choice.

Now assume that all the progress you assert has occurred. What further is required for you to suggest, either of you, that the progress can be sustained at levels under 140,000 troops, $12 billion a month, 30 to 40 deaths a month and 225 wounded a month? Because that's where we are now.

BIDEN: Where we are now is -- to maintain where we are now, you're saying to us, at least for the next 45 days, we have to continue to have 140,000, roughly, troops in place, we have to spend $12 billion a month, we're going to probably sustain 30 to 40 deaths a month and we're going to have somewhere around 225 wounded a month.

So, what has to happen -- what has to happen for us to be able to reduce the cost in life and in dollars and in deployment?

PETRAEUS: There has to be progress in various local areas that we will look at, Senator, because, again, what we'll be doing is an, essentially, combination of battlefield geometry that looks at the enemy and the friendly situation, it looks at other factors, and it is also what the ambassador has termed, the political/military calculus.

And you take that into account in local areas, most likely province by province, and determine -- we already have four or five locations that we are looking at most closely and determining whether to off-ramp those units at an appropriate moment...

BIDEN: Well, let me...

PETRAEUS: ... so progress can continue.

BIDEN: Thank you. My time is running out.

Tell me whether or not there are any conditions under which you would recommend us leaving -- conditions meaning they got a lot worse.

BIDEN: You say, "to maintain the progress."

Is there any conditions in which those charts you showed us, if this time in November or October, the American deaths have spiked back up to 2006 levels; if in fact, the Awakening has decided it's awake and it's not going to be integrated and it's better to go to war with the Sunnis, the civil war becomes more a reality; if in fact the numerous militia that exist among the Shia are in open war, not just in Basra but, for an extended period of time, with one another, are any of those conditions such that you would say, we are going to have to withdraw and contain?

Or would you just automatically say -- not on that -- would you say, we have to, once again, infuse more forces back into Iraq to settle it?

We talk about this in terms of -- you say to "sustain the progress." What happens, notwithstanding the pause, if in fact the progress is reversed, obviously, significantly and unalterably?

What do you do then? Do you just come back and tell us the same?

PETRAEUS: Mr. Chairman, it would be -- it would depend on the specifics at the time.

BIDEN: Let me give you specifics. Ninety thousand 90,000 Shia say, we're not getting dealt in, and the same kind of exchange in violence between Sunni and Shia is reignited in September, from Anbar province into Basra -- I mean, excuse me, Anbar province into Baghdad. And that same level of ethno-sectarian violence is once again established. That's a condition. What do you do?

PETRAEUS: Mr. Chairman, I really don't think you can have a productive conversation that is purely based on those hypotheticals.

CROCKER: I mean...

BIDEN: They're not hypothetical.

CROCKER: How did it get that way?

I don't see that as likely, given what is lying ahead in terms of the provincial elections, for example. I think that is where you're going to see both Sunnis and Shia focused, who prepare...

BIDEN: What happens if the elections don't get carried off because of violence?

CROCKER: Then we'll look at the circumstances and assess.

BIDEN: I can't think of any circumstance where you fellows are likely to recommend, no matter how bad things got, where you would withdraw, but I may be mistaken. That's part of everyone's concern, at least mine.

I yield to my colleague, Senator Lugar.

LUGAR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

You've mentioned in your response to questions this morning and, likewise, a little bit in your testimony that you cannot assess the entire position of our country, for example, presently.

Hopefully somebody in the Defense Department or elsewhere is taking a look at our status of our military equipment overall. We get briefings from time to time as to deficiencies in a good number of categories of equipment for all of our armed forces, or, likewise, taking a look at the personnel situation.

How are we going to maintain armed forces that we have? Do we make changes in how we obtain people for our armed forces? Are there Americans prepared to serve in the amounts that may be required to meet all of our situations?

Likewise, you cannot quite assess, nor can most of us, what it means to have the potential for economic recession in our country or the spread of that to other countries in the world, which then deprive us of resources, generally.

Likewise, what deficiencies do we have in energy security? There are food shortages now throughout the world. All of these are in situations.

As you've pointed out, your job today is to discuss your responsibilities and United States responsibilities in Iraq, but these come in the midst of huge changes that are going on in our own context, some of them of our own making -- the lack of saving and the American people, the problems of subprime mortgages, all of the things which really were not a part of Iraq but are a part of our preparedness, our ability to respond to all this.

Now, I put it in this way because, usually, when persons, not yourselves, but others, are asked, what if we were to withdraw significant American forces from Iraq -- a lot of American forces -- some people say we would have to rely, then, upon diplomacy to a greater extent, we would have to have a better consort with the countries that surround Iraq or the United Nations or NATO or somebody else to fill in for that which we are not providing, or others would just simply say there will be dire consequences.

LUGAR: And the consequences sometimes include civil war or at least sectarian violence in many parts of the country, intervention by other countries who engage in that situation, deprivation of the oil resources.

But let me just pose that particular question to the two of you. What are the dire circumstances?

And then, secondly, what sort of contingency planning are we making as a nation for the dire circumstances?

In other words, in the event that these dire circumstances occur, with or without 140,000 troops, what and who really comes to the rescue? How do we meet greater civil war, for example, or intervention by other countries or the things that are usually predicted in the event that the core of American security is mitigated or removed?

PETRAEUS: Well, Senator, what we have both identified as concerns if the progress is put into jeopardy, if other factors conspire against it, revolve around Al Qaida regaining lost ground and influence, and then perhaps using that as a base to spread further...

LUGAR: What do we do about that, General?

PETRAEUS: Well, we're staying after Al Qaida, is what we're doing about it, Senator, tenaciously. We are battling Al Qaida every day.

LUGAR: But you'd need more forces, would you not, in the event that despite...

PETRAEUS: We have the forces that we need right now, I believe. We've got to continue. We have to -- we have our teeth into their -- our teeth into the jugular, and we need to keep it there.

PETRAEUS: We have tough fighting to do, particularly in Mosul and Nineveh province, and we have to continue and press the fight, and that's why I laid out the comprehensive approach that we are taking, which by the way very much involves diplomacy with source countries. It involves communications indirectly to Syria. It involves help from neighbors and so forth just to take action such as, for example, not allowing a military-aged male to take a one-way ticket from some Sunni Arab country to Damascus, for example.

Beyond that, other concerns, of course: the resumption of the ethno-sectarian violence that tore Iraq apart in 2006 and 2007. You saw the statistics on that; over 55 dead bodies a day just in Baghdad, just from ethno-sectarian violence. Which caused so much of the tearing of the fabric of Iraqi society in which the surge was, indeed, intended to first to stop and then to try to help people have the time to put a few stitches back into it.

The ambassador and I have both raised concerns about Iranian influence as we mentioned this morning, the involvement of Iran with the so-called special groups and their activities in this indirect fire on the international zone. The seat of Iraqi government came out in very high relief and generated enormous concern among Iraqi leaders as well as, of course, among coalition leaders and civilians because a number of these fell short. And, in fact, probably more civilian lives were lost than were others.

LUGAR: What do you do about that, General; about the Iranian influence, even if it's high profile?

PETRAEUS: What we have done, sir, is we have detained special group members.

PETREAUS: We are going to lay out for the press, here, at some point in the future, what we have learned from them about their -- the Quds Force training, equipping, funding, and directing of the so- called special groups, and the help that Lebanese Hezbollah has provided them.

As I believe our reported to you in September, we detained the deputy head of Lebanese Hezbollah, Department 2800, which is responsible for assisting the Iranian Quds Force in the training and equipping of these so-called special groups.

And we've since detained a number of the special group members, some of their financiers, some of their leaders, and four of their 16 master trainers.

We'll lay that out, and we'll lay out the various weapons caches and other finds that we have had that, again, show the very, very clear involvement of Iran in Iraq.

That ties into regional stability. And then, of course, it all ties, eventually, into the global economy.

And it is noteworthy that the progress in Iraq has enabled it to reach, in fact, recently, the highest export levels ever, I believe it is, out of the north. And the levels have exceeded their export goals, now, for the first three months of the year -- and so, again, in an area of progress, due to security progress as well.

LUGAR: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BIDEN: Senator Dodd?

DODD: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And welcome to both of you. As the chairman has said, you've got a long day and a long day tomorrow, coming up. And I'm sure a number of these questions will be repeated, in one form or another.

So we thank you for your endurance and your willingness to share with us your thoughts on all of this.

I'd like to, first of all, pick up on something Senator Lugar has begun. I think it's very important, in making these assessments, to look at the broader context of what we're dealing with.

And one of the reasons I was a couple minutes late getting over here is we're in the midst of trying to deal with the housing piece of legislation. We've got some 8,000 people a day, in this country, that are entering into foreclosure on their homes.

The numbers on inflation, unemployment rates -- all of these factors which are contributing to a lot of people's concerns about, generally. where things are heading.

I'd like to focus, if I can, just on two quick questions, one, I think, more specifically, for you, General, to respond to, and one for the ambassador.

One has to do with the condition of our troops. I think all of us here, certainly at this dais, representing our constituency, whatever views we have on policy, there's an incredible admiration for what our men and women are doing in uniform.

You both raised it. It's been raised by others. It's very important, I think, that our troops know that. Arguments over policy is one thing, but our commitment to these men and women serving know no division whatsoever.

But I was, sort of, surprised and stunned on some of the recent numbers.

A study done by the Department of Defense found that, with each additional deployment, soldiers are 60 percent more likely to develop severe combat-related stress issues, while a study conducted by the surgeon general of the Army found that soldiers suffering from high levels of combat stress are twice as likely to find themselves in a situation where they are in violation of the armed forces ethics standards, and seven times more likely to hit an Iraqi civilian.

So I'd like to ask you, if I could, General, as someone who has really written the book on counterinsurgency -- and I say that with great admiration for your background and abilities -- what impact is this stress of repeated combat tours having on our military's ability to effectively conduct the counterinsurgency campaign?

What effects should such -- could such high levels of combat stress have on soldiers who must regularly interact with and ultimately win the hearts and minds argument?

DODD: Both the Army chief of staff, General George Casey, and the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Admiral Mullen, have both raised serious concerns about our armed forces capability to react to emerging threats, going to the point Senator Lugar raised about other contingencies where our forces may be called upon.

I'll just quote for you, which I'm sure you're aware, of General Cody's comments at a recent hearing before the Armed Services Committee, where you were this morning, and I think in relationship to the surge, talking about the surge.

He said, "Right now all the units that are back at home stationed are training to replace next units in Afghanistan and Iraq. If the surge comes down the way we predict and we get so many troops back and brigade combat teams back and we can get the dwell time right, we'll start getting those units trained to full spectrum readiness for future contingencies.

"I don't know what those future contingencies are," he went on to say, "but I know that this nation and this joint force needs to have a division ready brigade, an airborne brigade ready for full spectrum operations, a heavy brigade combat team ready for full spectrum operations, and a Stryker Brigade Combat Team ready for full spectrum operations, and we don't have that today."

He went on to say, "Right now, as I've testified, and I've been doing this for six years, I was a G-3 of the Army, and vice chair, now former chair, and I've never seen our lack of strategic depth at where it is today."

Now, if we're talking about continuing our forces there, adding to the stress and the assessment's being done by the surgeon general and the Defense Department's own study, in light of these other issues you're dealing with, obviously, on the ground in Iraq, what additional pressures are we placing on these men and women serving, what additional pressures are we placing on ourselves and our ability to respond to other contingencies given the pressures that have been recognized by some of your colleagues here at the Department of Defense?

PETRAEUS: Well, let me talk about Iraq, Senator. Obviously, that's what I'm riveted on and that's what my mission is. And when I got back to Iraq in February, 2007, there were two enormous changes.

The first was the damage done to Iraq by ethno-sectarian violence, as I mentioned, the fabric of society torn.

The second, how much more our troopers understand what it is that we are trying to do in this very complex endeavor that is counterinsurgency operations.

By the way, counterinsurgency operations require full spectrum operations. They require offense and we do a lot of it. In the past year, we did the Ramadi clearance, Baqoubah, south Baghdad. Some of these were multiple -- certainly multiple battalions and beyond brigade combat team operations. These are big operations in other words, not just hearts and minds activities.

Certainly involves force protections, some defense, and it involves stability and support operations, which a lot tend to associate with counterinsurgency once the security situation reaches that point.

Our troopers really very much understand it, and they are far better at this -- far better because of changes made in the institution, in the Army. General Cody is the vice chief of in the training of our troopers, their education, the leaders, the collective mission rehearsal exercises, the lessons learned process and all the rest of that.

Now, there's no question but that these multiple tours have put enormous strain on the force. Absolutely. It is something, again, I am personally very keenly aware of.

Paradoxically, reenlistment rates seem to be quite high. Again, I track the units in Iraq, and one of the divisions that is there on its third tour, in fact, getting ready to come home is a unit that -- division commander reported the other day that met their reenlistment goal for the entire fiscal year at this point right now -- obviously, about half way into it.

So, again, while the troopers very much feel the strain, while I would personally welcome -- I look forward to the opportunity for the Army and so forth to come back to 12-month tours despite (ph) 15 months, which are particularly difficult, the troopers that we see in Iraq are doing a magnificent job. They also happen to be the best equipped force. They are vastly better equipped than we were when I was a division commander and we went through the berm, flew over the berm in the fight to Baghdad. And I can give you case, after case, after case of equipment that places our forces in an absolutely unique position in the world now.

PETRAEUS: And we monitored this when we saw another country starting to do some operations recently in that area and recognize the vast differences between our situation awareness, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance assets, the satellite communications, the fusion of conventional special forces and special mission units. And all the rest of that. It is vastly better than we were in the beginning.

And, again, our troopers do an extraordinarily good job despite the enormous strain that clearly they and their families have experienced over the course of the last number of years.

DODD: Well, I thank you for that answer. I'm still deeply concerned about these reports on stress levels and so forth that are mounting up...

PETRAEUS: Sir, I share that. Again, as I stated and that is a factor in my recommendations. And again, I have, you know, personal experience with it.

DODD: I know you do.

I didn't get to the question, Ambassador Crocker, about these militias. Again, the good news is this Awakening and dealing with the Sunni militias, dealing with Al Qaida, is the good news. It's not a long-term strategy and exactly the point I think Senator Biden was driving at.

It says here we're arming and engaging these militias and at the same time strengthening or calling for a strengthened central government to respond to all of this, how you turn that around seems to me when you're counting on these militias and then trying to integrate them is going to raise some huge issues.

PETRAEUS: Senator, let me take that one if I could because there's a few misconceptions.

We don't arm any of these Sons of Iraq. They are tribal members to begin with. Every Iraqi's allowed an AK-47 in his own house by law and they are more than heavily enough armed. What we have done is we stood by them. Initially, when the first tribe came forward in October 2006 before the surge.

But then, subsequent to that, as the chain reaction took place in Ramadi and went up and down the Euphrates River Valley in the early spring and then, the summer of 2007, enabled by the additional forces out in Anbar then in Baghdad, south Baghdad, Diyala and so forth.

PETRAEUS: These individuals have decided to reject the extremist ideology of Al Qaida, their oppressive practices, and the indiscriminate violence that they've visited on all communities in Iraq, not just Shia, but Sunni Arab communities as well.

And that's a hugely significant shift. It's a seismic shift in the Sunni Arab world, and one that we hope to see extend even farther.

DODD: I hear you. We're paying them, of course.

PETRAEUS: Well, sir, they started out volunteering. And they did volunteer for a long time. And we said -- you know, we did the math. And the math is, $16 million a month that we pay them with CERP. And now, as I mentioned, the Iraqis are giving $300 million in CERP, or how many tens of millions of loss of vehicles or loss of priceless lives. And I think that was the best investment that we've made in Iraq.

And now, we are transitioning them. As I mentioned, over 21,000 transitioned to Iraqi security forces or other positions. And slowly, but surely -- not easily -- nothing in Iraq is easy.

BIDEN: Senator Hagel?

HAGEL: Mr. Chairman, thank you.

And, gentlemen, welcome.

I want to go back just very briefly, as I open my questions, to a point that Chairman Biden noted at the beginning. And that is, we all recognize that the two of you and who you represent are implementers of policy.

You don't set policy. You can help influence it, shape it, mold it. But I know from my brief military experience, General, when the commander tells you to take the hill, you take the hill or you sure as hell try.

And we have the best force structure in the world to do that, and I think we acknowledge that.

And my plan, in opening with that comment, is make certain that you understand, as well as all of your colleagues, that this is not a session today to pick on you, to pick on any of you, or certainly not acknowledge the kind of sacrifices that you both acknowledged here today. And we respect that, and we appreciate it.

HAGEL: But I have always believed in one dynamic of this business, and that is, if we are to be held accountable, elected officials, for any one thing, it is that we should be held accountable to developing and setting policy worthy of the sacrifices of our men and women that we ask to implement policy.

So I wanted to put that on the table before I ask a couple of questions.

As we sit here today, and the two of you are acutely aware of this, your headquarters in the international zone, green zone, last few days has continually been rocketed, mortared. We took casualties there the other day, as you know, of course, a number of Americans killed and wounded.

And there's, it seems to me, some disconnect in the abstraction that we're dealing with today as you both have presented -- not a glowing report, but I think a fair report -- what you see as not just progress made, but where we're going and what this is about.

But the reality is, since the president announced the surge last January, we have lost over 1,000 dead Americans -- January of 2007. And I know you're painfully aware of that, General.

We've lost certain elements of our units, as well as the in the wounded -- over 6,300 wounded -- and all the other dynamics that have been alluded to.

And the reason I bring that up is because I think those are the realities that we're talking about here. And I want to move to one particular area that you have both covered in your testimony, and that is, where do we go from here? Whether it's the pause and then you will assess, or whether it's what Ambassador Crocker noted that I will get to specifically, the regional and international dynamics, as you have said, a diplomatic surge.

But the fact is also, and I think anyone who takes an honest evaluation of this, and certainly we've seen the U.S. Institute of Peace's report, the part two of the Iraqi Study Group report, your former colleagues, General, who were up here last week and others who have been involved with Iraq, and military and foreign affairs for some time.

HAGEL: The fact is, regardless of work whether we're in our whether we're out, or when we leave, or the time frame when we leave because we are going to unwind and we are going to leave at some point if for no other reason then what my colleagues have noted here because we don't have the capacity to sustain it if for no other reason.

And just as you said, Ambassador Crocker, it's a matter of how we leave and what we leave as best we can. But we're dealing with uncontrollables. Well out of the capacity for the world's finest military to deal with.

Now I would just want to remind you, General, of something that you said in March last year, and I think it's something we should keep our eye on.

You noted, this is your quote, "There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency of Iraq."

And you went on to say, "A political resolution is what will determine in the long run the success of that effort. "

When you were both here in September, you noted that the surge was by time essentially for some political reconciliation or at least some accommodation.

And then a couple weeks ago, General Petraeus, you gave an interview which was in the Washington Post and you noted, quote, "No one in the U.S., Iraqi government feels there's been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation."

Now, if we all generally agree, that the sacrifices that we're making are all about the underpinning dynamic that in the end that's all that's going to count. Certainly security is important, we understand that. But how we arrive or the Iraqis arrive at some political accommodation to sort all this out, that should be our focus. And the fact is, by any analysis, we're going to continue to see a bloody Iraq. We are going to continue to see, as you have both noted in your testimony, an Iraq that will ricochet from crisis to crisis.

And I am wondering, as I listened to both of you carefully, if we are not essentially holding our policy captive to Iraqi developments.

HAGEL: Certainly conditions, as you've noted, General, dictate tactics, but I'm not sure that conditional response should dictate policy.

And with that I want to launch into Ambassador Crocker's testimony when you talk about a diplomatic surge.

Now, a diplomatic surge, I assume, is somewhat similar to the surge we saw militarily, meaning that you put tens of thousands of more troops on the ground and you did the things you thought you need to do the surge.

But as I read the testimony, Ambassador, it's pretty thin. I don't know if I would equate surge with Turkey hosted the second ministerial meeting of Iraq's neighbors in November, last November, and Kuwait will now host the third meeting later this month. I don't know if that's a surge.

Support from Arab capitals has been strong -- has not been strong. I don't know how we think we would find any regional diplomatic effort that's going to work if we can't get the regional neighbors to work with us.

Syria plays an ambivalent role. Iran continues to undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government.

So where's the surge? What are we doing? I don't see Secretary Rice doing any Kissingeresque flying around. Where is the diplomatic surge, in my opinion the one core issue that in the end is going to make the difference as to the outcome of Iraq and will certainly have an awful lot to do with how we come out of this?

So where is the surge? What are you talking about?

CROCKER: The neighbors process is predicated on biannual ministerial meetings.

CROCKER: So in November in Istanbul, April, a little bit ahead of six months, in Kuwait, that's the schedule we run to. The first ministerial was last May in Sharm el-Sheikh.

In between the ministerials, there are meetings of working groups on energy, border security and refugees. The border security -- the energy and refugee working groups have met over the course of the last month. The border security will meet I think in this coming week.

So there is activity.

Does there need to be more activity on the part of the region?

Clearly, yes.

And I noted in my statement, the Arabs need to be more engaged. We have pressed them on that. I have made a swing through the region. Of course the president and the vice president were both on regional tours in the first part of this year.

Ultimately, again, the Arabs are going to have to make their own decisions. But they also need to understand that this is important to their interests, it's not a favor to us or to Iraq. So that is a message we continue to press them on.

Similarly, with Iran, as I noted in my statement, we have taken a position that we are prepared to discuss, face-to-face with the Iranians, security in Iraq, at Iraqi request.

The Iraqis have announced that they would like to see another meeting occur. We have said we're ready to participate. It's now up to the Iranians.

Again, we can't compel the neighbors to behave constructively and positively, but we can certainly send the message that it's in their interest to do so.

HAGEL: My time is up, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate it. Thank you.

BIDEN: Thank you.

Senator Kerry?

KERRY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Ambassador Crocker, General Petraeus, welcome. We're delighted to have you here and we thank you both for what you are doing on behalf of the country.

General Petraeus, I particularly want to thank you and acknowledge, as I don't think you've heard enough from all sides of the aisle in this country, that we really do respect and understand that you have achieved some measure of a kind of progress. And it's a progress that is within your purview as commander of armed forces and on the military field to be able to achieve. And you've done about as good a job of playing a tough hand as somebody could do.

And so, through you, to all those who've engaged in that, to our troops, we want them to understand the degree to which we respect and recognize that accomplishment.

The problem is for all of us that there's a larger set of balancing here that we have to do, and I think you know that. You've repeatedly said how you're limited to Iraq. We're not. We're looking at how we defend the larger interest of our country and protect it and do a better job of fighting the war on terror.

And so, I look at this larger field and I see a fundamental equation with respect to Iraq that essentially stays the same, notwithstanding the progress that we've made.

There is a fundamental struggle, sectarian power struggle taking place over which we do not have a lot of control. In fact, the Iranians have an increasing amount, partly because of our presence.

There is a dysfunctional government stumbling here and there, occasionally trying to stand up, but fundamentally, most people would agree, unable to deliver a lot of services, great difficulty to be able to reconcile the oil law, the constitutional changes, the real fundamentals that go to the core of the sectarian division.

There is a decreasing ability, as Senator Dodd has pointed to and General Odom last week before our committee, General McCafferty, General Scales, others, have all pointed to the decreasing ability of our military to sustain this over a longest period of time.

KERRY: That is a message that not only we have heard, but, believe me, our opponents have heard it. Everybody in the world has heard it, including our troops who live it with repeated deployments and stop-loss and so forth.

So the issue here is, you know, how do we see our way to conclude this successfully?

Now, in that regard, you know, there's been a lot of misinterpretation and some sloganeering and a lot of exploitation. Because I don't know anybody on our side who is suggesting you create chaos, just pull a plug, avoid responsibility. That is not the suggestion.

The suggestion is that we change the dynamics which require something more of the Iraqis themselves.

Your quote, that Senator Hagel just pointed to, the one where you say, I think on March 14th, "No one feels there has been sufficient progress, by any means, in the area of national reconciliation."

Is that an accurate quote, General?

PETRAEUS: It is, Senator. But thanks for the opportunity to note that I then laid out a number of areas in which there has been progress.

KERRY: I agree. And you've laid them to this committee already...

PETRAEUS: Yes, sir.

KERRY: And I have limited time. So I don't want to go through them all again now. But we acknowledged them. You have laid them out. And I've acknowledged them, too. There is progress in those areas.

PETRAEUS: What I was conveying was the impatience, candidly, that, actually, all of us feel, and including the Iraqis.

KERRY: Well, you said this morning to the Armed Services Committee that war is not a linear phenomenon, that you can't predict certain things.

Now, that is true, if war were, in fact, the determinate of what is going to happen in Iraq. But you, yourself, have said the war is not the determinate. "There is no military solution," to quote you. The solution is the political side of the fence, where you have now also acknowledged there is not sufficient progress.

So my question to you is, do you ask yourself -- I mean, I've had the Sunni chiefs who were part of the Awakening -- you know, we have basically rented their allegiance.

KERRY: You've acknowledged the money we're paying them. There is a time when that allegiance may shift. They are not being integrated into the Shia forces, into the ISF forces. So that lack of integration is viewed by the Shia as perhaps arming, however it comes, whether they arm themselves, they're being paid by us, they're viewed as being an increasing force. And the fundamental struggle of Iraq remains the same.

So the question I ask is, has it struck you, as those chieftains I met with acknowledged to me, they said, "Yes, we don't have to make a decision as long as we know you guys are here," has it struck you, as I know it did perhaps your predecessor a little bit, that this open-endedness, this commitment of large forces without a sense of what the process will be, without specific deadlines and times, actually empowers them to avoid making the decisions and the reconciliation they have to make?

CROCKER: It's an important question, Senator, and it's something I have thought about. Are there alternatives that give you as good or better outcomes? And I'm familiar with the argumentation on that one.

What I have seen during my little more than a year in Iraq now is that when we do see movement forward, when we do see a spirit of compromise, something other than a zero sum mentality, it's when leaders and the communities behind them are feeling relatively secure -- secure enough to make tradeoffs...

KERRY: We gave them security with 160,000 troops and we didn't achieve the political progress we needed. How do you achieve it with less troops facing the drawdown realities of sustainability of our force?

PETRAEUS: Senator, what we are doing, in fact, is helping achieve local bottom-up reconciliation. And, in fact, by the way, they are being integrated into the ISF. And fact is a number of the Sons of Iraq in Anbar province, others in Baghdad have been integrated into the police. Some of those fighting in Basra actually are from the 1st Iraqi Army Division, which has a substantial Sunni complement in it.

I do weigh this issue all the time. What we are seeing at local level, actually, in Anbar...

KERRY: But it's a Sunni complement that operates as a Sunni complement? PETRAEUS: No, no, sir. It's part of an integrated Iraqi army, yes, sir. In fact, the first commander of the 1st Division I think was Shia, and the second commander is actually Sunni.

KERRY: How many are there?

PETRAEUS: There are 13 divisions now, sir.

KERRY: That are integrated?

PETRAEUS: Well, they're varying levels and, again, depending on where they were raised. But the Iraqi army is an integrated force. Again, some of it is less integrated other than others, again, depending on where it was recruited and trained. But, certainly those in the midsection and that's where the Iraqi first division, as an example is from.

In Anbar province, what we are doing is precisely this. There's a substantial reduction going on there from 14 battalions down to about six. And it is because there's not just paying off the Sons of Iraq. They're actually being integrated into the provincial structure.

There's all kinds of political to'ing and fro'ing. Some of that isn't pretty at times. It hasn't been overly violent, though. And gradually, they're also engaging with Prime Minister Maliki. Sheik Ahmed, the head of the Awakening in Anbar province, has gotten more money out of Prime Minister Maliki than the provincial governor.

KERRY: But isn't there a contradiction in a sense in your overall statement of the strategic imperative because you've kept mentioning Al Qaida here today? Al Qaida, AQI as we know it, didn't exist in Iraq until we got there.

The Shia have not been deeply interrupted by AQI.

PETRAEUS: Oh, sir, they were.

KERRY: The Kurds...

PETRAEUS: They were blown up right and left by AQI. That was the height of the sectarian violence.

KERRY: I understand that. I absolutely understand that. But it is not a fundamental pervasive --- I mean, most people that I've talked to Shia, and most of the evidence of what's happened in the Anbar province with the Sunni is, that once they decided to turn on Al Qaida and not give them a welcome, they have been able to turn around their own security.

PETRAEUS: And we helped them, sir. And we cleared Ramadi. We cleared Fallujah. We cleared the belts of Baghdad.

KERRY: And every plan I see...

PETRAEUS: Baqoubah and everything else...

KERRY: Every plan I've seen here in Congress that contemplates a drawdown, contemplates leaving enough American forces there to aid in the prosecution of Al Qaida and continue to that kind of effort.

PETRAEUS: That's exactly right, yes, sir.

KERRY: Then why doesn't that change the political dynamics that demand more reconciliation, more compromise accommodation so we resolve the political stalemate, which is at the core of the dilemma.

PETRAEUS: Sure. Sir, it's a great question.

One of the key aspects is that they are not represented right now. And that's why provincial elections scheduled for no later than October are so important.

The Anbar sheiks, for example, will tell you, "We want these elections," Senator -- as they, I'm sure did, because they didn't vote in January 2005.

A huge mistake. And they know it. They'll do much better this time than they did before.

More important, even, in Nineveh province, where, because they didn't vote you have a different ethnic group actually that largely is the head of the provincial council.

So, again, all of those.

Yes, sir, thank you.

BIDEN: Thank you.

Senator Coleman?

COLEMAN: Thanks, Mr. Chairman.

I want to continue the discussion about this bottom-up approach.

Ambassador, that's something you've talked about a lot, that when we weren't seeing the success before we got de-Baathification, before we got the central government doing a budget, a range of things, you talked about the bottom-up level.

There's a piece in the New York Times today, David Brooks quotes Phil Carl Salzman. He's talking about in Middle Eastern societies, order is achieved not by top-down imposition of abstract law. Instead, order is achieved through fluid balance of power agreements between local groups.

I take it that's a fair assessment of some of the things that we've been seeing in Iraq today. Would that be a fair assessment?

CROCKER: Senator, actually, I think it's more complex than that. That is true at one level. But there also has to be a vertical integration, if you will. COLEMAN: And my question, because the conclusion of this piece, this, if you kind of followed this, you can establish order that way, I mean the drawing down the U.S. troops at a slow pace, continue the local reconstruction efforts, supporting local elections, reaching informal agreement with Iran and the Saudis to reduce outside inference, and then Iraq can kind of be held together.

But my question is -- it is about the vertical piece.

COLEMAN: And I think there is something else missing. And I'm a little frustrated as, what can we do? Where's the pressure that we can put on Maliki to do those things that we're still a little frustrated that aren't done? We can't have unconditional support here. There's got to be conditions.

What are some of those conditions that are not in place today that can help us accelerate, at least, the vertical piece to support the horizontal piece that is taking place?

CROCKER: Well, if I could approach it from this direction of picking up on some of Senator Kerry's comments, too, because there is a synergy here. As Sunnis turned against Al Qaida in Anbar, then in Baghdad and other places, the Shia took note of that. They were less threatened by Al Qaida, obviously, and, as General Petraeus notes, Al Qaida did enormous damage to Shia civilians.

As that diminished, the Shia began to relax a little. And that meant two things: first, there was no longer the need to rely on groups like Jaish al-Mahdi for security. And you then saw the reaction in August in Karbala when Jaish al-Mahdi elements tried to take over one of the shrines. Popular outrage against them, and that led Muqtada al-Sadr to declare a cease-fire. The Sunnis take note of that.

So you see a lot of positive developments bottoms-up, as it were, but that then begins to inform the national level.

CROCKER: And that's what gives you the climate in which some of the legislative compromises that we just couldn't get in the summer and the fall were then achievable in January -- December, January, February.

You take it another step. You mentioned Prime Minister Maliki. I think his decision to go after extremist Shia militias in Basra, again, was a product in part of a much better cross-sectarian climate than existed heretofore. He could go after extremist Shia groups.

How well he did it is something General Petraeus can address, but on the political side we saw then further reaction from the leadership, including the Sunni leadership. And right now -- I can't say how it's going to develop -- but right now there is probably broader support from the entire leadership for the prime minister and for getting on with the business of the state, including reconciliation, than I've seen at any time since I got there.

COLEMAN: Let me take -- I'll give an optimistic scenario. We've had a number of worst-case scenarios. But perhaps getting to the same question, General, what you've done with the surge has been, I think, certainly way beyond even my expectations, and I had some concerns early on. But I think it set the stage for what the ambassador's talking about, the two go hand in hand.

But at a certain point in time there's going to be a new administration coming in. You're going be part of a transition. And they're going to ask the question: With the success that we've had militarily, with the movement that we've seen both horizontally, from the ground up, as well as some vertically, I think these pieces fit together. It is complex, what's, then, the best case scenario to say that we've reached that, Ambassador, your words, that stable, secure, multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy that has the ability to defend itself against enemies, both internal and external, assuming we're moving in that direction, what's then the best-case scenario to say now we can set a timetable and tell the American public (inaudible), not in failure, but in achieving success?

PETRAEUS: Well, Senator, as I've explained, again, from a military perspective, as you would imagine as a commander on the ground and the commanders under me, given the enormous effort it's taken to achieve this progress, it has to do with conditions again. And what went to do is to look at conditions and determine where it is that we can make reductions without taking undue risk.

This is really about risk, by the way. It's also risk well beyond Iraq. It's where do you take risk? Do you take it in Iraq, do you take it in the region, do you take it elsewhere?

And I fully understand the role this body and the folks up the chain of command from me in determining where do they take the risk? And at the end of the day, as Senator Hagel said, you salute and you try to take the hill with what you're given.

But what you have to do is lay out, if this is the mission that you want us to perform, these are the objectives -- and you have to have that dialogue very, very clearly -- then this is what we believe the resources will be to accomplish that, here's how we might be able to project, again, for you, just again hypothetically at that point, to lay what the requirements will be.

And then it is up, of course, to the policymakers to determine, again, where do they want to take that risk? And based on, again, the various consequences in various locations.

COLEMAN: I may have time for one more question. Perhaps this is one that you can't answer.

You mentioned -- talked about Quds Force-Iran is funding, is supporting the killing -- efforts that result in the killing of coalition soldiers. In other times, that would be an act of war.

What is it that we need to be doing that we're not doing to make it very clear that that kind of action is -- simply can't be tolerated?

PETRAEUS: Well, Senator, again, my job is in Iraq. What we have done in Iraq is attempted to interdict the flow of what are called lethal accelerants, really, these trained and equipped individuals and the weapons that have been provided to them and the funding provided to them by the Iranian Quds Force.

And then, of course, at the next level up, there has to be a regional approach, eventually a global approach. But that obviously has to be taken up by folks above me in the chain of command.

But, again, obviously it's my job to raise what's going on, to lay out -- we have detained these individuals. We have detained Quds Force officers in Iraq, as I've mentioned. We've detained the deputy head of Lebanese Hezbollah 2800.

So, again, there's no secret about this. And as the ambassador and I have mentioned, their involvement came out in much higher relief during this latest violence.

COLEMAN: I thank both of you gentlemen and those who serve under you for your extraordinary service.

PETRAEUS: Thank you, Senator.

BIDEN: Thank you very much.

Senator Feingold?

FEINGOLD: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you both for coming again to testify here today.

While we may not always see eye to eye on the current situation in Iraq or the way forward, I have great respect for your service to our country and for the difficult work what you're undertaking. And I hope you won't and you should not take it personally when I say that I wish we were also hearing today from those who look at Iraq from a broader perspective.

FEINGOLD: The participation at this hearing of those charged with the regional and global responsibilities would have helped us answer the most important question we face, which is not whether we are winning or losing in Iraq, but are we winning or losing in the global fight against Al Qaida?

Right now, Iraq is hurting our national security. It is the cause celebre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world, as the intelligence community has so clearly stated. That is why we need to redeploy our troops.

If we do, Iran, as well as Turkey and Syria and other regional actors will have to decide if Iraqi instability is really in their interest, once we are no longer on the hook. Iraqi factions will have a new incentive to come to the negotiating table to create a viable power-sharing agreement.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we will be able to adequately address what must be our top priority -- the threat posed by Al Qaida around the globe, and, particularly, its safe haven in Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

In that regard, again, according to the intelligence community, Al Qaida has regenerated the core operational capabilities needed to conduct attacks inside the United States. And terrorists who would conduct those attacks, including an influx of westerners, are being trained in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs testified that, quote, "the most likely near-term attack on the United States will come from Al Qaida," unquote, via its safe haven in Pakistan.

So, General, you were just talking about where do you take the risks? You repeated it several times. Where do you take the risks?

General and Ambassador, do you agree with me that our top national security priority should be addressing the threat posed by Al Qaida?

General, go ahead.

CROCKER: Clearly, Al Qaida is our strategic threat. I -- we -- of course, have to look at this from the Iraq perspective. That's where our jobs are. That's what our mission is.

With respect to Al Qaida, that's why I think what the surge has achieved over this past year has been so important, because Al Qaida in Anbar and Baghdad as well as the north was well on its way to having the kind of base or safe haven in which it would be sufficiently unthreatened that it could do strategic planning from Iraq against us here.

FEINGOLD: Well, let me ask the general, too, and then you've answered my question.

General, do you think Al Qaida is our top threat?

PETRAEUS: I do, Senator. And I think it's very important to remember what Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden have repeatedly stated, both publicly and privately.

PETRAEUS: And that is that the central front of their global war of terror is in Iraq. And it is actually hugely important, not only that we have made the gains against Al Qaida in Iraq, but that Sunni Arabs have come to reject Al Qaida in Iraq.

FEINGOLD: But, General, Al Qaida's safe haven is in Pakistan, not Iraq.

PETRAEUS: There is certainly a safe haven in Pakistan, as well. The safe havens they had in Iraq are very much under threat.

FEINGOLD: You would agree that the greater safe haven at this point, and their greater operability is in Pakistan or Afghanistan, rather than Iraq, correct?

PETRAEUS: I believe that's so. Again, I'd go with the intelligence analysts because my focus is in Iraq.

FEINGOLD: All right. But if Iraq...

PETRAEUS: Obviously, I'm aware that there is in the FATA area a safe haven for Al Qaida and that's where Al Qaida senior leadership issues its directives to folks like Al Qaida Iraq.

FEINGOLD: Well, if Iraq is really the key, why is our current approach counterterrorism in Iraq been accompanied by an increased threat from Al Qaida around the world?

Why does our intelligence community say that things are actually worse than they were before?

PETRAEUS: Again, Senator, I'm talking about Al Qaida in Iraq.

FEINGOLD: I'm talking about that too.

PETRAEUS: I can't speak...

FEINGOLD: I'm asking about given the fact that you say the key is to deal with them in Iraq, why is it that...

PETRAEUS: No, sir, I said that...

FEINGOLD: ... when we're dealing with them in Iraq has the threat internationally increased from Al Qaida rather than decreased?

PETRAEUS: What I said, Senator, was that Al Qaida views its central front and its global war on terror as being in Iraq. In other words, in a sense, their main effort. I can't speak to what they have been doing in the FATA or how they have been growing there. Again, that's obviously not my area of operation.

FEINGOLD: That's interesting because Al Qaida said several things.

In fact, Osama bin Laden gave quite the speech in 2004, which I think bears reading. He says that his goal is to destroy the United States by bankrupting the United States. I would suggest what he's doing to us in Iraq is really his goal: to suck our economic and military capacity. And for us to somehow believe that staying in Iraq is not playing into his hands I think is a mistake.

FEINGOLD: General, you have stated that Iran is backing militias that are targeting U.S. forces. According to the Congressional Research Service, Iran also backs Maliki's political party as well as the Supreme -- Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Badr Brigade.

Isn't it true that the Iraqi security forces we are arming, training and fighting alongside continue to be infiltrated by militias, including the Iranian-backed Badr Brigade?

PETRAEUS: First of all, it is no secret that Iran has supported all Shia movements to varying degrees in Iraq. The Supreme Council is and the Badr core were elements in Iraq. By the CPA law that was adopted by policy there is an integration of militias into the Iraqi security forces, and when they don't serve in the interests of the Iraqi security forces then they are discharged. And, in fact, that's what's happened with some militia members and with some others.

So there has been an integration of several different militias over time by, again, CPA law that was passed back in 2004. But backing in a sense politically, perhaps with money, undoubtedly with money, and providing training, arming, equipping and direction of individuals, in particular to the special groups, is a very different matter.

FEINGOLD: Ambassador, following what Senator Kerry was talking about, wouldn't you agree that part of the political stalemate in Iraq is the result of disagreement among Iraqi leaders about our military presence there?

CROCKER: Actually, I don't think that is a significant element. As we have consulted with Iraq's leaders, we saw this in August in the leadership communique there. The five principal leaders, again, Sunni, Shia, and Kurd, all stressed the importance of a long-term relationship with the United States, including security.

The only major element of the Iraqi political constellation that is on record as opposing U.S. force presence is the Sadr trend. Just about everybody else understands that our presence there is extremely important to security and stability, at this juncture.

FEINGOLD: Well, I see my time's up. But let me just add the fact that the majority of Iraqi parliamentarians have called for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal. That's a pretty significant group.

And Prime Minister Maliki was apparently so concerned that the parliament would not agree to a renewal of the U.N. mandate that he basically did an (inaudible) them and signed it without their consent, which, I think, may well have been a violation of Iraqi law.

But, Mr. Chairman, I see my time is up.

BIDEN: Senator Corker?

CORKER: Mr. Chairman, thank you.

And to the two of you, I want to thank you very much for your service and your patience with all of us today. And certainly, I have deep respect for what you both do and what our men and women in uniform are doing in Iraq. And again, thank you both for your testimony.

I've noticed, in today's questions, that, whereas in the past, we might have talked about some of the smaller issues, if you will, that relate to Iraq and some of the things that are had happening in a sectarian way, I think most of the questioning today is focused on the bigger picture.

The surge has been successful, from the standpoint of creating greater security, and yet I think people want a sense of what the end is going to look like. And I know that you share that same frustration.

And this morning, with Mr. Hadley and General Lute, talking a little bit with them about, historically, how we find ourselves in a unique place, where our military is performing exceptionally well in doing the things -- everything that they've been asked to do and more.

CORKER: And yet, we're dependent upon a government that we have really no control over to perform equally well for us to really be victorious -- I don't even know if I want to use that word, but to be successful. And so, it's a very frustrating situation.

I know we described what our end game is in the big picture, we describe the country. But General Petraeus, I wonder for us, if you could, if you could articulate from the military standpoint what you see the end to be.

PETRAEUS: Well, what went to do, and it will be done by local areas, not by a national light switch center, is to continue the handoff of security responsibilities to Iraqi officials and Iraqi forces province by province, in some cases district by district, enabling us to drawdown, enabling us to move more to an overwatch instead of a lead process that has been very much underway.

It's important to note, in fact, that in the recent flare-up of violence during the Basra operations that in most of the other southern provinces, Iraqi security forces performed well. That was the case in Karbala and Babil province, and Najaf was not really tested, but Qadisiyah, Dhi Qar, Muthanna and, to a degree, Wasit. So, really, all of the other southern provinces, again, forces did -- generally did well.

In some cases, we did provide overwatch or backup or some kind of assistance, but they were the ones carrying the ball. That's what we want to extend farther in other provinces. As I mentioned, there are two additional provinces identified for provincial Iraqi control, and that process continues trying to keep the pressure certainly on Al Qaida-Iraq, on their Sunni insurgent allies, and, over time, continue to reduce our foot print, our mission profile and increase that of the Iraqi security forces, over time.

PETRAEUS: That means that we will have -- will stay heavily involved, over time, I would think, with the transition team effort, with the adviser effort, certainly with our special operations forces and with a conventional base that is sufficient to support these other efforts.

But, again, gradually coming down in terms of enablers, in terms of our brigade combat teams and so forth.

CORKER: As we've gone down, certain significant things have occurred, as has been mentioned, from the standpoint of benchmarks.

And I don't know how the two of you go about leveraging, if any take place -- I hope it does -- of the existing government. But can you state to us any sense of how the drawdown has affected leverage, if you will, with the Maliki government and/or others, and whether a pause in that drawdown, what effect that may or may not have in regards to the same?

PETRAEUS: Well, there's a dual-edged sword there, Senator. Again, the recognition that we are drawing down obviously does put pressure on them. There's no question about that.

And what we want to do is put enough pressure on them to generate productivity activity, but not so much pressure that they go into their corners, hang on to what they've got, and posture themselves to take on each other, once we no longer have the capacity to keep everybody making way together.

There are other methods, obviously, of leverage. Obviously, they do request our support, our advice, everything from passes through the green zone to even occasionally showing that we have emotions other than endless patience.

And we do try to employ every single tool at our disposal. Sometimes that has worked. Sometimes, frankly, it has not. But certainly the progress in January and February are a result of their efforts, again recognizing, certainly, the imperative of achieving that progress to measure...

CROCKER: It's an important point. The dynamic in Iraq is such that the Iraqis, the Maliki government, others, want to be in charge of their own country. You know, I don't think any nation wants to have to rely on outside forces for their internal security.

So I think they very much feel the imperative to make this kind of progress on their own.

And, again, that's part of the interpretation I lend to the prime minister's decision to go down to Basra, to demonstrate that Iraqi forces under his leadership are capable of taking independent action.

CROCKER: So I think that's an important step and an important indication of Iraqi willingness -- we'll leave the ability thing aside -- but of willingness and intention to increasingly be directing their own affairs.

So it's not so much that we've got to constantly press them to do things so that we don't have to. It's more kind of guiding and channeling and helping them see over the -- over the short-term horizon as to how deals can be dealt, and it's a constant complex process. But the intention I think very much on the part of the national leadership is to take the steps that increasingly will allow them to be in charge of their own destiny.

CORKER: So if I could summarize that -- and I appreciate the statement -- in essence, there are those who argue strongly for a withdrawal causing the Iraqis to act more responsibly, to take on more responsibility. You in essence are arguing the same thing, that in essence, as we draw down, it does put more pressure on them to act responsibly. But at the same time, that needs to be done in a measured way, so that it's not done in a way that creates chaos, that causes them to then begin looking at self-protection, but done in a way that's steady. And that, in essence, is what you're taking a look at here for 45 days once this drawdown gets to a certain point.

PETRAEUS: That's exactly right, Senator. Again, it's important to remember that we will be withdrawing or we will have withdrawn by July over one-quarter of our ground combat forces, five of 20 brigade combat teams plus the marine expeditionary unit and two Marine battalions.

That is a very substantial reduction in a relatively short period of time, in about a six- or seven-month period. And, again, it was the secretary of defense actually that coined this concept, or the phrase, if you will, of a period of consolidation, really assessing where we need to adjust our forces physically on the ground, an evaluation that then can be the basis for the assessments that allow us to make further recommendations for reductions in forces and determining where that should be.

CORKER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And thank both of you.

BIDEN: Senator Boxer?

BOXER: General, help me with some of the numbers here. We've trained over 400,000 Iraqi security forces, is my understanding. And we -- after we reduce we'll be down to about 140,000. Is that correct?

PETRAEUS: That is correct -- a little under that, Senator.

BOXER: OK, so 400,000, plus 140,000. My understanding is there's 6,000 Al Qaida. How many insurgents are there?

PETRAEUS: I would actually assess that there are fewer Al Qaida in Iraq...

BOXER: Well, give me a number...

PETRAEUS: Again, we typically say a couple of thousand. Again, we can provide a classified laydown for you.

BOXER: OK, well, let's say a few thousand Al Qaida. And how many...

PETRAEUS: And then there are other additional thousands of Sunni insurgent extremists as well.

BOXER: So I think, just saying to my colleagues, we've done a lot for the Iraqis in terms of just the numbers themselves -- pretty overwhelmingly folks on the Iraqi side.

Now, I'll tell you what concerns me and a lot of my constituents. You have said, both of you, that the gains in Iraq -- you've said this many times before today -- are fragile and reversible. You've used those terms. Those are terms of art and I appreciate it. They're important words.

So my constituents and I believe that, after five years of unbelievable bloodshed on all sides, 4,024 dead -- I remember it seemed like yesterday it was 4,000 -- but 4024, 30,000-plus wounded, nearly $600 billion spent, you have to wonder why the best you can say is the gains are fragile and reversible.

Now, I think most of us agree, who have not particularly supported this endeavor, that the reason is that's the best you can say is that there's been no political solution.

And I listened carefully to Senator Hagel. And, Ambassador Crocker, from your answer to him, I don't get the sense that you've been given instructions from our commander in chief to change the dynamics.

I find your testimony very status quo.

BOXER: And the status quo has been an absolute disaster. And I just don't see anything changing. I don't see us saying to the Iraqis, "It is your turn. We will help you. Step out and get the politics resolved."

So in line with demanding more from the Iraqis, General Petraeus, you are asking us for millions more to pay off the militias.

And, by the way, I have an article here that says that al-Maliki recently told a London-based paper that he was concerned about half of them and would not put them into the militia -- into the ISF, because he thinks, and this is a quote from him, "that they oppose the central government."

But that aside, we've been paying $182 million a year, that's on an annualized basis, $18 million a month. And I would say to you, here at home, we could get health care for 123,000 kids; we could send 210,000 kids to after-school programs for that money.

My question is, why don't you ask the Iraqis to pay the entire cost of that program? I think in Senator Lugar's testimony he made the point it could be an opportunity for them to then turn it into something more long term.

But when that supplemental comes, I'm going to be saying to my colleagues, "We should not be paying off those militia."

And I wonder why -- given the fact that the Iraqis have billions of dollars in surpluses, including $30 billion in America, and we have nothing but raging deficits, one reason is this war -- why we wouldn't ask them to pay for the cost of that program of paying off the militias?

PETRAEUS: First of all, Senator, these are not actually militias. What they are is typically tribal members, in some cases, former insurgents.

PETRAEUS: But this is how you end these wars. You sit down with...

BOXER: I didn't say I objected to it.

PETRAEUS: ... former insurgents.

BOXER: I asked you why they can't pay for it.

PETRAEUS: Well, and, in fact...

BOXER: I understand your point on it...

PETRAEUS: ... Senator, what they are doing is, they have committed $163 million to gradually assume their contracts. They have committed the $300 million that I mentioned in my statement to Iraq CERP that offsets, in fact, what we are spending.

BOXER: OK, I just -- I don't want to argue a point...

PETRAEUS: And beyond that, the savings in vehicles not lost actually is certainly worth it.

BOXER: No, I understand your point. I'm just asking you why you would object to asking them to pay for that entire program, given all we are giving them in blood and everything else.

PETRAEUS: Senator, it is a very fair question, and I think that if there's anything that the Ambassador and I will take back to Iraq candidly after this morning's session and this afternoon's is, in fact, to ask those kinds of questions more directly.

BOXER: Good. Excellent. I'm very happy about that.

When the Bush administration told the American people more than five years ago that we'd be greeted as liberators in Iraq and supporters of the war said that the people would be dancing in the streets waving American flags, there was a whole other vision put forward.

And now, last month, Iranian President Ahmadinejad was given the red carpet treatment while our president has to sneak in there in the dead of night.

So, I'm wondering, why is it -- why is it after all we have given, 4,024 American lives gone, more than half a billion dollars spent, all this for the Iraqi people, but it's the Iranian president who is greeted with kisses and flowers?

And I'm quoting to you from an article in The Boston Globe; Suzanne Maloney, an expert on the Middle East, argues that, quote, "Iraqi leaders will only begin to differentiate themselves from Tehran when they're forced to grapple independently with the painful alternatives of governing and assuming greater responsibility for their country's security, and that will only happen when we put a timeframe on our presence."

So if either of you could answer this question: Do you agree that after all we have done, after all the sacrifices, and God bless all of our troops and all of you who put yourselves in harm's way, after all of this that Iran is stronger and more influential in Iraq than ever before?

CROCKER: Senator, it's an important and complex issue, obviously. With respect to President Ahmadinejad's visit, I just make the point that, presumably, when he comes to Iraq, he doesn't have to worry about Iranian-backed extremist militias.

PROTESTERS: (OFF-MIKE)

BIDEN: The committee will stand in recess and the police clear the people who are talking back there.

(RECESS)

BIDEN: Committee will resume.

Senator Boxer?

BOXER: If I could say, I agree with you that there are certain factions there that certainly support Iran. That's part of the problem.

But my question is this. Ahmadinejad was the first national leader...

PROTESTERS: (OFF-MIKE)

BOXER: Can you please cool it back there?

BOXER: Ahmadinejad was the first national leader to be given a state reception by Iraq's government. Iraq President Talabani and Ahmadinejad held hands as they inspected a guard of honor, while a brass band played brisk British marching tunes. Children presented the Iranian with flowers. Members of Iraq's cabinet lined up to greet him, some kissing him on cheeks.

So it's not a question about the militias out there. I'm saying, after all we have done, the Iraqi government kisses the Iranian leader, and our president has to sneak into the country. I don't understand it.

Isn't it true that after all we've done, Iran has gained ground?

CROCKER: Senator, Iran and Iranian influence in Iraq is obviously an extremely important issue for us. But it's very much, I think, a mixed bag. And what we saw over these last couple of weeks in Baghdad and in Basra, as the prime minister engaged extremist militias that were supported by Iran, is that it revealed not only what Iran is doing in Iraq, but it produced a backlash against them and a rallying of support for the prime minister in being ready to take them on.

Iran by no means has it all its own way in Iraq. Iraqis remember with clarity and bitterness the 1980 to '88 Iran-Iraq war in which...

BOXER: That's my point.

PETRAEUS: ... in which...

BOXER: And now he's getting kissed on the cheek. That's my point.

PETRAEUS: And -- and there was a lot of commentary around among Iraqis, including among Shia Iraqis, about just that point. What's he doing here, after what they did to us during that war.

But Iraqi Shia died by the tens, by the hundreds of thousands, defending their Arab and Iraqi identity and state against a Persian enemy. And that's, again, deeply felt. It means when Iran's hand is exposed in backing these extremist militias that there is a backlash, broadly speaking, in the country, including from Iraq Shia. And I think that's important. And I think it's important that the Iraqi government build on it.

BOXER: I give up. It is what it is. They kissed him on the cheek. I mean, what they say over the dinner table is one thing. But they actually kissed him on the cheek. He had a red carpet treatment.

And we are losing our sons and daughters every single day for the Iraqis to be free.

It is irritating, is my point.

PETRAEUS: Senator, the vice president was in Iraq just a couple weeks after that, and he also had a very warm reception.

BIDEN: Did he get kissed? Get a kiss?

(LAUGHTER)

PETRAEUS: I believe he did get kissed when he was there.

BIDEN: I just want to know whether he got kissed, that's all.

(LAUGHTER)

Senator Voinovich?

Thank you, Senator Boxer.

VOINOVICH: Thank you.

First of all, I want to thank both of you for the terrific partnership that you've established in Iraq. And a lot of us pray to the Holy Spirit. I've been praying to the Holy Spirit that somehow you would be enlightened and make the right decisions there, that the leaders in Iraq would be enlightened to understand this wonderful opportunity that we have given them, this great sacrifice of our over 4,000 troops lost, 28,000 coming home, half of them are going to be disabled the rest of their lives.

VOINOVICH: And it's been -- I know when I talk to Zal Khalilzad, I see -- they're going to probably have to kill each other a little bit over there to realize that something is going to have to be different here, because they're destroying lives, infrastructure, and it's heartening to see the Awakening when I visited, even in August, the Sunnis knowing that we're not occupiers, that they don't like Al Qaida, that they like our PRTs and they like being paid, too, and then the Sons of Iraq now that are coming forward.

But I have to say to you, if you look at the enormous costs that we have incurred and will incur -- I mean, I got the CBO numbers -- they say it could be between a trillion and $1.7 trillion if we gradually withdraw over this period of time, and then, of course, all of the health care and the rest of it that's connected with it.

I think you all know that Government Accountability Office said that it'll be $12 billion to $13 billion per year to replace the lost, damaged and worn equipment for the duration of the war in Iraq. Marine Corps has estimated it'll need $15.6 billion to reset its equipment. The National Guard said that they're going to need $22 billion.

In other words, we're really at a point right now where we're really strained and stressed out. In addition to that, we have a national debt that's $9 trillion. This budget is going to be out of balance by another $660 billion.

And I hate to agree with Senator Feingold, but I think that...

(LAUGHTER)

... Osama bin Laden is sitting back right now looking at this thing, and, in fact, we're kind of bankrupting this country. We're eating our seed corn. We've got some really big problems today, and we're all -- we're in a recession and God only knows how long we're going to be in it.

So, it seems to me that there's some urgency that we need to pray a little bit harder to get them to understand that we're going to be on our way out.

And some of us have talked about this, and what we think we need to have is a surge of diplomacy during this period of time. The witnesses that were in last week tell us -- said that we should take advantage of this 10-month period between this administration going out and the next one coming in. And if we don't -- if we don't do it in terms of diplomacy, if we don't sit down with the Syrians and the Saudis and the Egyptians and tell them, "Hey guys, we're on our way out. We have to leave here because of our own financial situation, and we're stressed out to the point where we've got to do this. Now, understand this -- it's not in your best interest to see the thing blow up. It's time for you to step in and start taking some action and bringing people together."

And I also believe that, in terms of this administration, we've got lots of problems around the world.

VOINOVICH: But I just finished a book by a kid named Miller about "The Much Too Promised Land." It talked about where we really made some difference. And that was when we got somebody in our government involved on a full time basis.

Condoleezza Rice should get together with you guys and she should work, day in and day out, to let them know, folks, we're on our way out. And I just wonder, do you understand that, that that's where we're at?

We have somebody sitting across the table here who may be the next president of the United States. And the American people have had it up to here. And they -- you know, we appreciate the sacrifice that you have made, and your families have made. Lives have changed forever.

But the truth of the matter is, and I'm sure your guys and women understand it. Do you know something? We haven't sacrificed one darn bit in this war. Not one, never been asked to pay for a dime, except for the people we lost.

And I'd like to know, what do you think about the idea of really coming up with a surge, during this next 10 months, and let them know, you know, it's going to be over here, folks, and you better get at it?

CROCKER: Well, Senator, look, I appreciate the sense of frustration that you articulate. I share it. I, kind of, live it every day. I mean, the reality is it is hard in Iraq. And there are no light switches to throw that are going to go dark to light. It's going to be...

VOINOVICH: But don't you think, if we said, "Folks, you know we're going to leave?"

I mean, we hear that. But we are going to leave.

CROCKER: Well, first, with respect to the region, we have been sending that message, and that's why my testimony was written the way it was.

We do need to see the region, particularly the Arabs, step forward. And that's a message that's been sent by the president and the vice president during their visits to the region over the last couple of months.

CROCKER: They do need to understand that they have an interest here and that staying disengaged is dangerous for Iraq, it's dangerous for the world, and it's dangerous for the Arab world in particular.

Now, again, with respect to the frustration you articulate, if -- and these are not decisions we make. These are decisions that you will make, as well as others -- if you decide, as I said in my testimony, if we decide that we just don't want to do this anymore, then we certainly owe ourselves a very serious discussion of then what? What are the consequences?

Because my experience in the Middle East, which goes back a lot longer than I'd care to remember, frankly, are that things can get really, really bad indeed.

So we've got to have a pretty sober discussion as to what the consequences of alternative courses of action are.

VOINOVICH: General?

PETRAEUS: Well, I would echo what the ambassador said, sir. I certainly share the frustration. I've been at this I think about as long as anybody in uniform in Iraq. There may be some more out there longer, but not many.

And, again, it is very easy to dislike where we are. To be frustrated at it and so forth. But we are where we are. And, again, as the ambassador I think has very clearly stated, there are very, very real consequences of the different options that we consider.

And I think as long as it's very clear that we address those and we go into those with our eyes wide open, then that is -- the job has been done.

There have been pretty extensive diplomatic activity. Even the ambassador and I have participated in this. I've gone to Jordan. He's gone to a number of different Arab countries. We've both been to Bahrain, to Qatar and others. We may stop on the way back in a country as well.

We -- certainly anything that generates that kind of supportive activity is welcome. And...

VOINOVICH: I just want to say -- my time is up. I was in Egypt and spent time with their foreign minister. I was in Jordan, talking to their prime minister. And they don't have the urgency that they've got to really get in and involved today.

And I think it is because they know that we're going to continue to be there for a while, and they really haven't faced the reality that we, one day, are going to leave and they'd better get at it.

BIDEN: I thank the senator from Ohio.

And I wish he would not reference the senator from Illinois and cause anyone to cheer.

BIDEN: I can only imagine the headline in The Washington Post: Biden throws out people for cheering for Democratic candidate.

(LAUGHTER)

So I hope you'll refrain from referencing that again.

I yield to the senator from Florida.

NELSON: Mr. Chairman, before I continue my questioning from this morning in the Senate Armed Services Committee, I want to let Senator Obama go first because he's got a scheduling problem. So with your permission...

BIDEN: Just imagine that headline, as a supporter for Hillary. I think it's a good idea.

(LAUGHTER)

No, Senator Obama. And then we'll go back to Republican and then back to you.

Senator Obama?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, thanks to Senator Nelson for his graciousness.

And I want to thank both General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker for their dedication and sacrifice. And obviously our troops are bearing the largest burden for this enterprise. I think both of you take those sacrifices very seriously. And we appreciate the sacrifices that you, yourselves are making.

I want to just start off with a couple of quick questions, because in the parade of horribles that I think both of you have outlined should we leave too quickly at the center is Al Qaida in Iraq and Iran. So I want to just focus on those two things for a moment.

With respect to Al Qaida in Iraq, it's already been noted they were not there before we went in, but they certainly were there last year and they continue to have a presence there now.

Should we be successful in Mosul, should you continue, General, with the effective operations that you've been engaged in, assuming that in that narrow military effort we are successful, do we anticipate that there ever comes a time where Al Qaida in Iraq could not reconstitute itself?

PETRAEUS: Well, I think the question, Senator, is whether Iraqi security forces over time, with much less help, could deal with their efforts to reconstitute. I think it's...

OBAMA: That's my point.

PETRAEUS: I think it's a given that Al Qaida-Iraq will try to reconstitute just as any movement of that type does try to reconstitute. And the question is whether...

OBAMA: I don't mean -- don't mean to interrupt you, but I just want to sharpen the question so that -- because I think you're getting right at my point here.

I mean, if one of our criteria for success is ensuring that Al Qaida does not have a base of operations in Iraq, I just want to harden a little bit the metrics by which we're measuring that.

At what point do we say they cannot reconstitute themselves or are we saying that they're not going to be particularly effective and the Iraqis, themselves, will be able to handle the situation?

PETRAEUS: I think it's really the latter, Senator, that, again, if you can keep chipping away at them, chipping away at their leadership, chipping away at the resources, that comprehensive approach that I mentioned, that, over time -- and we are reaching that in some other areas already.

As I mentioned, we are drawing down very substantially in Anbar province, a place that I think few people would have thought would be the situation we're in at this point now, say, 18 months ago. And, again, that's what we want to try to achieve in all of the different areas in which Al Qaida has a presence.

OBAMA: OK. I just want to be clear if I'm understanding. We don't anticipate that there's never going to be some individual or group of individuals in Iraq that might have sympathies toward Al Qaida. Our goal is not to hunt down and eliminate every single trace, but rather to create a manageable situation where they're not posing a threat to Iraq or using it as a base to launch attacks outside of Iraq. Is that accurate?

PETRAEUS: That is exactly right.

OBAMA: OK. And it's also fair to say that, in terms of our success dealing with Al Qaida, that the Sunni Awakening has been very important, as you've testified. The Sons of Iraq and other tribal groups have allied themselves with us.

There have been talks about integrating them into the central government. However, it's been somewhat slow, somewhat frustrating. And my understanding, at least, is, although there's been a promise of 20 to 30 percent of them being integrated into the Iraqi security forces, that has not yet been achieved; on the other hand, the Maliki government was very quick to say, "We're going to take another 10,000 Shias into the Iraqi security forces."

And I'm wondering, does that undermine confidence on the part of the Sunni tribal leaders, that they are actually going to be treated fairly and they will be able to incorporate some of these young men of military age into the Iraqi security forces?

PETRAEUS: That is ongoing, Senator. As I mentioned, there's well over 20,000 who have already been integrated into either Iraqi security forces or other government positions. It doesn't just have to be the ISF. It can be other positions.

And there are thousands of others who are working their way through a process, with the Iraqi National Committee for Reconciliation, in the Ministry of Interior and so forth.

It hasn't been easy. Because, in the beginning, certainly, there was understandable suspicion about groups that were predominantly Sunni Arab, although about 20 percent are actually Shia as well.

But the process is moving. It's not been easy, but it is actually ongoing. And it is generally, now, a relatively routine process, although it takes lots of nudging.

OBAMA: OK, let me shift to Iran.

Just as -- and, Ambassador Crocker, if you want to address this, you can. Just as it's fair to say that we're not going to completely eliminate all traces of Al Qaida in Iraq, but we want to create a manageable situation, it's also true to say that we're not going to eliminate all influence of Iran in Iraq, correct?

That's not our goal. That can't be our definition of success, that Iran has no influence in Iraq.

So can you define more sharply what you think would be a legitimate or fair set of circumstances in the relationship between Iran and Iraq, that would make us feel comfortable drawing down our troops?

CROCKER: Senator, as I said in my statement, we have no problem with a good, constructive relationship between Iran and Iraq. The problem is with the Iranian strategy of backing extremist militia groups and sending in weapons and munitions that are used against Iraqis and against our own forces.

OBAMA: Do we feel confident that the Iraqi government is directing these -- this aid to these special groups?

Do we feel confident about that, or do we think that they're just tacitly tolerating it? Do you have some sense of that?

CROCKER: There's no question in our minds that the Iranian government, and in particular the Quds Force, is -- this is a conscious, carefully worked-out policy.

OBAMA: If that's the case, can you respond a little more fully to Senator Boxer's point? If, in fact, it is known -- and I'm assuming you've shared that information with the Maliki government -- that Iran's government has assisted in arming special groups that are doing harm to Iraqi security forces and undermining the Iraqi government, why is it that they're being welcomed the way they were?

CROCKER: Well, we don't need to, again, tell the prime minister that. He knows it.

OBAMA: OK.

CROCKER: And is trying to take some steps to tighten up significantly on the border.

In terms of the Ahmadinejad visit, you know, Iran and Iraq are neighbors. A visit like that should be in the category of a normal relationship.

OBAMA: OK.

CROCKER: I think what we have seen since then, in terms of this very clear spotlight focused on a malign Iranian influence, puts that visit into a very different perspective for most Iraqis, including the Iraqi Shia.

OBAMA: OK. Because -- Mr. Chairman, I know that I am out of time, so let me just, if I could have the indulgence of the committee for one minute?

BIDEN: Everybody else has.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: I just want to close with a couple of key points.

Number one, we all have the greatest interest in seeing a successful resolution to Iraq -- all of us do. And that, I think, has to be stated clearly in the record.

I continue to believe that the original decision to go into Iraq was a massive strategic blunder, that the two problems that you've pointed out -- Al Qaida in Iraq and increased Iranian influence in the region -- are a direct result of that original decision.

OBAMA: That's not a decision you gentlemen made. I won't lay it at your feet. You are cleaning up the mess afterwards. But I think it is important as we debate this forward.

I also think that the surge has reduced violence and provided breathing room, but that breathing room has not been taken the way we would all like it to be taken. And I think what happened in Basra is an example of Shia versus Shia jockeying for power that underscores how complicated the political situation is there and how we still have to continue to work vigorously to resolve it.

I believe that we are more likely to resolve it, in your own words, Ambassador, if we are applying increased pressure in a measured way. I think that increased pressure in a measured way, in my mind -- and this is where we disagree -- includes a timetable for withdrawal.

Nobody's asking for a precipitous withdrawal, but I do think that it has to be a measured but increased pressure; and a diplomatic surge that includes Iran. Because if Maliki can tolerate as normal neighbor-to-neighbor relations in Iran, then we should be talking to them as well. I do not believe we're going to be able to stabilize the position without them.

Just last point I will make. Our resources are finite. And this has been made -- this is a point that just was made by Senator Voinovich, it's been made by Senator Biden, Senator Lugar, Senator Hagel. There's a bipartisan consensus that we have finite resources. Our military is overstretched, and the Pentagon has acknowledged it.

The amount of money that we are spending is hemorrhaging our budget, and Al Qaida in Afghanistan I think is feeling a lot more secure as long as we're focused in Iraq and not on Afghanistan.

Wen you have finite resources, you've got to define your goals tightly and modestly.

OBAMA: And so my final -- and I'll even pose this as a question and I won't -- you don't necessarily have to answer it -- maybe it's a rhetorical question -- if we were able to have the status quo in Iraq right now without U.S. troops, would that be a sufficient definition of success?

It's obviously not perfect. There's still violence, there's still some traces of Al Qaida, Iran has influence more than we would like. But if we had the current status quo, and yet our troops had been drawn down to 30,000, would we consider that a success? Would that meet our criteria, or would that not be good enough and we'd have to devote even more resources to it?

CROCKER: Senator, I can't imagine the current status quo being sustainable with that kind of precipitous drawdown.

BIDEN: That wasn't the question.

OBAMA: No, no, that wasn't the question. I'm not suggesting that we yank all our troops out all the way. I'm trying to get to an endpoint. That's what all of us have been trying to get to.

And, see, the problem I have is if the definition of success is so high, no traces of Al Qaida and no possibility of reconstitution, a highly-effective Iraqi government, a Democratic multiethnic, multi- sectarian functioning democracy, no Iranian influence, at least not of the kind that we don't like, then that portends the possibility of us staying for 20 or 30 years.

If, on the other hand, our criteria is a messy, sloppy status quo but there's not, you know, huge outbreaks of violence, there's still corruption, but the country is struggling along, but it's not a threat to its neighbors and it's not an Al Qaida base, that seems to me an achievable goal within a measurable timeframe, and that, I think, is what everybody here on this committee has been trying to drive at, and we haven't been able to get as clear of an answer as we would like.

CROCKER: And that's because, Senator, is a -- I mean, I don't like to sound like a broken record, but this is hard and this is complicated.

I think that when Iraq gets to the point that it can carry forward its further development without a major commitment of U.S. forces, with still a lot of problems out there but where they and we would have a fair certitude that, again, they can drive it forward themselves without significant danger of having the whole thing slip away from them again, then, clearly, our profile, our presence diminishes markedly.

But that's not where we are now.

OBAMA: Thank you for your indulgence, Mr. Chairman.

BIDEN: Thank you.

On the second round, we'll go back and ask you to answer the questions you were asked but you haven't answered. But we'll do that in the second round.

(LAUGHTER)

Senator Murkowski?

MURKOWSKI: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And, gentlemen, thank you for your service, certainly thank you for your endurance here this afternoon. It's certainly a marathon day for you. But, truly, thank you for all that you do to serve so many in this country.

When you were here before the committee last, in September, we were talking at that point in time the focus was on the military surge, and a great deal of discussion as to how that was going to play out and what we could anticipate and what we could expect.

I asked the question of both of you at that time, more along the lines of let's talk about the civilian surge -- what are we doing on the other side that can help facilitate the military mission, the military surge?

And at that time, General, you responded that you would like to see more from the civilian side. You indicated at that time that there were some -- there were some elements of the government that truly were at war. The Department of Defense clearly was engaged. The Department of State was engaged; AID.

But not all the others. And there were some departments that you specifically mentioned at that time.

From your standpoint at this point in time, now, are you satisfied that we have that level of participation from those other departments, from those other areas of government where we can and should be making a difference?

Now, Ambassador Crocker, in your testimony, you go into some length about what we are seeing with the PRTs and the efforts that have been made there.

But I'll just repeat the question from September to both of you again as to whether or not you're satisfied that all areas that need to be engaged are fully engaged.

PETRAEUS: Well, Senator, there has been a surge on the civilian side that has been very helpful, frankly. The provincial reconstruction teams and the so-called EPRTs, the embedded provincial reconstruction, which were actually subprovincial in most cases, have been enormously helpful and valuable.

They have augmented, at brigade headquarters, division headquarters, the assets of our civilian affairs -- civil affairs personnel, and brought really useful skill sets to bear in a number of different provinces and districts.

PETRAEUS: And that has been of enormous value and enormous help.

There's also been an increase, in certain areas, in the capacity- building arena. And again, taht has helped, as has been the organization of what we call fusion cells, where the -- as you may know -- I've reportred before that the Multinational Force-Iraq and teh embassy actually have a joint campaign plan.

This truly is one team. And we head it together, in that regard. Yes, we report to different chains of command, but we try to achieve unity of effort in what we do. And so we've actualy combined our assets in areas such as teh energy fusion cell, which loks at oil and elecricity.

There's a voter security -- it just goes on and on, a number of these different fusion cells.

Having said all that, ther still is a need for capacity-building help in certain areas. And I think -- I'm syre the ambassador would agree wthat there are certain ministries in Iraq that still could use help in the capacity-building arena and still, probably, don't have all that they should have.

Beyond that, I think we do need to take a look at the PRT composition. And that is ongoing, actually -- just a report out that that is taking place -- to detrmine, for example, do you need more agrioculture experts in Nineveh than you do in Baghdad?

Do you need more oil experts in, say, Kirkuk than you need in, right now, at least, in Anbar -- although there's oil out there, too.

So that is what is ongoing. And again, bottom line is, there's been a substantial civilian surge in the PRT arena and in some capacity-building areas. But there is still more neded in others.

MURKOWSKI: Ambsssador, when you addressed this in your comments to the committee, you've indicated that the era of U.S.-funded major infrastructure prijects is over, so that, when we're talking about the assistance that is bein provided from here on out in Iraq, it is more of the -- when you say the capacity-building, those experts that can come in to help facilitate.

Because I think the concern that you have certainly heard around this dais today is the American patience is not unlimited. The president has said that you have indicated othat our support, our financial support, euqally, cannot be unlimited. And wgen Iraq is at that point, as they are now, where they clearly have reserves that are available to them, I think the American public looks at this and says, OK, well, we can understand the need to continue funding that equipment for our troops; we apprecuiate that, but when it comes to the building of the school or the building of the hospital, I've got schools and hospitals in my community that need to be addressed.

So can you speak to that aspect of the U.S. investment into IRaq, at this point?

CROCKER: That's an important point, Sneator. And that is exactly right. I mean, our emphasis has shifted away from infrastructure. We're not doing schools and clinics anymore, and into capacity-building, as we've discussed, but also developing local capacity.

That's, again, where the PRTs comes in, with their quick response funds, to be able to do things that local governments cannot do for themselves and are, as of yet, unable to resource through higher echelons of government, and also to pay attention to categories of people or circumstances that, again, may not get the assistance they need for other sources at this point -- NGOs, women's groups -- we do a lot there and so forth.

CROCKER: I, broadly speaking, would say that what is motivating our thinking now is kind of the traditional construct of foreign aid, of using it where it makes a difference in ways that are important to us and where it wouldn't happen if we weren't able to step forward.

MURKOWSKI: Can I just ask very, very quickly, Mr. Chairman -- and this is to you, General -- as we approach July and this 45-day period of consolidation and evaluation, we've also been talking with the Pentagon about achieving that goal of reducing the deployment rotation for the currently 15 months to the desired level of 12 months, what will this do, if anything, to the length of deployment?

PETRAEUS: Senator, obviously, I'm not the one that determines the level...

MURKOWSKI: Yes.

PETRAEUS: of deployments, but I do -- certainly heard newspaper articles, at least, say that there is discussion about this and there may be some mention of this in the days or weeks to come.

MURKOWSKI: But you don't think that your proposal...

PETRAEUS: Well, I'm fine with 12-months tours. I am fine with 12-month tours, and we would welcome 12-months tours.

MURKOWSKI: And you think you can do it given the numbers that you have currently, keeping them at 12-month deployments?

PETRAEUS: Well, again, we're not the force providers, we're obviously the force employers. And the ones who have to answer that, rightly, are the Department of the Army, Department of the Navy in the case of the Marine Corps.

But, again, my understanding is there has been discussion of that. We've been asked are we OK with 12--month tours. We have replied that that is fine.

MURKOWSKI: I think that's where we all would like to get.

PETRAEUS: Well, again, that's obviously for other people to determine.

MURKOWSKI: Thanks, Mr. Chairman.

BIDEN: Thank you very much.

Let me explain to my colleagues. I appreciate your patience in my allowing people to go, if they're in the midst of a question, beyond the seven minutes. As one of my colleagues from New Jersey recently said, he said he appreciates my patience. He'll learn to appreciate it more the more senior he is.

But I do appreciate all of you. I know it's a long, long wait. But I don't want to cut people off in the midst of them finishing up.

Senator Nelson?

NELSON: Gentlemen, I want to continue to follow up on my questioning this morning. And I had quoted from two retired generals that had testified to us last week. And general Odom -- let me state another quote of his.

"Let me emphasize that our new Sunni friends insist on being paid for their loyalty. I've heard, for example, the cost in one area of about 100 square kilometers is $250,000 per day. And periodically they threaten to defect unless their fees are increased. And many who break with Al Qaida and join our forces are beholden to no one. Thus the decline in violence reflects a dispersion of power to dozens of local strongmen." End of quote from General Odom.

So are these figures accurate? Are we paying these Sunnis up to $250,000 in a 100-square-mile -- a square-kilometer area?

PETRAEUS: I'm not familiar with that particular statistic, Senator. And, again, I did present the figure that we provide per month in my briefing earlier. And, as I mentioned, we think that this -- the math is very much in our favor, candidly, when we look at the savings and the vehicles that are not lost, not to mention, again, the priceless lives that are saved by the increased security.

The key over time -- and General Odom is exactly right that, over time, these have to be integrated into, again, Iraqi governmental institutions, employment and so forth, and there's a variety of programs that are designed to facilitate that, including a number of those that I mentioned have been funded by the Iraqi government in terms of the retraining and integration programs, as well as the Iraqi security force integration efforts.

NELSON: Well, it's not necessarily bad that we're paying them. We pay in a lot of areas, including for intelligence. But General Odom's point was, and I'll quote him again, "We don't own them, we merely rent them." And he was concerned that these groups don't have any allegiance to our U.S. forces.

And so, with this decline, what do you think about his comment about, quote, "The decline in violence reflects a dispersing of power to dozens of the local strong men?"

PETRAEUS: Well, Senator, there has always been a tribal structure in a number of these areas. And what we have done is come to realize that we should work with tribal sheikhs. They are important organizing elements in their society. They, frankly, do a lot more than just sheikh work; they also typically have a construction business, an import-export business and a trucking company. So, they're very integrated into the economies, as well.

Again, over time, what we have to do is provide avenues for their tribal members to find either slots in the Iraqi security forces and local police or what have you, or be integrated into the economy through job training, through these small loans that the Iraqis are providing and so forth.

NELSON: Well, in the context that I started my questioning today of the surge, militarily, has worked, Has it provided the environment in which we, in fact, can get the political reconciliation?

Let me tell you what General McCaffrey, retired four star, testified to us. He says, "The war, as it is now configured, is not militarily nor politically sustainable." That's a quote. And he further says, "There is no U.S. political will to continue casualties of military killed -- of U.S. military killed and wounded every month."

You want to comment on General McCaffrey's comments?

PETRAEUS: Well, I think, again, we're keenly aware of -- as I've mentioned a number as I mentioned a number of times, the enormous strain, the enormous sacrifice and the enormous cost of the effort in Iraq.

PETRAEUS: And it was factored into my recommendations. And it is a reason that the surge, for example, is going to come to an end. And it's the reason that we will look as hard as we can to make further reductions once the dust has settled, after we've taken over one quarter of our combat power out over about a seven or eight-month period.

NELSON: Mr. Ambassador, I want to ask you, also, what General McCaffrey felt very strongly. He said that the only thing that could keep Iraq united -- at the end of the day, once we start pulling out, he says, either you have the strong security commitment by the United States or a strong man emerges.

And that begs the question from General McCaffrey's comments, are we facing a situation where we've removed a dictator and is another one likely to replace him?

CROCKER: I don't think that that is what any segment of the Iraqi population wants to see. Iraqis know about dictators. They suffered under one of the worst in the world. And they also suffered, not quite as severely but significantly, from his predecessors from '58 on.

So if there is a unifying view among Iraqis, it is that they do not want to go back to that.

At the same time, I think Iraqis from all communities see the value, not just the value but the necessity, of maintaining an Iraqi identity, and that includes the Kurds. I think the recent events with the PKK and the Turks have demonstrated to the Kurds the value of being part of a larger Iraqi entity.

So, you know, I'm familiar with the thinking on the strong man theory, but I don't think that is where anyone in Iraq wants to -- wants to take this.

And, finally, I'd make the point on another piece of glue that holds the country together, and those are revenues -- oil revenues. While it is true that they have not yet wrestled their way through to a comprehensive hydrocarbon and revenue sharing package, revenues are distributed. And all the provinces and all the communities obviously have an interest in having that happen. And it goes through the center.

So I think that's also a powerful force that holds Iraq together.

BIDEN: Thank you very much.

Senator?

ISAKSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

ISAKSON: General Petraeus, thank you for your service to the country.

And same to you, Ambassador Crocker.

General Petraeus, I want to acknowledge that naval officer Maria Miller, who's leaving the room, accompanied you here from Baghdad. And I just want to brag about her for a second as an example of the brave men and women that are representing us.

She worked in the House of Representatives on the Education Committee. Post-9/11, volunteered to go to OCS, United States Navy, and came to Iraq to be your administrative assistant. And that's just one example of countless tens of thousands of American young people who are doing a magnificent job. So I commend you on her selection and her on her selection of you.

Let me ask Ambassador Crocker, when I voted for the surge last year, I did so clearly in the anticipation that it gave us a chance to both buy time and the opportunity for there to be some political action and political movement on behalf of the Iraqis.

You made a comment during your remarks about Basra, about Maliki actually deploying Shia troops against a Shia militia to regain control. Although there was a lot of comments about that being a deterioration, it seemed to me to send a signal that they are willing to lead. Am I right there?

CROCKER: You are right, Senator. This was an initiative he took on himself, and politically it's had very positive resonance throughout Iraq.

ISAKSON: Well, if you combine that with the fact that they've established elections for before October of this year, provincial elections, I think I remember right about the Iraqi constitution. If you are a political party and operate a militia, you can't gain voting status or electable status, is that right?

CROCKER: That is correct, and that is what the prime minister said publicly, I think, yesterday or the day before.

ISAKSON: So I think it's important for us to understand we have an opportunity -- or they have an opportunity -- with Maliki having demonstrated he's willing to deploy Shia troops to enforce security as he did in Basra and at the port, and if they can't gain political power if they're operating a militia that possibly these elections in the provinces this fall could be more about politics and less about militias. Am I right?

CROCKER: I think you are right, Senator. These elections will be important because -- indeed critical -- because, you know, that is how this contest for power and influence gets sorted out by nonviolent means.

CROCKER: It's how the Sunnis regain representation. It's how the contest among Shia gets resolved, again, by means other than violence. So these are very important.

ISAKSON: Well, the Sunnis are going to turn out this time, right?

CROCKER: Absolutely. They've made that very clear that boycotting didn't work for them and they're not going to do it again.

ISAKSON: And if Muqtada al-Sadr and some of the other Shia who operate militias understand to be a part of the political process you can't have a militia, you got to be a part of the election, we have the chance to at least get these parties to the same table politically. Is that correct?

CROCKER: I think we do. And I think we're seeing some signs of that debate within the Sadr trend. That may have been what motivated him to issue the state statement he did in late March, saying, "Put the guns down, guys," that this was not working to his political advantage.

ISAKSON: Well, it's my hope that as you do the consolidation and review that takes place in that six weeks post-July that there is continuing political movement on behalf of the Iraqis, and then you really do begin to see a political resolution to the problem that we all know, ultimately, must come. And that's what I think we've got to hope and actually work for.

General Petraeus, your comment about a unit that had just enjoyed meeting its entire goal for reenlistment in the first quarter of this year, I think that the 3rd I.D...

PETRAEUS: It is.

ISAKSON: ... out of Fort Stewart, Georgia. And I was there last week when the first of those men and women came back and I -- when you get the chance -- Fort Stewart, in dealing with this stress on the force and the pressure on the force, the orthopedic injuries that are becoming more common and PTSD and traumatic brain, the Army has installed a tremendous warrior transition facility at Fort Stewart, which I visited with the 71 soldiers who were in there, and it's remarkable to me what they have done to deal with the typical Iraqi injury, both soft tissue as well as non.

It's just fantastic. And I hope if you ever get the chance -- you're a busy man -- you'll get to visit there because it is truly an impressive facility.

PETRAEUS: Sir, I've also visited the facility at Walter Reed, which is state of the art, as well. In fact, we'll see soldiers from there on Friday.

ISAKSON: My last comment is -- I have two last comments. One is about what Senator Murkowski and some others have said.

The cost of this war has been tremendous on the taxpayers of the United States. And it appears to me, for the first time, the Iraqis -- the government is really making some steps to take over a significant part. I know they're budgeting more than they're actually deploying, and I know that's -- and that's going to be the root of my question.

By looking here, they budgeted $10.1 billion for capital spending but only deployed $4.7 billion in 2007. Are they getting better at deploying the resources they have to replace what we as Americans were paying for?

CROCKER: They are getting better, Senator. Overall, budget execution for 2007 is going to come in at something like 62, 63 percent -- obviously not what it needs to be, but that's almost three times better than they did in 2006. So, they are getting increasingly skillful at being able to not only design but then execute their budgets.

CROCKER: Equally truthfully, they've got to -- we've got some ways to go. And that's why we're making a major effort at improving their budget execution efforts.

We've got -- if we can get the Deob/Reob through, we'll have another -- for some old reconstruction money -- we intend to bring out a dozen Department of Treasury folks to work specifically on this issue.

ISAKSON: I'll ask the question -- I'll ask General Petraeus to comment.

Our chairman was probably the leader in the Senate on the effort to develop -- appropriate the money for the MRAP. When I was there in January, I got to actually ride in one, with a squad that went into Ghazaliyah. And I've read -- tried to keep up with the results -- the amazing results of the MRAP.

Can you give us an update?

It's been three months since I was there. Is it still performing and protecting lives like it...

PETRAEUS: It very much is, Senator. I don't have a count of the lives it has saved. But I can assure you that it is certainly in the dozens. It has performed magnificently.

And I don't want to, in an unclassified -- get into the niches (ph) of all this stuff. But what it provides, in terms of additional protection for our soldiers, is very, very substantial.

And I think -- I think the earlier committee, I guess, today, about the MRAP, because of just the sheer speed of providing that to us has been breathtaking as well.

I mean, it's almost been like a Manhattan Project to get these V- shaped holes out there for us. And that MRAP family of vehicles has been exceptional.

ISAKSON: Well, thanks to both of you for your service and your commitment.

PETRAEUS: Thank you, Senator.

BIDEN: I'll say to the senator, I have done a study on just that question. And I'll be happy to put it in the record and make it available to you, at least from one senator's perspective, working with the Pentagon on that, that's not classified.

Senator Menendez?

MENENDEZ: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Let me thank both of you for your service.

MENENDEZ: When I was in Iraq in January and visited with you, I came to even go beyond my admiration, not only for your service but the extraordinary service of our men and women in uniform, as well as in the foreign service. It's certainly not an easy assignment.

And that's why I particularly believe that we need to give them a policy worthy of the sacrifices that we ask them to make. And certainly I just don't believe that our present policy is in accord with the sacrifice we are asking our people to make.

You know, General Petraeus, on page 2 of your testimony you said something I think is very profound. You said it in September; said it again in your testimony today.

It says, "I describe the fundamental nature of the conflict in Iraq as a competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources. This competition continues."

And it just seems to me that I would ask a mother or father in America is their son's and daughter's sacrifice for a fight among Iraqi politicians and sects for power and resources the national interest of the United States, I think they would clearly say no.

And I have a real problem when we see the sons and daughters of America dying so that a fight over power and resources is the central essence of the fundamental nature of the conflict as you describe. That's a real problem.

And so, when we start there, I don't know where we go that makes it better.

Let me just ask you, Ambassador Crocker, what are the specifics -- specifics -- of what we are doing to get rid of Iranian influence in Iraq?

CROCKER: Well, again, as General Petraeus has said, we are going after those that are trained and supplied from Iran. And we have certainly gone after Quds Force officers when they come into the country.

MENENDEZ: I'm not talking -- I appreciate that answer, but I'm not talking about the military context or I would have asked General Petraeus. I'm talking about what are we doing with an administration in Iraq that we have given $600 million in investments, the lives of over 4,000 Americans, and yet they seem to be very welcoming of the type of influence from Iran that we clearly don't want to see and it's not in the national interests of the United States.

CROCKER: Senator, that's actually not what we're seeing. Again, the whole motivation for Prime Minister Maliki's decision for the Basra operation was to take on these groups that are supported by Iran.

MENENDEZ: But all of these groups, Ambassador, have been supported by Iran, including the side that he lined up with. As a matter of fact, there are some reports that suggest that Maliki did this for political purposes and then we get dragged in because the Iraqis cannot sustain their own fight and we get dragged in, in a major fight once again backing up Maliki in a way in which we put our sons and daughters at risk.

Those are American officials who were quoted unofficially saying, you know, not on the record, but they were quoted as saying this is what Maliki did. All sides in that side have been trained by the Iranians.

CROCKER: That is not how Iraqis are viewing the whole Basra operation. There has been very broad-gauged support for Prime Minister Maliki and his government for what he did and of course is still doing down in Basra. This is, Again, Sunni, Shia and Kurdish support. They see this as a courageous decision to go after Shia extremists as well as Sunnis.

And, again...

MENENDEZ: Ambassador, let me read to you what I'm talking about. In an article in The Washington Post that says, among other things, "Maliki decided to launch the offensive without consulting his U.S. allies. U.S. officials, not authorized to speak on the record, say they believe Iran has provided assistance in the past to all three groups, the Madhi Army, the Badr organization of the Islamic Supreme Council, Iraq's largest Shiite party, and forces loyal to the Fadhila Party, which holds the Basra governor's seat.

MENENDEZ: But the officials see the current conflict as a purely internal Iraqi dispute. And some officials have concluded that Maliki himself is firing, quote, "the first salvo in upcoming elections."

Again, power and resources where American troops are being used in a way that I don't understand how that pursues our national interest.

Let me ask you this, General Petraeus: You said this morning in the Armed Services Committee that you described our reconstruction efforts as quote, "priming the pump for the Iraqi government to be able to provide basic services." Is that correct?

PETRAEUS: Not reconstruction efforts, sir. These are local, small, very small grants, small projects and so forth, that, once we have cleared an area, typically, most typically of Al Qaida or other Sunni extremist influence, just to get very small businesses going again, very small repair jobs...

MENENDEZ: What about the -- Ambassador Crocker, what about the $25 billion that we have spent in foreign assistance in Iraq? Have those achieved goals that we want?

CROCKER: If you're talking about the Iraqi reconstruction funds, the $20 billion, it was -- in many cases, they have. In some cases, security conditions made it difficult to bring projects to closure in a timely fashion. We have kept at these. We have recently handed over, for example, a major water treatment plant that we finished up in Nasiriyah.

MENENDEZ: I'm glad you mentioned that. Let me read to you a series of facts: $25 billion in Iraq later of American taxpayer monies, 43 percent of Iraq's population currently lives in absolute poverty.

Nineteen percent of Iraqi children suffered from malnutrition prior to the war. Today that figure is higher, 28 percent.

MENENDEZ: Last year, 75 percent of Iraqi elementary-age children attended school, according to the Iraqi ministry of education. Now it's only 30 percent.

And 50 percent of Iraqis lacked regular access to clean water prior to 2003 -- 50 percent. Now it's higher; 70 percent. Only 50 of 142 U.S.-funded primary health care centers are open to the public, and I could go on and on.

To me, you know, I look at Iraq having $30 billion in reserves held in the Federal Reserve of New York and another $10 billion in development funds, significant budgetary surpluses from previous years and a projected 7 percent economic growth rate, and I say, how is it that the American taxpayer is -- after $25 billion and those are the results -- how is the American taxpayer expected to pay for more?

CROCKER: Senator, I don't know where those figures came from or what reliability...

MENENDEZ: Do you dispute them? Do you dispute them?

CROCKER: I don't know what their basis is. You know, I do know there is other data out there. There was an ABC/BBC poll, and these organizations have been conducting polling in Iraq since 2004, their March poll would tell a different story of -- you mentioned education. 63 percent believe their local schools were good. 78 percent thought that their teachers -- their children's teachers were good.

MENENDEZ: Maybe for those who have a school to go to. I'm not sure -- I know that our statistics are from some recent reports that are pretty reliable. And as the subcommittee chair on all of our foreign assistance, I can't imagine continuing to justify the type of resources that we are spending for the results that we are having, politically and otherwise.

And so, I just -- let me close, in deference to my colleagues, by saying, look, you know, when we went into Iraq, we were told that they would be overwhelmed by shock and awe. And I think that it's the American people who have a shock of being misled into a war, of having a set of circumstances where, in fact, it has cost well beyond -- Paul Wolfowitz sat at a table similar to yours and told us that Iraqi oil would pay for everything. Iraqi oil would pay for everything.

MENENDEZ: And $600 million later, it has paid for virtually nothing -- $600 billion later, it has paid for virtually nothing.

And awe, yes. I think the American people are in awe of a government that will not come to the realization -- we had a panel of experts here last week who said that there's no question that it is over, in terms of transitioning out. It's just how we do that, and the time frame.

You can -- despite how many questions have been asked here, you will not give us, you know, what is the end game of success. It sounds like, "When I see it, I'll realize it, but until then, give us an open checkbook."

And that's a problem. You know, how many Iraqis need to be -- what's the troop strength that needs to finally -- here, when we say, OK, they can do it on their own ability?

What is the political dynamics in which we say, OK, that's it, you know, they can move forward?

I mean, at some point, you cannot expect the Congress of the United States, on behalf of the American people, to continue an open checkbook and say, trust us, trust us; when we see it, we'll tell you that we've finally hit success.

And that's what we hear up here. And the American people are not supportive of that.

BIDEN: Senator, thank you very much.

I would invite the ambassador -- I know your embassy has that data on number of people in schools, et cetera. If you believe the data not stated by the senator is -- if it's not accurate, according to your embassy records, then I'd appreciate you submitting it for the record.

If not, we'll assume what was given here by the senator, as to school, water, et cetera, is correct.

CROCKER: We'd appreciate that opportunity, Mr. Chairman.

And, Senator Menendez, if it would be possible to get the data you have, we'd be grateful.

BIDEN: The senator from Wyoming? BARRASSO: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Ambassador, General, thank you very much for being with us. I appreciate you taking the time to spend it with me on Thanksgiving Day, when I was visiting Wyoming troops throughout Iraq.

And I want to thank both of you for your service to our nation. There were a group of veterans here today, the Veterans for Freedom, many from Wyoming, many who have served in Iraq, and they wanted to have me personally extend to you their thanks as well.

In my short time here in the Senate, I do understand that the politics of Iraq is divisive. But I clearly understand that we must make our judgments based on facts, not on politics.

BARRASSO: We must make our judgments based on facts, not on politics. Whichever way you wish to look at this issue, Iraq is a matter of national security. And, as you've said, Ambassador Crocker, earlier today, hard does not mean hopeless.

After we visited on Thanksgiving, I also went and had a chance to visit with Prime Minister Maliki. And I told him about being from Wyoming, a western state, and our western way and our western culture, and in Wyoming, we like to get things done. We are a generous people, but our patience is not unlimited.

Which gets me to the question of the discussions we had last week, where we heard in testimony that we need to instill the will to win with the Iraqi security forces. What's the best way to do that?

PETRAEUS: Well, what we need to do, Senator, is what has been done successfully in a number of area, actually, and that is, of course, to train them, equip them, and then guide them in the early stages in their operations, get them some confidence.

One of the challenges in Basra, frankly, was that a very -- a brand-new brigade, right out of unit set fielding and basic training, unfortunately ended up getting thrust into some pretty tough combat. And the results of that are, frankly, predictable.

So we've got to figure out how to enable them to get their feet on the ground, to get some experience, to get combat under their belt, and then gradually ease back, and slowly but surely take your hand off the bicycle seat and let them pedal it for themselves.

Now, that has worked in a number of areas, and is working. I mean, Fallujah is a tremendous example.

Of course, as the ambassador mentioned, one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq in the past and a city where, albeit, there are challenges, but has done extremely well.

They have 10 police precincts, I believe it is, now. There are no Iraqi army forces required in the streets of Fallujah at this point in time. We have, I believe the latest is a Marine squad with each of those 10 precincts, but gradually going down to where we have one for every other precinct, and slowly but surely, again, taking our hands off the bicycle seat, even in Fallujah. Ramadi, similar results there. So some of the very tough areas.

This has, indeed, worked in a number of the southern provinces as well, but then, others where there clearly are challenges because of the security efforts that are required.

BARRASSO: General, earlier today you testified that the Sunni communities have rejected Al Qaida in terms of their extremist ideology. How important is that, in the things that you're trying to accomplish?

PETRAEUS: Well, it's very important. It's not complete across the board, Senator. I don't want to give that impression.

But the fact that numerous Sunni communities and probably the majority of Sunni communities across Iraq have rejected Al Qaida and, more importantly, its extremist ideology have been repelled by its indiscriminate violence and abhor the practices that they brought to their communities, that Al Qaida did, as they let them into their communities for a whole variety of reasons in the early years after liberation.

PETRAEUS: This is very, very significant, again, not just for Iraq but for the broader Arab world. And, in fact, over time, the answer to Al Qaida-Iraq, of course, is not going to be to kill or capture every single one of them; it is going to be painstaking changes in education systems in Arab countries, it's going to be changes, in some cases, in the imams.

There is a country in the Middle East that, in fact, is working through determining who is preaching in its mosques. It's going to be a course employment and other opportunities. But it has to be, again, a comprehensive effort to combat extremism and the conditions that lead young men in particular in the Arab world to embrace it, particularly in the -- again, in the Sunni Arab world.

So the rejection in Iraq is very, very important. And the chain reaction that set off from there in Ramadi, again, has huge significance, not just for Iraq, but for the region.

BARRASSO: If I could go into another area -- Senator Dodd, earlier, talked about the mental health of the troops; Senator Isakson talked about the physical health of the troops and what's being done now with physical medicine, rehabilitation.

My training as an orthopedic surgeon, and I was basically practicing medicine until last year -- I've just gotten back from Afghanistan, where I had a chance to go to Bagram and visit at the hospital there, watched the transport, how they do it with patients, what they can do with the life-saving techniques.

I thought they had absolutely the best equipment that you could imagine -- CAT scan with -- I went into the operating room, watched the reconstruction of a leg that had been severely injured.

The equipment, the plates, the screws, the rods, everything they had is what you would expect to find at any major trauma center in the United States, and I thought that the level of care was absolutely outstanding in terms of limb and life-saving abilities.

PETRAEUS: It is phenomenal, Senator. And it is present in the variety of different locations so that it's within the golden hour, if you will, of -- from point of injury to trying to get the soldier to the location where that level of care is available if needed.

BARRASSO: And in Afghanistan, what I saw was actually the transport system was better than what you would find at pretty much any major trauma center in the United States in terms of quick access in the golden hour of trauma. And I just want to make sure that in Iraq our soldiers are receiving that same high level of care.

PETRAEUS: It is. In fact, Senator, that's one of the elements of this battlefield geometry that I've talked about, that even as we draw down, we have to make sure that we have a sufficient footprint out there so that adviser teams and other small elements, special operations teams and so forth, still have the access to that transportation system so that, again, we can make use of that golden hour in the best way possible to get our soldiers to the care they need.

BARRASSO: Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, I think my time has expired. Thank you very much.

BIDEN: Well, thank you for staying within your time. Yes, I think you ought to get a special award for that. Thank you very much.

Senator Cardin?

CARDIN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman...

BIDEN: Excuse me, Senator, on my time, before we start the clock, Senator DeMint is unable to return and I ask unanimous consent that the statement that he has on these hearings be entered into the record at this time.

Now I yield to you, Senator Cardin.

CARDIN: Mr. Chairman, I would ask that my statement also be made part of the record.

BIDEN: Without objection, it will be.

CARDIN: Let me thank General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker and all the soldiers and diplomats that have served our nation so well under tremendous sacrifice. And we can't say that enough, and I just really want to express our appreciation on behalf of the people of Maryland that I have the honor of representing.

I want to go back to what the president of the United States said on January the 10th, 2007, when he announced our new way forward in Iraq.

He said, "Over time, we can expect growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas."

Now, Senator Menendez has talked about the daily life for Iraqis. The president, this administration and the Iraqi government agreed on certain benchmarks to judge progress in other critical areas. By any indication those benchmarks have not been met.

Last week, in the hearings that we had in this committee, I asked a question as to who could be our partner for making peace in Iraq, who would make the type of concessions that are required to have a lasting government that had the respect of its people.

When peace broke out in South Africa and Northern Ireland, we had local leaders, national leaders in their country that were willing to make those concessions. At the hearing last week there was no consensus that there are national leaders today in Iraq that are prepared to make the type of concessions to move forward with a lasting peace.

I must acknowledge that I would like to see in the next 10 months of this administration a change of mission.

CARDIN: I opposed the war in Iraq and have opposed the way this war has been pursued by this administration.

But I certainly don't want to see the status quo maintained. I would like to see a change of urgent diplomacy, as some of my colleagues talked about, but I'm now concerned that this administration might negotiate a long-term security agreement that would be framed in a way to avoid the approval of the Congress to try to affect the flexibility of future administrations or future Congresses.

So, Mr. Ambassador, let me just give you an opportunity to either clarify or comment on any of the assumptions I've made as to the ability to move forward with a partner who's prepared to make concessions or the security plan that is being contemplated, being drafted in a way that the Iraqi government and, perhaps, their parliament would have more to say than this Congress.

CROCKER: Thank you, Senator.

On the first, as I tried to describe, I think, in response to Senator Corker's questions, we are seeing, as a result of improved security conditions, bottoms-up reconciliation that then affects moods and attitudes...

CARDIN: I think my question deals with Iraqi national leaders who are prepared to make concessions.

CROCKER: Yes, sir. My point was that you have both bottoms-up and top-down and they link. The improved security situation and the corresponding relaxation, if you will, on the part of both Sunni and Shia communities, as the Sunnis repudiate Al Qaida and related groups, the Shia no longer see the need to rely on militias to protect them.

CARDIN: I understand that. I'm looking for, though, a national leader who's prepared to step forward and make the types of unpopular positions that are required if you're going to have real compromises made in the government. If you want to name a person, fine; if not, let me try to move on to the next point.

CROCKER: OK, just to say that that atmosphere then affects national level leaders and gives you a dynamic in which you can start to see progress on complex pieces of legislation that are tied to reconciliation, that the package that the parliament voted in February that you simply could not have gotten six months before. And it takes all the leaders in on this. Is there a Nelson Mandela out there? I don't think so. But we are seeing, kind of, the trade-offs starting to be made and a move away from zero-sum thinking that any concession is a weakness, and that is progress.

With respect to your second point on a long-term relationship, we are currently negotiating a status of forces agreement.

CROCKER: In many respects...

CARDIN: Was it drawn in a way to exclude the Congress's approval?

CROCKER: It is being drawn in a way that will be similar to the 80-odd others we have around the world, as an executive agreement.

CARDIN: Iraq has a history with this Congress. And I just urge you, if you want the cooperation of many of us, that agreement better come before us.

Let me -- I want to raise one other issue. One of the facts that has happened over the last five years that is clearly without dispute is there's now 5 million displaced Iraqis, about 2 million in neighboring countries, 3 million, now -- close to 3 million -- within Iraq itself.

You've acknowledged that in your statements. The impact on surrounding countries cannot be underestimated. The amount, in Jordan alone, is estimated to be about 20 percent of their population, which, I believe, if that were in the United States, would be equivalent to 60 million people. So it's a huge impact on the country of Jordan.

My point is that you stated in your testimony that, in the coming months, the Iraqi government must resettle Iraqis internally displaced and refugees.

My concern is that the United Nations high commissioner on refugees does not believe the conditions are stable enough for the return of internally displaced individuals.

My question is, do you disagree with the high commissioner?

Number two, you state that the role that the United Nations is playing is to, in fact, help resettle. The high commissioner says that's not accurate, that it is to make an assessment as to whether it's safe to resettle.

If you could clarify that, I think it would be helpful to us.

CROCKER: Senator, we work very closely with the U.N. in Iraq, and now with UNHCR, since they have put international staff back into the country.

And General Petraeus and I have both met, incidentally, with the high commissioner. Both the U.N. and ourselves and other concerned governments are all working with the relevant Iraqi authorities to be sure that they've got the resources and the planning to deal with returns, as they happen. Because the people have a vote themselves, whether....

CARDIN: Well, my question is: Do you disagree with the high commissioner as to whether the conditions today are safe for resettlements of internally displaced individuals?

CROCKER: Senator, it's not a blanket issue. It depends on the area. There are some areas where people can safely return. There are areas where they probably should wait a bit.

CARDIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BIDEN: Thank you very much.

Gentlemen, we're getting there. And thank you for your patience, and I thank my colleagues for theirs as well.

BIDEN: Senator Casey?

CASEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for your patience as well. It's been a long day, and the witnesses have been here a while. I'll do my best to stay within my time.

I want to thank the ambassador and the general for your testimony today and your service to the country. Terribly difficult assignments both of you have been given. We're grateful for your service.

I really have two areas of questioning. One pertains to Blackwater Worldwide, the renewal of that contract. We know what we're talking about with regard to a private security firm -- all kinds of controversy and investigations, as you know, in the case of Blackwater.

I guess it was September when there were shots fired in a crowded area and 17 Iraqi civilians were killed, in addition to other investigations.

Ambassador Crocker, the question I have for you is can you describe the process that you and/or the administration undertook to make a determination about the renewal of that contract?

CROCKER: Well, this was a decision made in the department -- the Department of State. Blackwater is I think in the third year of a five-year contract, so the decision was to go ahead with the next year of that contract.

The fact is, Senator, that we, in order to move around securely, we are and we'll need to continue to rely on private contractors. We just simply don't have the assets within the State Department diplomatic security system to do it any other way.

In the wake of the September incident, we took a number of steps. There was a memorandum of agreement signed between the Departments of State and Defense. The Multi-National Force and the embassy have worked out a set of procedures. You now have an officer in our tactical operations center so that the battlespace owners have full visibility on any of these movements.

We've put diplomatic security agents from the State Department with each security contractor motorcade, installed TV cameras and recorders. Again, a number of steps to ensure we've got the tightest possible control that we can over all of this.

And since September there have been just three escalation of force incidents, I believe, and none of them involving any injuries.

Now, with respect to the contract, as you know, there is an FBI investigation under way of the September incident. That is not yet concluded.

When it is, I, along with others in the department, are going to be looking at what the investigation has turned up. And if I feel it's warranted, I would not hesitate to recommend a cancellation of the contract at the discretion of the government.

CASEY: But at this point in time, no other firm was considered when that renewal determination was made, is that correct?

CROCKER: To the best -- I'm not sure that's exactly correct, Senator. And we'd have to check back with the people who actually made the determination at State. I don't think there was -- it was felt there was another qualified firm available.

CASEY: I want to move to my last question and it really -- it's directed at both, but I think General Petraeus is probably the one who would answer this.

I was in Iraq back in August. Senator Durbin and I were there, and we had a dinner with both of you. And I appreciated your hospitality.

One of the things that I was complaining about was language that I thought the administration was using about victory and defeat, and language which I think doesn't necessarily describe what's happening in this particular conflict, not like other wars our country has been engaged in.

Ambassador Crocker, you said at the time, sitting next to me, you said the way you framed the debate, so to speak, or how we measure success was sustainable stability. And I guess my question pertains to that description, but in particular that description juxtaposed with the levels of readiness.

I know that, General, the old level one, level two, three and four are now operational readiness assessments, which you have in chart number 10. But the way I look at this, in terms of where we were back in January of '07 as opposed to where we are in March of '08 is that at the level one, the highest level, which in your chart is in green, we have about 10 to 12 battalions who are at level one who can function independently.

I guess my basic question in the limited time I have is, A, what do you think is sustainable stability as it pertains to level one, the number of level one battalions? And, two, if you can tell us what we've spent on training of the Iraqi security forces to date.

PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, Senator, thanks for the opportunity to explain the ORA process and what it means, because it's a fairly mechanical action. It depends on having all of the -- a certain percentage of the commissioned officers, noncommissioned officers, personnel, qualified people, vehicles, readiness status of the vehicles, training readiness, if you will, ability to carry out takes and so forth.

And the problem with the Iraqis' increase in the number of ORA-1 level units is that as they get ORA-1 level units they tend to take leaders out from them and to use them to build additional elements. It's, in fact, why there's that additional category of in the lead.

You don't need ORA-1 level units necessarily to achieve security in a location, depending on, again, obviously what the enemy situation is, what the threat is, what the level of local support is and so forth.

So there's, again, not a mechanical or arithmetical layout of how many ORA-1 level units are needed in this area or that area. Obviously, the enemy gets a vote. And, in fact, while we'd like to see ORA level one units, again, we actually agree with the approach that they have taken where they tend to raid those units and the good leaders and create more units, because they do, in fact, need more units and more troopers and more police. And they need them because in a counterinsurgency, of course, the demand for security-forces-to- citizen ratio is very substantial.

We have reached sustainable security in some provinces, and, again, not just the successful and secure Kurdish regional government provinces, but also in a number of other provinces that have moved to provincial Iraqi control. And then in some other areas, obviously, we have a long way to go because of the enemy situation and in some cases because of the local ethno-sectarian dynamics as well.

But by and large, certainly since you visited in August, the forces have grown. Their capability has grown. It is still uneven. And in fact the number of provinces that they have taken over has grown as well.

CASEY: Thank you. I'm out of time, thank you.

BIDEN: Senator Webb?

WEBB: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Gentlemen, I've been at it almost as long as you have today, I think. I would first like to say that, obviously, from the questions that you received on this committee, we've got a pretty strong consensus on this committee that this country has put itself in two distinct strategic disadvantages with the situation that we've been in Iraq.

The first is that we've had the greatest maneuver forces in the world, the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, tied down block by block, city by city, talking about sectarian strife, et cetera, in one country while the forces of international terrorism have remained mobile and, in many cases, have recentered themselves elsewhere.

And the second is, as Senator Voinovich was so adamantly talking about, our national strategic posture when you look at the economy, our ability to focus on larger strategic interests, particularly, in my view, what has been happening with the evolution of China during this process have also been falling by the wayside.

A note really quickly on the questions that you received very heavily on this side, but also the other side, about the diplomatic surge. I think we all know what people were really talking about. And you've answered, I think, as best you can with respect to what's been going on, but increased civilian participation, particularly in an atomized way, is not really what people are talking about.

And, Ambassador, I know when you and I were visiting before your confirmation hearing, we had, I think -- we were pretty much in agreement as to what robust diplomacy really would mean and how it would impact the future of the region.

Robust diplomacy can only happen from the very top -- I mean the very top. You all are at the very top. I'm not at the very top. We know what we're talking about, and it hasn't happened in many reasons as a conscious decision.

And with respect to the ability to address Al Qaida wherever it would reform itself, I have a pretty strong faith in the Iraqis. If you look at what they did in Al Anbar, they finally got sick enough of it that it was the Iraqis developing the will to fight. I'm not that concerned long term if we reposition our forces.

Now, that being said, and I said it fast, Ambassador Crocker, I want to get back into this diplomatic arrangement that I was talking to you about earlier.

If one reads your testimony, page five of your testimony, you speak about that we have -- and I'm going to quote you here -- "We have begun negotiating a bilateral relationship between Iraq and the United States."

I've been having several meetings for several months on this, trying to understand exactly what that means, and from what I can understand, there are actually two documents that go into this. Is that not correct?

CROCKER: That is correct.

CROCKER: There is a...

WEBB: Will it be a strategic framework agreement? And then, pursuant to the strategic framework agreement, there would be a status of forces agreement. Right.

CROCKER: Status of forces agreement. That is correct.

WEBB: That was not clear from your testimony, and it hasn't been completely clear from your oral testimony today, either. I think we need to understand that.

And, Mr. Chairman, I think we need to pay very close attention in the next couple of months to the first agreement, the strategic framework agreement.

We've asked to actually be able to see what that document looks like. And I would -- I'll give you the same question I had earlier in terms of that document -- what would have to be in that document before, in the view of this administration, it would require congressional approval?

CROCKER: Senator, with respect to the status of forces agreement, as I had said earlier, we -- that will -- we expect that will have a number of elements in common with...

WEBB: Well, I understand status of forces agreement. But a status of forces agreement in my experience -- and I've been doing this pretty well as long as you have -- is that it -- a status of forces agreement is pursuant to an agreement that gives two countries some sort of a relationship. It could be the United States-Japan bilateral security arrangement, or it could be the collective situation like we have in NATO.

So the real question is the strategic framework.

CROCKER: Right. I was -- the point I was going to make on the SOFA, and I know you know this, but I just -- I think it needs to be out there where it's clear to everyone -- our intention is to negotiate that as we have done all of our other SOFAs, except the NATO SOFA, as an executive agreement.

The strategic framework agreement, which we and the Iraqis conceive as setting out a vision for our ongoing relationship in a variety of fields -- political, economic, cultural, scientific...

WEBB: And security.

CROCKER: And security, that is correct, we do not see that strategic framework agreement as rising to the level of an executive agreement.

WEBB: I'm looking at an article that came from the Guardian today which at least ostensibly quotes from the working draft of that agreement. And there's some very, very careful language in there in terms of how external threats would be dealt with.

But it really seems to me very clearly to be tiptoeing to the edge of what would require overt congressional approval. And I'm not going to take anymore time, you know, from the day on this.

WEBB: But I would hope that we could do some, you know, some follow-on examination of this, Mr. Chairman.

And also, you are, Ambassador Crocker, from what we were told when we met with people from the administration, you are the lead negotiator on both of those agreements. Is that not correct?

CROCKER: I'm overseeing the process from Baghdad, yes. In terms of the SOFA, we've got someone out to head that effort, who is a specialist in the field.

But it is true that I am overseeing the overall effort. And it is certainly our intention to be fully transparent with this. I believe the committee has had briefings, or the staff has had briefings on where we are, and...

WEBB: We've had briefings, but, to my knowledge, at least from the perspective of our office, the administration has declined to show us the document, so we really don't know what we're dealing with.

CROCKER: Well, it's obviously important that we do have a relationship of some confidence on this. And I will talk to my colleagues to see that we do.

WEBB: And I thank you for your testimony, and I wish you luck tomorrow.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BIDEN: Senator, let me say, with the witnesses here, that we're having a hearing on this, with the administration, on Thursday, on this very thing.

I guarantee you, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, this committee will know exactly what is in that agreement, number one.

Number two, we've been told thus far, it doesn't settle it, that there is no -- there will not be any, as was just stated, will not be any executive agreements.

So it does not rise to any enforceable agreement. The danger, in my view, I think we're going to find, is the Iraqis are going to think it means something, and we're going to be acknowledging it doesn't mean anything other than a wish, an aspiration.

Because it says, I've been told by the administration, they would consult with the Iraqis if the following things were to occur -- consult, not binding anyone.

BIDEN: If it's anything short of that, then it rises to a different level. But I promise you, we will know exactly -- exactly what this strategic framework agreement entails.

And I asked the chairman a moment ago whether he had any closing statement and his indication was no. I just want to do a little bit of house-keeping. It'll take two more minutes.

There are some things I'd like to follow up with in writing and to see if you would be prepared to respond to.

I just say, generically, General, that you said, you know, we're at the early stages of the Iraqis being able to do -- take care of themselves. General, we're long past the early stages. We're six years into this. We're very long in the tooth.

I know what you mean by it, but just so you know, up here and in the country, we're way beyond the early stages. There's just a little bit of time left.

And the second point I'd make is the reason why you find so many people, Mr. Ambassador, fixating on the Iraqis paying more. We've spent -- we sat with the Pentagon, we've been in theater, we have met with the State Department. Everyone agrees we should be doing roughly $150 million for Pakistan now to aid their new government, to deal with the construction, to deal with the federally administered tribal areas, et cetera.

We can't find $150 million. Let's just get this: We can't find $150 million.

So, if they picked up the $150 million that we're doing, which I think we should be doing, quote, "paying, compensating the forces," it means it's this big deal. It means that what everyone says is a critical, critical, critical moment for us and U.S./Pakistan relations.

Right now we need $150 million. We can't get it. We can't even be assured we're going to get the money that the Defense Department says and the State Department says they need for a piece of legislation that was spearheaded -- I cosponsored it, but the real credit goes to my colleague here -- to provide for a -- in the future -- a civilian force available to compensate for or add to or to take over responsibilities that need in the future.

BIDEN: So I just want you to understand, this is not about being punitive with the Iraqis. We're scraping, just there, $175 million, for two things everybody says. The chairman of the -- the secretary of defense makes a speech saying that the 19-to-1 ratio that we're spending versus -- diplomacy versus the military is unacceptable. We've got to change it.

Ryan, we can't get it done. Money.

So this is nickel and dimes when you're talking about a continued commitment of $3 billion a week for some period, anyway. But it's a big, big, big, big deal strategically. And so, that's why you're going to get a lot of pressure on that.

And the last point, it's been a long day, Ambassador Crocker, but I would like you to, in writing, answer the question that was posed by Senator Obama: If -- we have a lot of other hypotheticals -- if, in fact, the status quo as it exists today were guaranteed to be able to be sustained over the next five years, would that be sufficient for us to considerably draw down American forces?

We've got to get some benchmark for -- not benchmark; wrong phrase -- some matrix for people, to get a sense of what we're talking about here. Otherwise, we're going to lose all support for anything, in my -- this is just a politician speaking, now -- in my opinion.

So there's a number of things that -- it will not be a long list of things, but there's three or four things I'd like to a little clean up -- not clean up, but follow up on, some of the things we've mentioned.

And it is not, again, a desire to embarrass anybody. But, you know, if you had to guess for me who's closer, Maliki or Sadr, to the Iranians, that's a kind of hard call. You know, the Badr Brigade was called the Badr Brigade because it was part of the Iranian revolutionary group.

BIDEN: And the Badr Brigade is the place where Maliki -- no, you don't? Oh, you don't think he's there.

CROCKER: The Badr Brigade is associated with the Supreme -- Islamic Supreme Council, Abdul Aziz Hakim. Prime Minister Maliki is from the Dawa Party.

BIDEN: No, I know he's from the Dawa Party, but he is siding now with Hakim relative to Sadr. That's all I'm saying. I mean, he is -- anyway, I don't want to -- I've kept you too long, but I'm going to put some of this down.

You guys have an incredibly difficult job. You're doing your job, I think, very well.

And the last point is, Ambassador Crocker, just so you know, nobody thinks you're surging. Nobody thinks there's a diplomatic surge anywhere. Nobody. Nobody. And we need to surge. But that's another issue.

So I invite any closing comment you'd like to make. And I'll close by saying thank you, your patience is amazing, and your physical stamina exceeds your good judgment, I think here. I mean, it's been a long day for you.

But thank you very much. We stand adjourned.

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Apr 08, 2008 19:14 ET .EOF

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