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Top U.S. Leaders in Iraq Testify

Aired April 8, 2008 - 10:00   ET


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, TOP U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ: The number of deaths due to ethno sectarian violence, in particular, has remained relatively low, illustrating the enemy's inability to date to re- ignite the cycle of ethno-sectarian violence. The emergence of Iraqi volunteers to help secure their local communities has been an important development.
As this chart depicts there are now over 91,000 sons of Iraq, Shias, 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 and vehicles not lost because of reduced violence, not to mention the price of lives saved far outweighed the cost of their contracts. Sons of Iraq have also 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 Qaeda also recognizes the significance of the Sons of Iraq and AQI 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 Qaeda Iraq from the Iraqi people and the tenacious pursuit of AQI together with AQI's loss of local support in many areas has substantially reduced this capabilities, numbers, and freedom of movement. This chart display is the cumulative effect of the effort against Al Qaeda Iraq and its insurgent allies.

As you can see we have reduced considerably the areas in which Al Qaeda enjoys support and sanctuary, though clearly there is more to be done. Having noted that progress and Al Qaeda is still capable of lethal attacks and we must maintain relentless pressure on the organization, on the networks outside of 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 Qaeda Iraq needs.

As you can see, defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq requires not just actions by our lead counter terrorist forces but also major operations by coalition and Iraqi conventional forces, a sophisticated intelligence effort, political reconciliation, economic and social programs, and information operations initiative, diplomatic activity, the employment of counterinsurgency principles and detainee operations and many other actions.

Related to this effort, I applaud Congress' support for additional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets in the upcoming supplemental as ISR is vital to the success of our operations in Iraq and elsewhere. As we combat the AQI, we must remember that doing so not only reduces a major source of instability in Iraq, it also weakens an organization that Al Qaeda's senior leaders view as a tool to spread its influence and regional instability.

Osama Bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri have consistently advocated exploiting the situation in Iraq and we have also seen Al Qaeda Iraq involved in destabilizing activities in the wider Mideast region. Together with the Iraqi security forces, we have also focused on the special groups. These elements are funded, trained, armed, and directed by Iran's kutz (ph) 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 the promises made by President Ahmadinejad and other senior Iranian leaders to stop their support for the special groups. However, nefarious activities by the Kutz force have continued and Iraqi leaders now clearly recognize the threat they pose to Iraq. We should all watch Iranian actions closely in the weeks and months ahead as they will show the kind of relationship Iran wishes to have with its neighbors and the character of future Iranian involvement in Iraq.

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 permitted. Currently, as this chart shows half of Iraq's 18 provinces are under provincial Iraqi control. Many of these provinces, not just the successful ones in the Kurdish regional government area, but also a number of southern provinces have done well. Challenges have emerged in some other areas including, of course, Basra.

Nonetheless, this process will continue and we expect Anbar and Kadasia provinces to transition in the months ahead. Iraqi forces have grown significantly since September and over 540,000 individuals now serve in the Iraqi security forces. The number of combat battalions capable of taking the lead in operations albeit with some coalition support has grown to well over 100.

These units are bearing an increasing share of the burden as evidenced by the fact that Iraqi security force losses have recently been three times our own. We will, of course, conduct careful after action reviews with our Iraqi partners in the wake of recent operations as there were units and leaders found walking in some cases and some of our assessments may be downgraded as a result. Nonetheless, the performance of many units were solid, especially once they got their footing and gained a degree of confidence and certain Iraqi elements proved quite capable. Under pinning the advances of the past year has seen improvements in Iraq's security institutions. An increasingly robust Iraqi-run training base enabled the Iraqi security forces to grow by over 133,000 soldiers and police over the past 16 months. And the still expanding training base is expected to generate an additional 50,000 Iraqi soldiers and 16 army and special operation battalions through the rest of 2008 along with 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 Ministry spent on their forces than the United States provided through the Iraqi Security Forces fund. We anticipate Iraq will spend over $8 billion on security this year and $11 billion next year. And this projection enabled us recently to reduce significantly our Iraqi security forces fund request for fiscal year 2009 from $5.1 billion to $2.8 billion.

While improved Iraqi Security Forces are not yet ready to defend Iraq or maintain security throughout the country on their own, recent operations in Basra highlight improvements in the ability of the Iraqi Security Forces to deploy substantial numbers of units, supplies and replacements on very short notice. They certainly could not have deployed the divisions 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 skill to be done in the area of logistics, force enablers, staff development and commanding 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 organization, and the FMS process, delivery has improved as the FMS system has strived to support urgent war time requirements.

On a related note, I would ask that Congress consider restoring funding for the international military education and training program which supports education for mid and senior level Iraqi military and civilian leaders and is an important component of the development of the leaders Iraq will need in the future.

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 Al Qaeda Iraq or additional Shia groups could violate Muq Al Sadr's ceasefire 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 improve services at the local, provincial and national levels. But the improvements have also created expectations of progress will continue. In the coming months, Iraq leaders must strengthen governmental capacity, execute budgets and pass additional legislation, conduct provincial elections, carry out a census, determine the status of disputed territories and resettle internally displaced persons and refugees.

These tasks will challenge any government much less a still developing government tested by war. The commanders' emergency response program, the State Department's Quick Response fund, and the USAID program enables us to help Iraq deal with these challenges. To that end, I respectfully ask that you provide us by June the additional funds requested in the supplemental. These funds have an enormous impact 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 Iraqis serve to perform projects for their people while building their own capacity to do so. The Iraqi government has also committed $163 million to gradually assume Sons of Iraq contracts, $510 million for small business loans and $196 million for a joint training education and reintegration program. The Iraqi government pledges to provide more as they execute the budget past 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 it had in Iraq. During the 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 had 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 progress is reversible. Iraqi Security Forces had strengthened their capabilities but still must grow further. The provincial election in the fall, refugee returns, detainee releases and efforts to resolve provincial boundary disputes in article 140 issues will be very challenging, and 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 a sizable conventional forces as well as special operations forces and adviser teams. The strategic considerations include recognition and that the strain on the U.S. military, especially on its ground forces has been considerable.

A number of 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 Qaeda, 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 draw down in 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 and evaluation. At the end of that period, we will commence a process of assessment to examine the conditions on the ground and over time to 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 timetable. However, it does provide the flexibility those of us on the ground need to preserve the still fragile security gains our troopers have fought so hard and sacrificed so much to achieve.

With this approach, the security achievements of 2007 and early 2008 can form a foundation for the gradual establishment of sustainable security in Iraq. This is not only important to the 27 million citizens of Iraq, it is also vitally important to those in the gulf region and to the citizens of the United States and to the global community.

It is clearly in our national interests to help Iraq prevent the resurgence of Al Qaeda in the heart of the Arab world, to help Iraq resist Iranian encroachment on its sovereignty and 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 economy.

In closing, I want to comment briefly on those serving our nation in Iraq. We have 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 forces as a whole has been an important factor in my recommendations. The Congress, the executive branch and our fellow citizens have done an enormous amount to support our troopers and their loved ones and all of us are grateful for that. And nothing means more to those in harm's way than the knowledge that their country appreciates their sacrifices and those of their families.

Indeed all Americans should take great pride in the men and women serving our nation in Iraq and in the courage, determination, resilience, and initiative they demonstrate each and every day. That remains the greatest of honors to soldier with them. Thank you very much.

CARL LEVIN (D), CHAIRMAN OF ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Thank you, General Petraeus. Ambassador Crocker.

RYAN CROCKER, AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Mr. Chairman, Senator McCain, 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 cumulative trajectory of political, economic and diplomatic developments in Iraq was upwards although the slope of that line was not steep. Developments over the last 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 in commitment. What has been achieved is substantial but it is also reversible.

Five years ago, the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad. 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 a previous regime. The accountability and justice law, de-baathification reform passed after lengthy and often contentious debate and reflects a strength and 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 state's rights.

The provincial powers law also called for provincial elections by October 1, 2008, and an electoral law is now under discussion that will is set the parameter for those 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.

The vote by the Council of Representatives to change the design of the Iraqi flag means the 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. 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 grasping -- grappling with complex issues and producing viable tradeoffs and compromised packages.

As debates, Iraq's Parliament become more about how to resolve tough problems in a practical way. Iraqi politics have become more fluid. Those politics still have a sectarian bent in basis and 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, 2007, many understandably question whether hatred between Iraqis of different sectarian backgrounds were so deep that a civil war was inevitable. The Sunni awakening movement in Anbar which so courageously confronted Al Qaeda continues to help keep the peace in the area and keep Al Qaeda out. Fallujah, once a symbol for violence and terror, is now one of Iraq's safest cities. The Shia holy cities of Najab and Karbala are enjoying security and growing prosperity in the wake of popular rejection of extremist militia activity.

The Shia clerical leadership Mahda jahiyad (ph) based Najab has played a quiet but important role in support in support of moderation and reconciliation. In Baghdad, we can see that Iraqis are not pitted against each other purely on the basis of sectarian affiliation. The security improvements in the past months have diminished the atmosphere of suspicion and allowed for acts of humanity that transcend sectarian identities.

When I arrived in Baghdad a year ago, my first visit to a city district was to the predominantly Sunni area of Dora. The surge forces were just moving into neighborhoods still gripped by Al Qaeda. 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 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 that 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 illegal groups. But he is 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, Kurd made clear in support of Prime Minister Maliki's government. A wild card remains to the Sadr's trend and whether the Iraqis can continue to drive a wedge between other elements of the trend and Iranian supported special groups. A dangerous development in the immediate wake of the Basra operation was what appeared to be a reunification between special groups and main line Jaysh al-Mahdi.

We saw -- we also saw a potential collapse of the Jaysh al-Mahdi freeze in military operations. As the situation unfolded, however, Muq 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 Sadr's 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 at the level of nature of our engagement should not diminish over time. It is in this context that we have begun to negotiating a bilateral relationship between Iraq and the United States.

In August, Iraq's five principle leaders requested a long-term relationship with the United States and 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 in 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 interests and ours. U.S. forces will remain in Iraq beyond December 31st, 2008, when the U.N. resolution presently governing their presence expires. Our troops will need basic authorization and protections to continue operations and this agreement will provide those authorizations and protections. The agreement will not establish permanent basis in Iraq and we anticipate that it will expressly force further -- 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. A decision to hold elections, vital for Iraq's Democratic development and long-term stability, will also produce new strains and some of the violence we have seen recently in southern Iraq reflects changing dynamics within the Shia community has a political insecurity 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.

In terms of 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 build capacity to translate these gains into more effective governance and services. Iraqis have built on these gains over the past month and as is most evident in the revival of marketplaces across Iraq and the reopening of long shutted (ph) 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 seven 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 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. They are also helping to establish critical linkages between provincial and federal governments. And 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 fund have major impacts in local communities and congressional support is important and as it is for other vital programs in the FY '08 global war on terror supplemental request. Iraq increasingly is using its own resources to support projects and programs that we have developed. It is 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 to clean the streets. Like so much else, Iraq's economy is fragile with gains reversible and the challenges ahead substantial. Iraq will need to continue to improve governmental capacity as national level, hydrocarbon legislation, improved 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 attack over this challenging agenda, along with other international partners, including the United Nations and the World Bank.

In terms of regional and international dynamics, Mr. Chairman, along with the security surge last year, we also launched a diplomatic surge focused on enhancing U.N. engagement in Iraq, inquiry in the international compact with Iraq and establishing an expanded neighbor's process which serves as a contract group in support of Iraq.

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 for technical assistance to resolve disputed internal boundaries.

UNHDR has returned international staff to Iraq and 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 the economy and achieve economic self-sufficiency in exchange for long-overdue Saddam-era debt relief. Preparations are under way for a ministerial compact-level meeting in Sweden next month. Seventy-four nations were represented at last year's gathering in Egypt.

Iraq's neighbors also understand they have major interest in Iraq's future. Turkey hosted the second ministerial meeting of Iraq's neighbors in November, and Kuwait will host the third meeting later this month.

In addition to all of Iraq's neighbors, these expanded neighbors 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 must improve for the sake of Iraq and 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 multiethnic 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 councils to Iraq for first major inter-Arab gathering since 1990. 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 the Iraqi President Talabani made a successful visit to Turkey in Iraq.

Syria plays an ambivalent role. We have seen evidence of efforts to interdict some foreign fighters seeking to transit Syria to Iraq, but others continue 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 authority -- through the 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 militia elements, armed and trained by Iran, clashed with Iraqi government forces in Basra and Baghdad.

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 core (ph) 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.

Looking ahead, 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, however, 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 and 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. That it is still the case although I think we are closer. I remain convinced that a major departure from the current engagement would bring failure, and we have to be clear with ourselves about what failure would mean.

Al Qaeda is in retreat in Iraq, but it is not yet defeated. Al Qaeda'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 Qaeda is to establish itself in the Arab world. It almost succeeded in Iraq and we cannot allow it second chance.

And it is not only al Qaeda that would benefit. Iran has said publicly that 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 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 towards reconciliation and economic development. Over time, this will become increasingly in 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 towards the end of the year. These efforts will require an enhanced civilian commitment and continued support from the Congress and American people.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, I want to recognize and thank all of those who serve our country in Iraq, military and civilian. Their courage and commitment at great sacrifice has earned the admiration of all Americans. They certainly have mine, and it is my honor to be there with them. Thank you, sir.

LEVIN: We're going to have a six-minute round of questions. General, after the brigade combat teams added by the surge are removed in July, leaving more troops, U.S. troops in Iraq than before the surge, but nonetheless, this is what you've recommended at that time to your chain of command. That there then be a 45-day period of the evaluation.

After that period, which takes us to September, you recommend commencing a process of assessment. And then over time, determine when we can make -- you can make recommendations for further reductions. That is a clear, open-ended pause. Forty-five days first to evaluate and then we commence a process of assessment. I'm not sure what the difference between evaluation and assessment is, but then there is some open-ended process of assessment and over time there will be another determination.

Now, it seems to me that what you have given to your chain of command is a plan which has no end to it. You do not use the word which Secretary Gates used twice which is -- that it would be a brief pause. I assume that's intentional. Do you agree with Secretary Gates, it will be a brief pause or not?

You used the term "brief."

PETRAEUS: What Secretary Gates has described as I understand it is a brief period of consolidation and evaluation.

LEVIN: He used the term brief pause, General. At any rate, without going into that specifically, in February he used the term brief pause. But you are not using the term brief. Is that correct?

PETRAEUS: Sir, I'm not using the word brief nor the word pause. What I stated was a 45-day period for consolidation and evaluation as to examine the situation on the ground, do the battlefield geometry, consult with the Ambassador Crocker on what might be called a political military calculus, and then conduct the assessments.

When the assessment is at a point that the conditions are met to recommend reduction of forces, then that's what we would do. So, the bottom line sir is that it's a -- this period after which we do the assessments and as the conditions are met for further reductions, then we make those recommendations.

LEVIN: Now, if you have any estimate at all as to how long those two -- that second period is going to take. Are you giving us any ideas to how long that will take you? You say over time.


LEVIN: Could that be two months (ph)? Could that be two months?

PETRAEUS: Sir, it could be less than that.

LEVIN; Could it be more than that? PETRAEUS: It could be more than that. Again, it's when the conditions are met that we can make a recommendation for further reductions.

LEVIN: Could it be three months?

PETRAEUS: Sir, again, at the end of the period of consolidation and evaluation, it could be right then. Or, it could be longer. Again, it is when ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring them home. Bring them home. Bring them home. Bring them home.

LEVIN: We are asking the audience ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring them home. Bring them home!

LEVIN: I'm afraid we will have to ask you to leave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bring them home. Bring them home. Bring them home. Bring them home. Bring them home. Bring them home.

LEVIN: General, we're going to ask you this question again. Could it be as long as three months?

PETRAEUS: Sir, it could be ...

LEVIN: OK. That's all I'm asking.

PETRAEUS: When the conditions are met.

LEVIN: I understand. I am just asking a direct question. Could that be as long as three months?

PETRAEUS: It could be, sir.

LEVIN: Could it be as long as four months?

PETRAEUS: Sir, it is when the conditions are met.

LEVIN: Now, next question. If all goes well -- if all goes well, what would be the approximate number of our troops there at the end of the year? Let's assume conditions permitted things to move quickly, what in your estimate would be the approximate number of American troops there at the end of the year?

Can you -- just say if you can't give us an esstimate ...

PETRAEUS: Right, sir, I can't give you an estimate.

LEVIN: You are not going to give us an estimate on that. Next question. General, an April 3rd article in the New York Times said that before the Iraqi government's assault on the Madhi Army in Basra you counselled Prime Minister Maliki quote, "We made a lot of gains in the past six to nine months that you will be putting at risk." The article also states that you advised him not to rush into a fight without carefully sizing up the situation and making adequate preparations. Now, did he follow your advice?

PETRAEUS: Sir, he laid out a plan that would, in fact, incorporate that advice.

LEVIN: Did he follow your advice?

PETRAEUS: And once he -- once the forces got into Basra, they ended up going into action more quickly than was anticipated.

LEVIN: Would you say that Maliki followed your advice?

PETRAEUS: I would not, no, sir.

LEVIN: In your judgment, was the Iraqi government operation in Basra properly and carefully planned, and were the preparations adequate? In your professional judgment, was the Iraqi government operation in Basra properly and carefully planned, and were the preparations adequate?

PETRAEUS: Sir, there is no question but that it could have been better planned, and the preparation could have been better. We have already done initial after-action reviews on that, in fact there and also in Baghdad.

LEVIN: I understand the after -- the report that came afterward. I wonder if we can get a direct answer to your question -- to my question. Could you give me a direct answer? In your judgment, was the Iraqi government operation in Basra properly and carefully planned, and were the preparations adequate? Could you give me a direct answer?

PETRAEUS: Sir, the answer is, again, it could have been much better planned and it was not adequately planned or prepared. Again, it was laid out to us, the objectives were described, and in fact, the process as was laid out was logical -- but have not seen too many combat operations that have gone as they were planned, and this was not one either.

The forces were deployed very rapidly, and before all conditions were set as they might have been, they were in combat.

LEVIN: General, to summarize in terms of where I think that testimony leads me to conclude that the -- not to conclude, I will base my statement on your testimony. It was inadequately planned, it was inadequately prepared, and that led to the use of -- followed by the use of American troops on that kind of planning that is totally unacceptable to me.

And I think that this open-ended pause that you have recommended takes the pressure off of Iraqi leaders to take responsibility for their own country. Senator McCain?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), RANKING MEMBER ARMED SVCS.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. General Petraeus, again, news reports said that Prime Minister Maliki only informed you shortly before the operation, is that correct, in Basra?

PETRAEUS: It is, Senator. We had a heads-up on a Friday night meeting where we, in fact, were planning to resource operations in Basra on a longer-term basis. The following Saturday, we had a meeting during which he laid out the plan for the -- that he was going to deploy forces.

Laid out the objectives, the lines of operations that he was going to operate along. And stated that he was not moving there Friday himself or on Monday himself.

MCCAIN: And it was not something that you had recommended?

PETRAEUS: It was not something I recommended, no, sir.

MCCAIN: News reports indicate that over 1,000 Iraqi army and police deserted or under-performed during that operation. This is four months after Basra achieved provincial Iraqi control, meaning that all provincial security had been transferred to Iraqi support -- security forces. What's the lesson that we are to draw from that? The 1,000 Iraqi army and police deserted or under-performed?

PETRAEUS: Well, one lesson, Senator, is that relatively new forces -- what happened was in one case a brigade that literally had just come out of unit set fielding was pressed into operation. The other lesson is a recurring one, and that is the difficulty of local police operating in the areas where there is serious intimidation of themselves and of their families.

MCCAIN: Suffice to say, it was a disappointment?

PETRAEUS: It was. Although, it is not over yet, Senator. In fact, subsequent to the early days, they then took control of the security at the different ports. They continued to carry out targeted raids. The operation is still very much ongoing and it is by no means over.

MCCAIN: The Green Zone has been attacked in ways that it has not been for a long time. And most of that is coming from elements that leave Sadr City, or from Sadr City itself, is that correct?

PETRAEUS: That's correct, Senator.

MCCAIN: What are we going to do about that?

PETRAEUS: Well, we have already taken control of the area that was the principle launching point for a number of the 107 millimeter rockets into Baghdad, and have secured that area. Beyond that, again, Iraqi security forces are going to have to come to grips both politically, as well as militarily with the issue of the militia, and more importantly, the special groups.

MCCAIN: What do you make of Sadr's declaration of a quote "cease-fire"? PETRAEUS: Well, as with the cease-fire that was proclaimed in the wake of the militia violence in Karbala in August of last year, it is both to avoid further damage to the image of the Sadr movement, which of course is supposed to care for the downtrodden and has a heavy -- obviously, is a religiously inspired movement, but which has been hijacked in some cases by militias and, in fact, other elements have used it to cloak their activities as well.

If I could center also point out that along with the operations in Basra, there were operations in a number of other provinces in southern Iraq, all precipitated by the outbreak in militia violence. In Karbala, Najaf, Kadasia (ph), Hillah, Wasit (ph), Diqar (ph) and Muthanna, the Iraqi security forces actually did well. In some cases, did very well and maintained security. The same is true in Baghdad, although, again, even there, there were performances uneven in some cases.

MCCAIN: There are numerous threats to security in Iraq and the future of Iraq. Do you still view al Qaeda in Iraq as a major threat?

PETRAEUS: It is still a major threat, though it is certainly not as major a threat as it was say, 15 months ago.

MCCAIN: Certainly not an obscure sect of the Shiites overall ...


MCCAIN: ...or of Sunnis or anybody else? al Qaeda continues to try to assert themselves in Mosul, is that correct?

PETRAEUS: It is, Senator. As you saw on the chart, the area of Operation of al Qaeda has been greatly reduced in terms of controlling areas, that it controlled as little as a year and a half ago. But clearly, Mosul and Nanowa (ph) province are areas that al Qaeda is very much trying to hold on to. All roads lead through the traditional capital of the north.

MCCAIN: They continue to be a significant threat?

PETRAEUS: They do. Yes, sir.

MCCAIN: And Ambassador Crocker, let's -- on your statement, you talked about a long-term relationship with Iraq, such as a security arrangement, diplomatic, et cetera, economic, that we have with some 80 countries. You envision this after we succeed in this conflict, is that correct? Or would you talk a little bit about that, elaborate a little more.

CROCKER: Yes, sir. I would actually envision it as helping us to succeed in the conflict. The -- effort will have two elements. One will be a status of forces, agreement. That will be, as I said, approximately like what we have with 80 other countries, it will have some unique aspects to give our forces the authorities to continue operations after the end of 2008.

There will also be a broader strategic framework agreement, first called for by the Iraqi leadership last August. And then, reflected in the Decoration of Principles that Prime Minister Maliki and President Bush signed in November. This will cover, in addition to security, the political, the economic, the cultural, the whole spectrum of our relations.

MCCAIN: Thank you. Finally, General Petraeus, Mosul continues to be a battle? Is that correct?

PETRAEUS: It does, Senator, although ...

MCCAIN: And who are the major adversaries in Mosul, it's a mixed population.

PETRAEUS: The major adversaries are al Qaeda, Iraq, Monsur al Sunna (ph), Jashal Islamians (ph), some related Sunni extremist organizations that all are allies of al Qaeda, Iraq.

MCCAIN: It was once said that al Qaeda cannot succeed without control of Baghdad and they can't survive without control of Mosul. Is that an oversimplification?

PETRAEUS: A little bit, but not completely, sir. Again, it would be a significant blow to al Qaeda. And, in fact, the degree to which they're fighting reflects how much they want to retain the amount of presence that they do have in the greater Mosul area.

MCCAIN: Finally, I hope in that response -- because my time has expired, that we could talk a little bit more about the Iranian threat, particularly their stepped-up support of various elements that are Shiite extremists in Iraq, particularly the role they played in Basra as well as the southern part of the country.

I used up my time. I thank you, Mr. Chairman.

LEVIN: Thank you, Senator McCain. Senator Kennedy.

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Thank you and thank you for your service.

Ambassador Crocker, listening to you talk about this agreement, bilateral agreement with Iraq, I'm reminded that Secretary Gates told the Armed Services Committee the agreement will not contain a commitment to defend Iraq. As long as America maintains 10,000 troops there, that little distinction between a treaty, he has indicated that. Of course, in 1953, Congress ratified the status reports as agreement with NATO as a treaty.

So, we've got 140,000 men and women over there. So, this is -- somewhat and significantly different from these 84 other countries. And I think the record's very clear. You're in agreement with what Secretary Gates has told this committee. Just quickly, if you would, please.

CROCKER: I am, sir. It is our intention to negotiate the status of Forces Agreement as an executive agreement. We do not intend to provide any binding commitments that would trigger the advice and consent process with the Senate.

KENNEDY: Well, that's going to be another issue that we're going to have to come back on. So, you're not going to follow what has been done previously by President Eisenhower, even under President Reagan, Congress approved agreements, the United States for the Observer Group and the Sinai Desert. You're not going to follow their precedent?

CROCKER: We're going to keep the Congress fully informed. I understand there are some briefings scheduled for the coming few days.

KENNEDY: Let me -- in the listening to the testimony this morning, General Petraeus, seems clear that the administration -- describes one Iraq while we see another. The president sees an Iraq in which Iraqis want to make political accommodation if only the security would allow it. But most Americans see an Iraq in which the premise of the president's policy has been proven hopelessly wrong and will continue to be wrong as long as the commitment of our military remains open-ended.

The president sees an Iraq where progress is being made in neighborhoods, villages, and towns, and cities across Iraq. But most Americans see an Iraq in which four million refugees have been displaced from their homes, their homes have been destroyed, neighborhoods ethnically cleansed, overtaken by militia.

The president and vice president describe an Iraq who's oil would pay for the needs of its people. But most Americans see an Iraq that is sitting on billions in oil revenues while American taxpayers spend billions to fund Iraq's reconstruction.

A year ago, the president argued that we wouldn't begin to withdraw troops from Iraq because there was too much violence. Now, the president argues that we can't begin to withdraw troops because violence is down. Whatever the conditions on the ground, the president's arrows always point in the same direction: to an open- ended commitment of our troops.

American people deserve to know when the arrows will finally point to an exit from Iraq and it's time to put the Iraqis on notice that our troops will not remain forever so that they will take the essential steps to resolve their differences.

Just to come back to a question that was asked earlier, Americans want to know how could we have spent approximately $24 billion in training Iraqi troops in five years and five years, why we have -- when these forces are going to be ready and willing to stand up and fight on their own so the Americans don't have to fight for them, as we've seen with the thousand that effectively deserted or left their units.

PETRAEUS: Senator, they are fighting and as I mentioned, dying for their country in substantial numbers. Their losses, again, are some three times our losses of late. And I might add that the sons of Iraq losses are between 2.5 and three times our losses in addition to that. So, they are very much fighting and they are very much dying for their country. They have, indeed, taken on the security tasks in a substantial number of provinces. And they are shouldering more of the burden in a number of the others. Again, in Basra, there were not just the units that didn't do well. There were also units that did do well and some that did very well.

And so, again, this is -- this is tough, tough combat. When forces are new and go into it -- they do bow at times before they steady. And we saw that in Basra and we saw it to some degree in some neighborhoods in Baghdad.

KENNEDY: Well, of course, there's 4,000 Americans that have died as well, 30,000 that have been wounded as well. Now, you mentioned that the battle in Basra was to take on the criminals and extremists. Aren't we in there to battle al Qaeda?