Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said he does not expect the “surge” of 30,000 additional troops to Iraq to finish their job by September, a critical month when lawmakers expect a clear read on whether the larger troop presence is having an effect.
“Fox News” Host Chris Wallace asked Petraeus, “You surely don’t think the job would be done by the surge by September?”
“I do not, no,” Petraeus replied. “We have a lot of heavy lifting to do. The damage done by the sectarian violence in the fall and winter of 2006 and early 2007 … was substantial.”
Petraeus also did not dispute reports indicating he might want to extend the troop increase into next year, simply calling them “premature.”
Petraeus and his partner, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker, appeared on the Sunday talk shows as the final troops arrived as part of the surge strategy, which looks to quell violence in Baghdad and the surrounding regions as Iraqi politicians seek political compromises.
Petraeus and Crocker will return to the United States in September to brief President Bush and lawmakers on the impact of the troop increase. On the shows, they hinted they might warn against lowering the troop presence after September.
Petraeus said he will be ready to “provide a snapshot” of conditions in Iraq but would also outline “the implications of the various courses of actions that might be undertaken at that time.”
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Crocker said, “We’ll also try to provide an assessment of what the consequences might be if we pursue other directions. … Iraq doesn’t exist in a vacuum.”
Lawmakers in both parties were not warm to the idea of continuing the surge strategy.
“Most members of my conference believe the critical point to evaluate where we are is in September,” Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “Everybody anticipates there will be a new strategy … and I don’t think we’ll have the same level of troops that we have now.”
McConnell said there was growing support among Republicans for the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which suggested a gradual drawdown in the number of troops this year, among other things.
Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, likewise did not seem open to the idea of continuing a larger troop presence in Iraq. “What’s required here is that the president of the United States tell them we’re going to reduce those troops,” he said on “Face the Nation.” “The only hope is if they understand that we’re going to begin to leave.”
Levin said Democrats would continue to try to add amendments to bills to require a timeline for troop withdrawal.
Petraeus reported on the very early results of the surge, which has enabled “us now to launch operations into sanctuaries, areas in which we have had very little coalition force presence other than raids in recent years.”
Speaking about the amount of violence, he said, “the aggregate level is about the same. We actually have borne the brunt of much more of that, as have Iraqi security forces, and civilians a good bit less.”
Petraeus and Crocker suggested the key to the success of the surge is Baghdad, where Petraeus said “there’s about 30 percent of the neighborhoods about which we have real concern. These are the areas of the fault lines between Sunni and Shia. We are focusing on them quite intently, and the additional forces will enable us to conduct additional operations in those areas.”
Crocker said violence “has indeed shifted away from the two areas where the surge was directed,” Anbar province and Baghdad. “Baghdad is central,” he said. “What we are now in position do with the surge at full strength is whack a whole of moles simultaneously.”
Petraeus said he does see the month of September “staring us squarely in our eyes,” but denied reports that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates bluntly told Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that he had to make more progress by then. “We’re talking about decisions that will set the course for years to come,” Petraeus said. “Our own experience as a country shows how difficult it is.”
But the Iraqis are “keenly aware” of the pressure of the September checkpoint, he said, “and they’re going to do everything they can to inject hope in places like Washington and elsewhere.”
Petraeus also weighed into the debate over whether most of the violence in Iraq is stemming from al-Qaeda or sectarian violence. Petraeus said al-Qaeda “is the Sunni violence. Al-Qaeda is the face of what is happening on the extremist Sunni side. They are carrying out the bulk of the sensational attacks, the suicide car bomb attacks, suicide vest attacks and so forth.
“So I think it is appropriate to emphasize the role that al-Qaeda Iraq is playing and the role that they play in provoking and giving excuses to the extremist militias of the other side, of the Shia side, as a justification for what they are doing, ostensibly, to protect the Shia people, but then in their own turn carrying out violence of their own.”
There was just a little bit of discussion about a new attempt to revive the comprehensive immigration overhaul that stalled last week in the Senate.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an architect of the bill, predicted on ABC’s “This Week” that “if we got it to a final vote, there would be a bipartisan majority because this is a comprehensive approach to a problem that’s been lingering for 20 years. To my Republican colleagues, this is the best deal we’re ever going to get.”
But McConnell warned that the bill is a “mixed picture.” He said final word on whether the Senate will act on immigration should come by July 4.
CNN’s “Late Edition” focused on the collapse of the Palestinian unity government and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to sign in an emergency government that excludes Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist faction but was elected last year.
Saeb Erekat, a spokesman for Fatah, Abbas’ political party, and the chief Palestinian negotiator, declared that Ismail Haniyeh, who had represented Hamas as prime minister, is no longer in service.
“We don’t have two governments. We have one legal, official government headed by Dr. Salam Fayyad,” a Fatah member, he said.
But Erekat warned that Fatah, based in the West Bank, does not have the “military power to take back” Gaza, where Hamas seized control. “I believe that the good people in Gaza, the 1.5 million people in Gaza, will not stand for this operation, will not stand for this coup d’etat.”
Hamas spokesman Ahmed Yousef contended that Abbas’s emergency government is “illegal” and that same thing happened in Gaza happened in the West Bank. “President Abbas has not — is doing nothing to protect the Palestinian people in the West Bank,” he said.
Addressing the issue, Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said the breakdown in the Palestinian territory represents “the consequences of a failed strategy by the administration going back several years, particularly with the invasion of Iraq, the concentration of resources and attention there; the animosity that was developed there because of Abu Ghraib and other incidents among the Islamic world; and the inability, really, to focus in on some much more serious threats.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) countered, though, that “this just didn’t happen overnight or during this administration. We’ve had challenges in the Middle East for a long time, ever since the creation of the state of Israel. But this is a reminder that you can’t look at each of these conflicts in isolation: Islamic extremism that animates the actions of not only Hamas, but Hezbollah in Lebanon with Iranian support, and where al-Qaeda consider Iraq to be the central front in their war against the West.”