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Petraeus Cites Progress in Iraq

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

After months of anticipation, the top Americans in Iraq came to Capitol Hill today to testify about the war effort and the state of the Iraqi government. General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker were greeted by protesters in and outside the House hearing room. And there were some terse words from a few representatives, but nothing truly hostile.

In a surprise move, General Petraeus said he is recommending to President Bush that the drawdown in U.S. troops start next month with the Marine unit from California, and that the surge forces could be out by next summer.

NPR's Tom Bowman reports.

TOM BOWMAN: There were hints over the past week that American troops may soon start coming home - maybe one Army brigade. But General Petraeus said those drawdowns would start this month and there would be more than one unit.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (Commander, Multi-national Forces, Iraq): I have recommended a drawdown of the surge forces from Iraq. In fact, later this month, the Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed as part of the surge will depart Iraq. Beyond that, if my recommendations are approved, that unit's departure will be followed by the withdrawal of a brigade combat team without replacement in mid-December.

BOWMAN: That means the remaining 30,000 so-called surge forces would be home by next summer, bringing the overall American force down to a pre-surge level of 130,000 troops. And will U.S. forces continue to drop? Petraeus said he would report back in March on whether that could happen. Meantime, the general told the lawmakers the so-called surge is showing results.

Gen. PETRAEUS: In recent months, in the face of tough enemies and the brutal summer heat of Iraq, coalition and Iraqi security forces have achieved progress in the security arena. Though the improvements have been uneven across Iraq, the overall number of security incidents in Iraq has declined in eight of the past 12 weeks with the number of incidents in the last two weeks at the lowest level seen since June 2006.

BOWMAN: To counter claims that the White House was orchestrating his testimony, Petraeus made it clear that his words were his own.

Gen. PETRAEUS: Although I have briefed my assessment and recommendations to my chain of command, I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared by nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House or the Congress until it was just handed out.

BOWMAN: Republicans tried to link Democrats with a full-page newspaper ad that appeared today. It was placed by the anti-war group MoveOn.org. It said that when it came to statistics, General Petraeus was cooking the books for the White House.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida.

Congresswoman ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (Republican, Florida): The personal attacks launched today by MoveOn.org against General Petraeus, calling this man of honor and courage General Betray Us in a full page ad in the New York Times, is outrageous and it is deplorable. It has been reported that the organization that paid for this ad has been coordinating its efforts in the last few months with certain members to derail the strategy spearheaded by you, General Petraeus. I sincerely hope that those reports are untrue.

BOWMAN: But Democrat Ike Skelton of Missouri, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he was supportive of Petraeus. But he echoed other Democrats and a growing number of Republicans. The Iraqis were supposed to take advantage of the surge by reconciling their political differences.

Representative IKE SKELTON (Democrat, Missouri; Chairman, Armed Services Committee): The witnesses must tell us why we should continue sending our young men and women to fight and die if the Iraqis won't make the tough sacrifices leading to reconciliation. What's the likelihood that things will change dramatically? And will there be political progress in the nearer term? Are we merely beating a dead horse?

BOWMAN: The general delivered his testimony in an even tone despite several interruptions by anti-war protesters. He sipped water as one yelling protestor was pulled from the room.

Rep. SKELTON: And I've also say that we're going to have no disturbances in this room. And those that disturb are immediately asked to be escorted out. Do that right now. Out they go.

BOWMAN: Petraeus was armed with color-coded maps and numerous charts. He said they pointed to decreases in sectarian killings and high-profile bombings. He said they were making headway against al-Qaida in Iraq and against Shiite death squads. And he said there was more to do.

Gen. PETRAEUS: In describing the recommendations I have made, I should note again that like Ambassador Crocker, I believe Iraq's problems will require a long-term effort. There are no easy answers or quick solutions. And although we both believe this effort can succeed, it will take time. Our assessments underscoring fact the importance of recognizing that a premature draw down of our forces would likely have devastating consequences.

BOWMAN: Ambassador Ryan Crocker, appearing with Petraeus, acknowledged that the Iraqi government wasn't moving fast enough, but he was hopeful.

Ambassador RYAN CROCKER (United States Ambassador to Iraq): I do believe that Iraq's leaders have the will to tackle the country's pressing problems.

BOWMAN: And Crocker conceded that will take longer than we anticipated.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.