General David Petraeus, President Bush’s top war commander in Iraq, testified Monday in what has been described as the most anticipated congressional testimony by a general since the Vietnam War. He praised the results of the so-called surge and called for current U.S. troop levels to continue well into next year. We play excerpts of the hearing and get reaction from journalist Rick Rowley. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: In what’s been described as the most anticipated congressional testimony by a general since the Vietnam War, President Bush’s top military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, came before Congress Monday to praise the results of the so-called surge and to call for current U.S. troop levels to continue well into next year. Petraeus testified before a joint House committee alongside Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Their testimony comes at a time when the United States has a record 168,000 troops in Iraq. Military officials predict the total will soon top 170,000.
On Monday, Petraeus recommended a partial troop withdrawal.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: Based on all this and on the further progress we believe we can achieve over the next few months, I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve.
AMY GOODMAN: Petraeus characterized it as a very substantial withdrawal, but The Wall Street Journal reports the pullback plan is essentially the smallest he could offer, because many of the troops are already scheduled to be rotated out of Iraq next August.
Many analysts compared Petraeus’s testimony to that of another general from another generation. Forty years ago, President Lyndon Johnson’s top commander in Vietnam, General William Westmoreland, testified before Congress praising the success of U.S. efforts. On the morning following his testimony, the cover of The Washington Post read, "Commander Reports of Steady Success to Cheering Congress."
On Monday, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker shared a similar message and warned against any substantial troop withdrawal. This is Ambassador Crocker.
AMB. RYAN CROCKER: I cannot guarantee success in Iraq. I do believe, as I have described, that it is attainable. I am certain that abandoning or drastically curtailing our efforts will bring failure, and the consequences of such a failure must be clearly understood by us all.
An Iraq that falls into chaos or civil war will mean massive human suffering well beyond what has already occurred within Iraq’s borders. It could well invite the intervention of regional states, all of which see their future connected to Iraq’s in some fundamental way. Undoubtedly, Iran would be a winner in this scenario, consolidating its influence over Iraqi resources and possibly territory. The Iranian president has already announced that Iran will fill any vacuum in Iraq.
In such an environment, the gains made against al-Qaeda and other extremist groups could easily evaporate, and they could establish strongholds to be used as safe havens for regional and international operations. Our current course is hard. The alternatives are far worse.
AMY GOODMAN: Ambassador Crocker, testifying on Monday. General Petraeus later accused Iran of carrying out a proxy war in Iraq.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: In the past six months, we have also targeted Shia militia extremists, capturing a number of senior leaders and fighters, as well as the deputy commander of Lebanese Hezbollah Department 2800, the organization created to support the training, arming, funding and, in some cases, direction of the militia extremists by the Iranian Republican Guard Corps Quds Force. These elements have assassinated and kidnapped Iraqi governmental leaders, killed and wounded our soldiers with advanced explosive devices provided by Iran and indiscriminately rocketed civilians in the international zone and elsewhere. It is increasingly apparent to both coalition and Iraqi leaders that Iran, through the use of this Quds Force, seeks to turn the Iraqi special groups into a Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: When General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker spoke of success stories in Iraq, they largely focused on the situation in Anbar province, where former Sunni insurgents are now fighting al-Qaeda alongside U.S. troops. This is Ambassador Crocker.
AMB. RYAN CROCKER: Six months ago, violence was rampant, our forces were under daily attack, and Iraqis were cowering from the intimidation of al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda overplayed its hand in Anbar, and Anbaris began to reject its successes, be they beheading schoolchildren or cutting off people’s fingers as punishment for smoking. Recognizing that the coalition would help eject al-Qaeda, the tribes began to fight with us, not against us, and the landscape in Anbar is dramatically different as a result.
Tribal representatives are on the provincial council, which is now meeting regularly to find ways of restoring services, developing the economy and executing a provincial budget. These leaders are looking for help to rebuild their cities, and they are talking of attracting investment. Such scenes are also unfolding in parts of Diala and Nineveh, where Iraqis have mobilized with the help of the coalition and Iraqi security forces to evict al-Qaeda from their communities.
AMY GOODMAN: Critics of the military’s policy in Anbar have accused the U.S. of fueling the sectarian civil war in Iraq by funding former Sunni insurgents. It’s widely known the U.S. is paying the former insurgent forces. But General Petraeus denied the U.S. was directly arming them.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS: We have not armed tribes. We don’t have weapons to give them. We have never given weapons to tribes. What we have done is applaud when they have asked if they could point their weapons at al-Qaeda instead of at us, and we have then worked very hard to try to help them tie into national institutions, because that’s the piece that makes sure that there is some mitigation of risk, that we are not merely allowing tribes again to turn their weapons on al-Qaeda and then turn them on, say, other Iraqis.
AMY GOODMAN: Protesters from CODEPINK and other groups repeatedly interrupted Monday’s proceedings. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern was arrested after he shouted out a request that Petraeus and Crocker be sworn in before testifying. Nine others were also arrested, including Cindy Sheehan and CODEPINK’s Medea Benjamin. Several of the interruptions were captured on national television.
REP. JIM SAXTON: Let me just — [inaudible]
PROTESTERS: [shouting] [inaudible]
REP. JIM SAXTON: Notice the disturbance. Remove them and take them into custody. Take them into custody. There will be order.
PROTESTER: [inaudible] How can you thank him for his service, when we’re slaughtering the Iraqi people and U.S. soldiers every day? [inaudible]
REP. JIM SAXTON: Where’s the sergeant-in-arms?
AMY GOODMAN: The Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Jr. of the Hip Hop Caucus was arrested outside the hearing, as he attempted to watch General Petraeus’s testimony after police refused him entry. Witnesses said six Capitol police tackled Yearwood without warning.
REV. LENNOX YEARWOOD, JR.: No, no. For what? No. What kind of arrest? Ow!
WITNESS: Hey, take it easy! Easy! Easy! He’s a nonviolent man! He’s a minister! He’s a minister!
AMY GOODMAN: Reverend Yearwood was then arrested and charged with felony assault of a police officer. The minister was injured in the incident, and police had to remove him from the Capitol in a wheelchair.
To talk more about General Petraeus’s report, we’re joined by filmmaker and journalist Rick Rowley of Big Noise Films. He has just returned from Iraq, where he closely tracked the situation in Anbar province. In a few minutes we’ll broadcast a report that Rick shot in Anbar province, but first your comments on the testimony of Ambassador Crocker, Rick, and General Petraeus.
RICK ROWLEY: Well, when General Petraeus says that they’re merely applauding these tribes from the sidelines, he’s lying. I mean, while we were embedded with the Americans, we saw American military commanders hand wads of cash to tribal militias. And when he says that they are facilitating their integration into the country’s security forces, what he means is they’re pressuring Iraq’s government to incorporate these militias wholesale into the police forces. In fact, that’s one of the promises that these tribes are given, that after working with the Americans for a few months, they’ll become Iraqi police, be armed by the Iraqi state and be put on regular payroll. So it’s completely disingenuous, what he’s saying.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain who these militias are in Anbar province that the U.S. troops are working with.
RICK ROWLEY: Well, it’s been widely reported that these are former insurgents who were fighting Americans in the past. And that, you know, is troubling for American soldiers. But the far more troubling issue for Iraq is that many of these groups are war criminals who are responsible for sectarian cleansing in the region.
We spent a month and a half in the country, and we crisscrossed Iraq. I was traveling with David Enders and met with the production support of Hiba Dawood, and we found entire communities of refugees who had been displaced by exactly the same tribes that the U.S. had been working with in other parts of the country.
So, you know, it’s one thing for Americans to call this a reconciliation process and say that, you know, we’re fine with working with people who used to be fighting with us, but it’s an entirely different thing for them to be funding groups who are already responsible for sectarian cleansing and are arming themselves for a sectarian civil war.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going go to break and then go to your report and then talk to you afterwards. Rick Rowley is an independent reporter with Big Noise Films. He just returned from a month and a half in Iraq.