Friday, September 12, 2008

Petraeus 'Hopeful' on Final Battlefield Tour as Commander in Iraq

Petraeus 'Hopeful' on Final Battlefield Tour as Commander in Iraq,3566,421282,00.html By Bret Baier Fox News To watch Gen. David Petraeus work the crowds in Baghdad’s markets, one might think he was running for local office. But as Petraeus greeted locals in Arabic and shook hands Wednesday, he was on his final battlefield tour of the country before handing over command of U.S.-led forces in Iraq next week and taking on a new job as head of Central Command. Petraeus gave his final U.S. interview before the transition to FOX News, and expressed optimism -- significant coming from a commander often cautious about signs of progress in Iraq. "There's a lot left to be done. You'd like to complete everything but that's not possible," he said. "It's been very, very hard. There’s been nothing easy about this … In the beginning we said it was hard but not hopeless. I think now it’s still hard but it’s hopeful." As Petraeus walked with minimal security -- no helicopters overhead, no flak jackets and no helmets -- the commander said much has changed since the start of the troop surge. "The first month I returned, there were 42 car bombs in Baghdad in a single month, and they were devastating. They were truly horrific," he said. Two of the deadliest car bombs were detonated last year in the Shorja market that he toured safely Wednesday. The Feb. 12, 2007, attacks killed 175 people and injured 150 more, just two days after Petraeus had returned to Iraq to lead the troop surge. "The newish-looking building was the one that was blown up," Petraeus said, pointing upward. "It was really terrible." Petraeus says Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group responsible for the biggest bombings, has been significantly degraded. But the general still calls Iraq the central front in the War on Terror. "We think right now (Al Qaeda) is still clinging to the idea that they could revive Al Qaeda in Iraq," he said. But Wednesday, the U.S. military in Baghdad released details of intercepted communications that commanders said were made between Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman al-Zawahiri and Al Qaeda leadership in Iraq. The group reportedly complained of being unable to raise money, recruit or receive support from locals. "No support for Al Qaeda" is something Petraeus says he hears in conversations every day, and numerous times in the Shorja market. "You give us our freedom, and we will give you our friendship … peace with you," one local told Petraeus in the market Wednesday. In a sign of a shift in Washington, President Bush announced earlier this week his plan to order 8,000 troops out of Iraq by February, and redirect a battalion of about 1,000 Marines to Afghanistan instead of Iraq. At the end of Petraeus’ market tour Wednesday, the commander ran into an Iraq traffic cop, who said he wrote three tickets that day --one for an expired tag and two for drivers not wearing seatbelts. That is what Petraeus wants to see. The general thinks results on the ground will trump any talk in Washington or on the campaign trail. He says he has mixed feelings as he leaves Iraq. But asked what he would do if someone stepped in and told him the military was on the wrong track in Iraq, Petraeus again expressed confidence. "In truth I honestly doubt that that would happen," he said.

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Anonymous said...

Iraq: Violence is down – but not because of America's 'surge'
If fewer US troops and Iraqis are being killed, it is only because the Shia community and Iran now dominate
By Patrick Cockburn
Sunday, 14 September 2008

As he leaves Iraq this week, the outgoing US commander, General David Petraeus, is sounding far less optimistic than the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, about the American situation in Iraq. General Petraeus says that it remains "fragile", recent security gains are "not irreversible" and "this is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade... it's not a war with a simple slogan."

Compare this with Sarah Palin's belief that "victory in Iraq is wholly in sight" and her criticism of Barack Obama for not using the word "victory". The Republican contenders have made these claims of success for the "surge" – the American reinforcements sent last year – although they are demonstrably contradicted by the fact that the US has to keep more troops, some 138,000, in Iraq today than beforehand. Another barometer of the true state of security in Iraq is the inability of the 4.7 million refugees, one in six of the population, who fled for their lives inside and outside Iraq, to return to their homes.

Ongoing violence is down, but Iraq is still the most dangerous country in the world. On Friday a car bomb exploded in the Shia market town of Dujail, north of Baghdad, killing 32 people and wounding 43 others. "The smoke filled my house and the shrapnel broke some of the windows," said Hussein al-Dujaili. "I went outside the house and saw two dead bodies at the gate which had been thrown there by the explosion. Some people were in panic and others were crying."

Playing down such killings, the Iraqi government and the US have launched a largely successful propaganda campaign to convince the world that "things are better" in Iraq and that life is returning to normal. One Iraqi journalist recorded his fury at watching newspapers around the world pick up a story that the world's largest Ferris wheel was to be built in Baghdad, a city where there is usually only two hours of electricity a day.

Life in Baghdad certainly is better than it was 18 months ago, when some 60 to 100 bodies were being found beside the roads every morning, the victims of Sunni-Shia sectarian slaughter. The main reason this ended was that the battle for Baghdad in 2006-07 was won by the Shia, who now control three-quarters of the capital. These demographic changes appear permanent; Sunni who try to get their houses back face assassination.

In Mosul, Iraq's northern capital and third largest city, with a population of 1.8 million, the government was trumpeting its success only a few months ago. It said it had succeeded in driving al-Qa'ida from the city, while the US said the number of attacks had fallen from 130 a week to 30 a week in July. But today they are back up to between 60 and 70 a week. Two weeks ago, insurgents came close to killing Major-General Riyadh Jalal Tawfiq in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, with a roadside bomb.

The perception in the US that the tide has turned in Iraq is in part because of a change in the attitude of the foreign, largely American, media. The war in Iraq has now been going on for five years, longer than the First World War, and the world is bored with it. US television networks maintain expensive bureaux in Baghdad, but little of what they produce gets on the air. When it does, viewers turn off. US newspaper bureaux are being cut in size. The result of all this is that the American voter hears less of violence in Iraq and can suppose that America's military adventure there is finally coming good.

An important reason for this optimism is the fall in the number of American soldiers killed. (The 30,000 US soldiers wounded in Iraq are seldom mentioned.) This has happened because the war that was being waged against the American occupation by the Sunni community, the 20 per cent of Iraqis who were in control under Saddam Hussein, has largely ended. It did so because the Sunni were being defeated, not so much by the US army as by the Shia government and the Shia militias.

Sunni insurgent leaders who were nationalists or Baathists realised that they had too many enemies. Not only was al-Qa'ida trying to take over from traditional tribal leaders, it was also killing Sunni who took minor jobs with the government. The Awakening, or al-Sahwa, movement of Sunni fighters was first formed in Anbar province at the end of 2006, but it was allied to the US, not the Iraqi government. This is why, despite pressure from General Petraeus, the government is so determined not to give the 99,000 al-Sahwa members significant jobs in the security forces when it takes control of – and supposedly begins to pay – these Sunni militiamen from 1 October. The Shia government may be prepared to accommodate the Sunni, but not at the cost of diluting Shia dominance.

If McCain wins the presidential election in November, his lack of understanding of what is happening in Iraq could ignite a fresh conflict. In so far as the surge has achieved military success, it is because it implicitly recognises America's political defeat in Iraq. Whatever the reason for President George Bush's decision to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein in 2003, it was not to place the Shia Islamic parties in power and increase the influence of Iran in the country; yet that is exactly what has happened.

The surge only achieved the degree of success it did because Iran, which played a central role in getting Nouri al-Maliki appointed Prime Minister in 2006, decided to back his government fully. It negotiated a ceasefire between the Iraqi government and the powerful movement of Muqtada al-Sadr in Basra, persuading the cleric to call his militiamen off the streets there, in March and again two months later in the Sadrist stronghold of Sadr City. It is very noticeable that in recent weeks the US has largely ceased its criticism of Iran. This is partly because of American preoccupation with Russia since the fighting began in Georgia in August, but it is also an implicit recognition that US security in Iraq is highly dependant on Iranian actions.

General Petraeus has had a measure of success in Iraq less because of his military skills than because he was one of the few American leaders to have some understanding of Iraqi politics. In January 2004, when he was commander of the 101st Airborne Division in Mosul, I asked him what was the most important piece of advice he could give to his successor. He said it was "not to align too closely with one ethnic group, political party, tribe, religious group or social element". But today the US has no alternative but to support Mr Maliki and his Shia government, and to wink at the role of Iran in Iraq. If McCain supposes the US has won a military victory, and as president acts as if this were true, then he is laying the groundwork for a new war.