Iraq commander says Bush's strategy can work


Lt. Gen. David Petraeus testifies on Capitol Hill on Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 11:47 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The general who will carry out President Bush's plan for Iraq cautioned on Tuesday against expecting quick results and used bleak terms to describe a country engulfed in war for nearly four years. Yet, he said the strategy can work as long as the Iraqis do their part.

Facts

Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus

  • AGE-BIRTH DATE — 54, Nov. 7, 1952.
  • EXPERIENCE — Commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., 2005-present; first commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq, 2004-2005; commanded NATO training mission in Iraq, 2004-2005; various positions, including commander of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), assistant chief of staff for operations of the NATO Stabilization Force and deputy commander of the U.S. Joint Interagency Counter-Terrorism Task Force in Bosnia.
  • EDUCATION — Bachelor's degree, U.S. Military Academy, 1974; master's degree, Princeton University, 1985; doctoral degree, Princeton University, 1987.
  • FAMILY — Wife, Holly; two children.

Facing a skeptical Congress and an American public that has turned starkly against the war, Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus promised lawmakers that as top U.S. commander in Iraq, he would speak up if he determines the new approach is failing. Bush is adding 21,500 U.S. troops to secure Baghdad and Anbar Province, home to many insurgents.

"The situation in Iraq is dire," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is expected to easily approve his nomination for the Iraq command. "The stakes are high. There are no easy choices. The way ahead will be very hard. … But hard is not hopeless."

Though Petraeus was warmly received by members of the panel, the war he will help lead — and Bush's plan to prevail in it — faced a rougher reception.

White House hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., launched a sharp attack on the administration's Iraq record and called Bush's new strategy "a dead end."

"I wonder whether the clock has already run out," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a sponsor of a GOP-led resolution saying the Senate disagrees with the buildup. She said she was worried that U.S. troops in Iraq are already perceived "not as liberators, but as occupiers."

One of Congress' few vocal supporters of the war, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., warned that upcoming votes criticizing the president's strategy would be harmful.

"No matter how well-intentioned, a resolution being opposed to this new strategy is a vote of no confidence in you," he told Petraeus. "No matter how well-intentioned, the enemy will see it as a weakened resolve."

Petraeus made his appearance as the Bush administration struggled to limit Republican defections when a Senate committee votes Wednesday on a measure declaring the president's new Iraq policy is not in the national interest.

All 11 Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee panel are expected to support the proposal, and so far, Nebraska's Sen. Chuck Hagel is alone among 10 Republicans in favor of it.

The measure is expected to advance to the Senate floor next week, and several Republicans opposed to Bush's policy said they prefer a more mildly worded alternative. Advanced by GOP Sen. John Warner of Virginia and others, it expresses disagreement with the president's plans without criticizing them as contrary to the national interest, and also leaves open the possibility of adding troops to Anbar Province in western Iraq.

Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., seeking re-election in 2008, said he was swinging behind Warner's proposal. "This war has devolved far beyond what we authorized," placing U.S. troops in the middle of a sectarian war between Shiites and Sunnis, he told The Associated Press.

Warner and Senate Democrats are eventually expected to try and reach a compromise on the issue. If they are successful, the result would likely be a dramatic bipartisan rejection of a commander in chief in wartime.

If confirmed, Petraeus will implement Bush's plan to send an extra 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq — most of them to Baghdad where the general said they will operate from smaller, dispersed bases in the city to help the Iraqi security forces clear specific neighborhoods of insurgents, illegal militias and death squads.

At Tuesday's hearing, Petraeus told the lawmakers that no amount of U.S. effort will succeed unless Iraqis learn to compromise.

"Ultimately, the outcome will be determined by the Iraqis," Petraeus said.

Petraeus would replace Gen. George Casey, who has led U.S. forces in Iraq since July 2004 and has been nominated to be the next Army chief of staff.

That move was part of a broad overhaul of the Iraq war effort. In addition to replacing Donald H. Rumsfeld with Robert Gates as defense secretary, Bush announced two weeks ago that he was increasing U.S. troop levels and ordering a more robust economic development program.

Levin, a leading war policy critic, pressed Petraeus on whether the flow of additional U.S. troops could be halted in midstream if the Iraqi government failed to meet its commitment to provide thousands more Iraqi troops.

"It could," Petraeus replied. Earlier, he said there were no "specific conditions" the Iraqis must meet in order to keep the flow of U.S. forces moving.

The last of five additional U.S. brigades are scheduled to arrive in the Iraqi capital in May; the first, from the 82nd Airborne Division, got there just days ago.

Asked by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., how long the extra troops would remain in Iraq, Petraeus said he did not know. Casey said last week they might begin leaving as soon as late summer.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a leading proponent of Bush's plan, asked Petraeus how long he thought the U.S. buildup could be sustained.

"I am keenly aware of the strain" on the Army and Marine Corps, Petraeus said, adding that he welcomes Bush's proposal to increase the size of the land forces over the coming five years.

The concern about strains from the Iraq war also arose at a House hearing featuring the top Army and Marine Corps generals.

"We have examined other war plans and our capability to respond to those plans, and we see that we are lacking in some areas in our ability to do so," said Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps.

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