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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

23 January 2007

Baghdad Security Tops U.S. Agenda, General Petraeus Tells Senators

Nominee for Iraq command testifies at confirmation hearing

Washington -- President Bush's new strategic direction in Iraq -- involving the deployment of additional U.S. Army and Marine brigades aimed, in part, at securing Baghdad -- is now the best plan for stopping that troubled nation's slide into sectarian chaos, Lieutenant General David Petraeus told senators January 23.

The general testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on his nomination by the president to command U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. If confirmed by the full Senate, Petraeus will replace General George Casey as commander of Multi-National Forces - Iraq.

It would be Petraeus's fourth tour in Iraq since commanding the 101st Airborne Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The general most recently was assigned to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he oversaw the writing of the latest U.S. ground forces manual on counterinsurgency. (See related article.)

Although the lawmakers disagreed on the wisdom of the troop surge, they stressed their support for U.S. troops in Iraq and praised Petraeus and his professionalism. Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat and outspoken critic of the new strategy, told the general, "I have concerns about this [troop surge] policy, but have every intention of voting for you."

With the "situation in Iraq deteriorating significantly," Petraeus told the hearing, "my broad priorities would [be to] support the development of an Iraqi state that is a stable, reasonably representative democracy that respects the rights of all Iraqis and can provide for its own security, with Iraqi security institutions that act professionally and according to the interests of all Iraqi people."

To do that, Petraeus pointed to Bush's plan of increasing force levels in the country by 21,500 troops as "a new way ahead" toward forestalling a collapse of the Iraqi government and the victory of "a determined, barbaric enemy.” Currently, more than 130,000 U.S. troops serve in Iraq. (See related article.)

"We must focus on population security, particularly in Baghdad, to give the Iraqi government the breathing space it needs to become more effective,” Petraeus said, adding that the new strategy has the best hope of achieving that goal.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, expressed doubt that the Iraqi government could summon the political will to push fully the new more military strategy.  Petraeus acknowledged that "ultimate success in Iraq will be determined" by Iraqis and that "critical national issues must be resolved … such as national reconciliation, the devolution of power below Baghdad, [and] the distribution of oil wealth.

"Only through unity of effort by all -- coalition and Iraqi, military and civilian -- can we bring the full weight of our effort to bear on the difficult situation in Iraq," the general told the panel.

Pressing his point, Levin asked if there was any "leverage" -- such as "withdrawing some of the 21,000 troops" -- the United States could use on the Iraqi government to make it move more quickly if it balked over the new strategy. Petraeus said that was a possibility.

However, Petraeus said that the current Iraqi government has been in power for only eight months and that it was the fourth administration there in less than four years.

With 325,000 Iraqi security forces now trained and equipped, Petraeus said he detected a "stiffer approach" by the Iraqi government to countering sectarian violence.

Asked if he believed the roughly 85,000 troops earmarked to begin the new strategy of clearing Baghdad of terrorists and militias while holding territory was sufficient, Petraeus said he reviewed the strategy closely with Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, the tactical commander of coalition ground forces, and both agreed that expanded U.S. troop levels were needed.

About 7,000 U.S. troops will work with Iraqi forces, including police units, in clearing operations in the capital while other U.S. forces provide a security ring around the city, but all American forces will remain under U.S. authority, he said.

"We should have indicators by the end of summer of the effectiveness of the clearing and holding operations in Baghdad," he said.

Senator Susan Collins, a Republican critic of the surge, touched on the division within the Senate over the new plan, telling Petraeus, "The American people are deeply divided over the strategy."  Despite that, she added, "We hope we're wrong and the strategy is a success."

As a supporter of the Bush plan, Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut mentioned several resolutions offered by members "disapproving" the troop increase.  Asked by Lieberman if he believed they would "give the enemy some encouragement," Petraeus said, "That's correct, sir."

With that in mind, Lieberman said, "I want to urge my colleagues to consider your testimony this morning and to put the brakes on" such resolutions.  "You, in my opinion, will receive unanimous or near-unanimous support… [for the nomination] from this committee and from the [full] Senate.  But I fear that a resolution of disapproval will send you [Petraeus] over there" to Iraq with mixed signals to the Iraqis.

For more information on U.S. policy, see Iraq Update.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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