Sen. Hagel on Iraq: ‘Where is this going?’
by Frank James
The Bush Administration’s harshest Republican critic in the Senate Charles Hagel (R-NE): “Now, with that said, Ambassador, General, when you look at — and I know you have — the preceding reports that we have talked about today and you have added to with information, numbers, General Jones’ report, the General Accountability report — I have spent some time with Stuart Bowen, the IG for Iraqi Reconstruction — the latest National Intelligence Estimate, Anthony Cordesman’s latest report, thread throughout those reports and then listening carefully to what the two of you have said this morning are some very bright-line contradictions….
….when you look at the southern part of Iraq, which I noted neither one of you noted today, one of the senior members of General Jones’s task force said to me when he returned, we’ve probably lost Southern Iraq. And I said, you must be kidding. He said no. He said, the four provinces of Southern Iraq are gone; they are lawless; there’s no Iraqi national army down there. The police are corrupt, as indicated in General Jones’s report, incidentally, as well as others…. lawless gangs of marauders of Shi’a militia are in charge in Basra and those four provinces. As you both know, two governors have been assassinated in the last two months….
I have to ask this question: Where is this going? Those 18 benchmarks didn’t come from the Congress of the United States. Those benchmarks came from the Iraqi government and this administration.
We have never ever looked at Iraq from the larger strategic context of, not of Iraq only but Iran, Syria and the Middle East….is it worth it, the continued investment of American blood and treasure?
….seven NCOs, in Iraq today, finishing up 15-month commitments (questioned our direction). Are we going to dismiss those seven NCOs? Are they ignorant? They laid out a pretty different scenario, General, Ambassador, from what you’re laying out today. I’ve always found that you want an honest evaluation, and not through charts, not through the White House evaluations. You ask a sergeant or a corporal what they think. I’ll be on them every time, as I know you will. General, I know you will.
I would say to you, Ambassador, one of your quotes: If we don’t be careful, we’re going to see Iraq devolve into a civil war. Come on. Our National Intelligence Report earlier this year said we’re in a civil war. It’s sectarian violence. But yet you said that in your testimony this morning.
AMB. CROCKER: Iraq, in my judgment, almost completely unraveled in 2006 and the very beginning of 2007 as sectarian violence after February ’06 just spiraled up. Under those conditions, it is extremely difficult — it is impossible to proceed with effective governance or an effective process of national reconciliation. It’s just in the last couple of months that those levels of violence have come down in a measurable way….they’re starting to get the space to work on it. What I do point to as a moderately encouraging factor is that when security does improve, as we saw in Anbar, political life starts up again.
GEN. PETRAEUS: my responsibility as I see it is not to give a good picture, it’s to give an accurate picture, as forthright a picture as I can provide, and that is what I’ve tried to do.
Second, we certainly will not be at the same rate of forces. What I — if the recommendations are approved, as I mentioned, the Marine Expeditionary Unit, 2,000-plus, will be coming out this month and we’ll then draw down one-quarter of our ground combat brigades and two additional Marine battalions….an afloat MEU, came ashore a couple months ago, was extended on the ground just to continue the work — they’re working north of Fallujah cleaning up a pocket of al Qaeda — allow the Iraqi army to go in there and to replace them in that area. And they will now go home without replacement. There’s neighborhoods in Baghdad where we are sitting on a sectarian fault line trying to stabilize it, to stop the eating that continues, that literally just — the sectarian violence that never stops until the area is stabilized. And there are some neighborhoods where we are indeed trying to do that. The seven sergeants are in one such neighborhood.
And the government and we are trying to figure out how to help them, how to build on that, how to use that to augment, to reinforce, build on the success that our soldiers and Iraqi forces achieved….Sunni Arabs by and large in Iraq for a number of years were supportive, at the least — at least tacitly, again — to al Qaeda because of their feelings of dispossession, disrespect, unemployment and a variety of other reasons. (The change is)….an important development. That’s an important phenomenon that we obviously want to work very hard to reinforce while ensuring that we still tie it in to the center sufficiently, so that it doesn’t create additional problems down the road.
We’re talking about really sort of finding who are the irreconcilables and trying to isolate them, and then to help the Iraqi government to bring the reconcilables to become part of the solution, instead of part of the problem. And that is what has happened, again most notably in Anbar, but is applicable to some degree in other areas as well.