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Iraq: Petraeus’s Song And Dance

Today, Gen. David Petraeus begins his much-anticipated report to Congress on progress in Iraq.

SEPTEMBER 10, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna,
Matt Corley, and Ali Frick
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IRAQ

Petraeus’s Song And Dance

Today, Gen. David Petraeus begins his much-anticipated report to Congress on progress in Iraq. His appearance marks the most high-profile appearance of a war general on Capitol Hill since Gen. William Westmoreland testified on April 28th, 1967, that America was making progress in Vietnam. Petraeus is expected to make a similar argument about the Bush administration’s efforts in Iraq, rebuffing calls for a redeployment of U.S. troops and arguing that the troop buildup should be kept in place until at least spring 2008. Yet already there is reason to be skeptical of the “facts” he will use to back-up his claims of success, with reports that the administration has watered down reports, taken undeserved credit for progress on the ground, and fudged statistics. Approximately 66 percent of the American public believe President Bush will stick with his policy no matter what Petraeus reports, and 53 percent say Petraeus will try to make things in Iraq look better than they are. Sixty-five to 70 percent of Iraqis say escalation has “worsened rather than improved security, political stability and the pace of redevelopment alike.”

MYTH #1 — SECTARIAN DEATHS IN BAGHDAD HAVE DROPPED 75 PERCENT SINCE 2006: In late August, Petraeus told The Australian that “there had been a 75 per cent reduction in religious and ethnic killings since last year.” He is expected to make a similar claim today. Yet reports indicate that the Pentagon may be undercounting sectarian deaths. Intelligence analysts who computed “aggregate levels of violence against civilians” for the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) “puzzled over how the military designated attacks as combat, sectarian or criminal.” “If a bullet went through the back of the head, it’s sectarian,” said one senior intelligence official. “If it went through the front, it’s criminal.” The Pentagon’s sectarian violence numbers also exclude Sunni on Sunni violence, Shiite on Shiite violence, and car bombs. In an April interview, Bush attempted to explain his subjective rationale for excluding car bombs: “If the standard of success is no car bombings or suicide bombings, we have just handed those who commit suicide bombings a huge victory.” The number of car bombings have actually increased five percent since December. Additionally, the NIE found that conflict levels in Baghdad “have diminished to some extent” because of widespread ethnic cleansing.

MYTH #2 — SECTARIAN DEATHS REACHED MORE THAN 1,600 IN DEC. 2006: Not only is the Pentagon underreporting recent sectarian deaths, it also raising the number of past incidents in order to make the “reduction” seem more impressive. In March, the Pentagon’s quarterly report estimated that in Dec. 2006 — right before the President announced his escalation — “there were about 1,300 sectarian slayings across Iraq.” But in its June report, “the Pentagon revised the December 2006 death toll to more than 1,600. That change makes the decline to about 600 in April — after the surge began — even more dramatic.” Much of the Pentagon’s data and methodology is classified. Last week, Goverment Accountability Office comptroller David Walker told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that there are “several different sources within the administration” who “do not agree” on levels of violence. He added that he “could not get comfortable” with the way the Pentagon calculated such a steep drop in sectarian violence.

MYTH #3 — SECTARIAN DEATHS ARE DECLINING ACROSS THE COUNTRY: Despite the government’s claim that Baghdad casualties are dramatically dropping, war-related deaths throughout Iraq have doubled compared with last year, rising to “an average daily toll of 33 in 2006, and 62 so far this year.” “Bombings, sectarian slayings and other violence related to the war killed at least 1,773 Iraqi civilians in August, the second month in a row that civilian deaths have risen.” Additionally, the recent NIE found that over the next six to 12 months, “levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high.”

MYTH #4 — BUSH’S ESCALATION IS RESPONSIBLE FOR PROGRESS IN ANBAR: One of the success stories Petraeus will likely highlight is the reduced violence in the Anbar province, which was once the “heartland” of the Sunni insurgency. Last week, Bush made a surprise visit to the region and used it to argue that the troop buildup should not be cut short. “In Anbar you’re seeing firsthand the dramatic differences that can come when the Iraqis are more secure,” said Bush. But the administration’s policies had little to do with Anbar’s progress. As the Washington Post noted yesterday, “The sheik who forged the alliance with the Americans, Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, traced the decision to fight al-Qaeda to Sept. 14, 2006, long before the new Bush strategy, but the president’s plan dispatched another 4,000 U.S. troops to Anbar to exploit the situation. As security improved, the White House eagerly took credit.” Last week, CNN correspondent Michael Ware also noted that the Sunni insurgency in Anbar offered to work with U.S. troops — not the Iraqi government — to fight al Qaeda in 2003, but the United States rejected the offer. Only “after four years of bloodshed” was the United States “finally ready to accept those terms.”

MYTH #5 — AL QAEDA IN IRAQ IS ‘PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER ONE’: In July, Bush referred to al Qaeda 95 times in a single speech, claiming the war in Iraq has become the central front in the fight against al Qaeda (AQ-I). Echoing Bush, Petraeus recently argued that al Qaeda is “public enemy number one” in Iraq, and will likely make a similar claim to Congress this week. But in a new report, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes that attacks from al Qaeda are only a small percentage of the violence in Iraq, criticizing the Bush administration’s statistics and noting that this false reporting on AQ-I has increased since Bush’s “surge” began. “Increasingly in 2007, U.S. commanders have seemed to equate AQ-I with the insurgency, even though most of the daily attacks are carried out by Iraqi Sunni insurgents,” concluded CRS.

UNDER THE RADAR

IRAQ — GEN. PETRAEUS TO GIVE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW TO FOX NEWS TONIGHT: After spending the day telling Congress that President Bush’s escalation strategy in Iraq should continue, Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will take their PR campaign to a more comfortable setting: Fox News this evening. On Fox News Sunday yesterday, host Chris Wallace announced the interview, saying that at 9:00 p.m. EST, Fox News’ Brit Hume “will have an exclusive interview” with Petraeus and Crocker “about the state of the Iraq war and their testimony to Congress.” In a recent report on Iraq, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office raised concerns that Gen. Petraeus’ numbers do not reflect the reality on the ground, specifically the levels of sectarian violence, which the watchdog said are much higher than Petraeus and the military have been saying. After concerns were raised over the military’s statistics, it was announced that Petraeus won’t issue a report after all. Now, in another attempt to avoid scrutiny, Petraeus will be taking his cooked stats to a friendly forum on Fox.

IRAQ — POLL: NEARLY 70 PERCENT OF IRAQIS SAY ESCALATION ‘HAS WORSENED’ THEIR LIVES: In June, outgoing Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace argued that U.S. success in Iraq “is not about levels of violence” but that “it’s about progress…in the minds of the Iraqi people.” What’s most important is do the Iraqi people feel better about today than they did about yesterday, and do they think tomorrow’s going to be better than today? If the answer to those two questions is yes, then we’re on the right path.” By Pace’s own metric, the United States is on the wrong path. An ABC/BBC/NHK poll released today shows that since the escalation began, Iraqi opinion has starkly turned against the U.S. occupation, as most Iraqis see “deepening dissatisfaction with conditions in Iraq, lower ratings for the national government and growing rejection of the U.S. role there.” For example, 65 to 70 percent of Iraqis say the escalation has “worsened rather than improved security.” Thirty-nine percent say “their lives are going well,” down from 71 percent in Nov. 2005. Forty-seven percent now favor “immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces,” a 12-point rise since March. Overwhelming majorities of those surveyed give negative ratings to electricity, jobs, and access to health care.

CIVIL LIBERTIES — FORMER SENATE INTEL CHAIR REPORTS WHITE HOUSE MISLED ABOUT WIRETAP BRIEFINGS: White House officials have repeatedly claimed that they briefed Congress about the domestic surveillance program. In late 2005, former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham (D-FL) and other members of Congress reported that the White House never informed them about surveillance of U.S. citizens. When Graham challenged the assertion that the White House had briefed him on the program, the White House produced a list of dates for the alleged meetings. Graham told The Progress Report that on several of those dates he was not even in Washington D.C. The White House later acknowledged to Graham that it had the wrong dates, but the White House persisted in distributing false information. In July, the AP reported a four-page memo authored by then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte which asserted that Graham was briefed on four dates: October 25, 2001; November 14, 2001; April 10, 2002; and July 8, 2002. Former senator Bob Graham told The Progress Report that on two of the dates in question there were not any briefings. On the two other dates he did attend White House briefings, but stands by his statement that he was never informed of the White House’s domestic surveillance. These contradictions should raise concerns about the White House’s claims that members of Congress had knowledge of the program prior to its implementation.

THINK FAST

“President Bush is expected to name an attorney general soon – perhaps this week. The five finalists: Michael Mukasey, Theodore B. (Ted) Olson, Laurence H. Silberman, George J. Terwilliger and Larry D. Thompson.” Olson appears to be emerging as the frontrunner.

60 percent: Americans who say we “should set a timetable to withdraw forces ‘and stick to that timetable regardless of what is going on in Iraq.'”

The White House’s decision to send Rosh Hashanah greetings a week early elicited “a quizzical reaction around town among the president’s Jewish friends and supporters.” Former RNC chairman Ken Mehlman, who, like White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, is Jewish, “sent Bolten an e-mail asking why the White House had seemingly flubbed the date.”

Barry Jackson, one of Karl Rove’s key replacements in the White House, is seen as a “highly partisan go-getter.” An acquaintance of Jackson’s said he isn’t interested “‘let’s get along’ kind of stuff.”

The Pentagon is preparing to build its first base for U.S. forces near the Iraqi-Iranian border, a major new effort to curb the flow of advanced Iranian weaponry to Shiite militants across Iraq. “The base will be located about four miles from the Iranian border and will be used for at least two years.”More...

In a new study of the neurobiology of politics, “scientists have found that liberals tolerate ambiguity and conflict better than conservatives because of how their brains work. ” The study found that “liberals were 4.9 times as likely as conservatives to show activity in the brain circuits that deal with conflicts.”

“US regulators will on Monday present results of a year-long inquiry into investment scams that are fleecing retirees out of their life savings. The Securities and Exchange Commission will report on the growing phenomenon of ‘free lunch’ seminars that financial advisers offer to older people.”

9/11 Commission co-chairs Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton write: “Two years ago, we and our colleagues issued a report card assessing the U.S. government’s progress on the bipartisan recommendations in the 9/11 commission report. We concluded that the nation was not safe enough. Our judgment remains the same today: We still lack a sense of urgency in the face of grave danger.”

And finally: At an event promoting children’s health insurance legislation, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) “noted that the bill would insure 12 million more kids and pointed out that President Bush ‘used to be for this.’” “But let me tell you something about him,” Dingell continued. “I knew him before he was a virgin.” Dingell provided no further context for his “virgin” comment.

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GOOD NEWS

On Friday, Congress “approved legislation yesterday that cuts more than $20 billion in government subsidies to institutions that make student loans, and uses most of that money to pay for increased financial aid for college students.”

STATE WATCH

MISSOURI: Federal judge to review anti-abortion law that would force “the immediate closure” of some abortion clinics.

TEXAS: Teachers may be forced to pay for their own criminal background tests.

HEALTH CARE
: Bush administration denies New York’s request to expand SCHIP to some uninsured middle-class families, potentially affecting several other states.

BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: GQ’s Robert Draper: President Bush doesn’t follow an ‘honest line of questioning” with generals about Iraq.

ABU AARDVARK: During his trip to Iraq, President Bush spent an hour with an Iraqi leader with “a rather unsavory reputation as one of the shadiest figures in the Sunni community.”

THE YOUNG TURKS: Newsweek’s Baghdad correspondent says “strolling” around Baghdad as a Westerner is “suicidal.”

HUFFINGTON POST: Former Bush pollster Matthew Dowd: The public believes going to Iraq was a mistake and sees withdrawal as a way to support the troops.

DAILY GRILL

We’re “kicking their ass.”
— Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on the Iraq war, 9/7/07

VERSUS

Every month in 2007 has seen more U.S. military casualties than the same month in 2006.
icasualties.org