The Magazine

'The Central Front'

"Actually there is a city of 7 million in which life goes on..."

May 7, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 32 • By GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, FOR THE EDITORS
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On April 26, around the same time the Senate passed a war spending bill containing a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq, delivered an impressive briefing on the state of the war to reporters at the Pentagon. Petraeus said his remarks were roughly what he had been saying in the previous couple of days to members of Congress--minus Speaker Nancy Pelosi, it should be noted, who was too "busy" to attend Petraeus's briefing. For the speaker's benefit, and for the benefit of our readers, we print here brief excerpts from Petraeus's opening statement and responses to questions--which didn't get nearly the amount of attention they deserved, and which are worth reading in full. (The entire transcript can be retrieved here.)

PETRAEUS: The operational environment in Iraq is the most complex and challenging I have ever seen. . . . Today, members of al Qaeda, extremist militias, and Sunni insurgent groups seek to destroy what Iraqi leaders are trying to build. Political parties with ethno sectarian interests, limited governmental capacity, and corruption add additional challenges, and exceedingly unhelpful activities by Iran and Syria--especially those by Iran, about which we have learned a great deal in the past month--compound the enormous problems facing the new Iraq.

The situation is, in short, exceedingly challenging, though . . . there has been progress in several areas in recent months despite the sensational attacks by al Qaeda, which have, of course, been significant blows to our effort and which cause psychological damage that is typically even greater than their physical damage. Iraq is, in fact, the central front of al Qaeda's global campaign and we devote considerable resources to the fight against al Qaeda Iraq. We have achieved some notable successes in the past two months, killing the security emir of eastern Anbar province, detaining a number of key network leaders, discovering how various elements of al Qaeda Iraq operate, taking apart a car bomb network that had killed 650 citizens of Baghdad, and destroying several significant car bomb factories. Nonetheless, al Qaeda Iraq remains a formidable foe. . . . The extremist militias in Iraq also are a substantial problem and must be significantly disrupted. . . .

Our achievements have not come without sacrifice. Our increase in operational tempo, location of our forces in the populations they are securing, and conduct of operations in areas where we previously had no presence, as well as the enemy's greater use of certain types of explosive devices, have led to an increase in our losses. Our Iraqi partners have sacrificed heavily as well, with losses generally two to three times ours, or even more. . . .

We do definitely see links to the greater al Qaeda network. . . . There is no question but that there is a network that supports the movement of foreign fighters through Syria into Iraq. . . . The Iranian involvement has really become much clearer to us and brought into much more focus during the interrogation of the members--the heads of the Qazali network and some of the key members of that network that have been in detention now for a month or more. This is the head of the secret cell network, the extremist secret cells. They were provided substantial funding, training on Iranian soil, advanced explosive munitions and technologies, as well as run-of-the-mill arms and ammunition, in some cases advice, and in some cases even a degree of direction. When we captured these individuals--the initial capture, and then there have been a number of others since then--we discovered, for example, a 22-page memorandum on a computer that detailed the planning, preparation, approval process, and conduct of the operation that resulted in five of our soldiers being killed in Karbala. . . . [T]he spectacular car bomb attacks, which we believe are generally al Qaeda and elements sort of connected to al Qaeda. Typically, in fact, still we believe that, oh, 80 percent to 90 percent of the suicide attacks are carried out by foreigners. That's a network, again, that typically brings them in through Syria and is--again a major concern and certainly a hope that Syria will crack down on the ability of people to come through their airport and so forth and then be brought into Iraq. . . .

I think you have to be realistic and acknowledge there is going to be a continuation of some level of sensational attacks. . . . To prevent those, you know, the Iraqi and coalition forces have to protect everything and [the extremists] only have to attack one thing, some of that is going to happen. . . . We feel [there has been] incremental progress; it's very difficult to demonstrate. . . . It means nothing happened, in most cases. In other words, there were not sectarian murders. . . . You know, all of this is actually so foreign, I think, in the minds of most people, who see the news and of course do see that day's explosion or something like that. And actually there is a city of 7 million in which life goes on, and again, citizens are determined to carry on with their life.

--Gen. David Petraeus, for the Editors