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Hewitt's Interview with Petraeus

5:01 PM, Jul 19, 2007 • By BRIAN FAUGHNAN
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You should take the time to read Hugh Hewitt's interview with General David Petraeus, who gives an excellent assessment of where Operation Phantom Thunder stands right now. He covers both the successes and the challenges. Some highlights:

HH: Do you think al Qaeda in Iraq is buckling, General Petraeus?

DP: Well, it's probably too soon to say that, but we think that we have them off plan. Now having said that, they clearly retain and have demonstrated, tragically in recent, the past week or so, the ability to continue to carry out sensational attacks. They continue to demonstrate the ability to counterattack against our forces, and those of our coalition partners. But the detention, or the capture or killing of the number of leaders that we have taken out in recent months, and weeks, actually, and the progress in terms of just clearing areas of them…as you know, Anbar Province has really become quite relatively clear of al Qaeda. Eastern Anbar still has some, and we are working in that area. We have recently cleared Western Baquba, which was almost al Qaeda central, the capitol of the new caliphate that they have tried to establish here in Iraq. So there has been considerable progress against them, but they do continue to receive foreign fighters through Syria, who become suicide bombers in many cases, and they do certainly have an ability to regenerate, to regroup, and to come back at us...

HH: Do you see any evidence, General, that al Qaeda is now operating jointly with the Iranian regime? There've been some reports that in fact, they are now based, in some respects, within Iran and operating across the border with Iran.

DP: Well, there is an al Qaeda affiliate, I think is the best way to put it. Certainly, they're under the overall banner of al Qaeda, an element formerly Ansar al Sunna, some of their members, another group affiliated with al Qaeda, that is located in Northwestern Iran, just east of the Iraqi border, east of the Iraqi-Kurdish province of Sulaymaniyah. They have come into Iraq. Our operators and Iraqi operators have conducted strikes against them. And we believe, in fact, that Iran may have actually taken some steps against them as well...

HH: Some have warned that a genocide of sorts, or absolute terms, would follow a precipitous withdrawal of coalition forces. Do you agree that that is a possibility, or a…and a significant one?

DP: Well, obviously, it depends on the conditions when we withdraw. I mean, eventually, we are going to withdraw. We cannot maintain the surge forever, as everyone knows. There's always been an intention that the surge would be a somewhat temporary endeavor. So it has to do with the conditions at that time. I mean, we saw the sectarian violence of late 2006 and early 2007, and obviously, that was very tragic, and really quite horrific in a number of Baghdad neighborhoods. It literally changed the face of Baghdad. It struck at the very fabric of Iraqi society in places like Baghdad, and in other mixed, sectarian areas. And again, unless the conditions are sustainable by the Iraqis, one would certainly expect that sectarian violence would resume at a very high level...

Many of our readers note the progress of Operation Phantom Thunder and are optimistic that Petraeus will recommend continued commitment to supporting the government and people of Iraq in their efforts at stabilizing the security situation there. It may therefore be worth pointing out that Petraeus isn't telegraphing such a recommendation. He seems to be stating pretty clearly that there are some real successes with 'the surge' and, at least on the military side, it's accomplishing what it ought to.

But that's not the same as recommending that the mission continue. Rather, such a determination is probably a necessary but not sufficient condition to recommend continued commitment. Petraeus says that when he reports in September, he will present a 'comprehensive and forthright assessment' of the progress that has been achieved, and where we've fallen short. He's said elsewhere that he will lay out potential options and consequences. Since political progress is necessary as well, this interview doesn't give us too much to go on with regard to any recommendations he may make.

On a minor point, it's worth noting that this interview does not seem consistent with what Armed Services Committee Member Jack Reed said Petraeus told him. Reed said that he was surprised when Petraeus volunteered that he would probably be able to make a recommendation on the surge in August, and that he was prepared for a 'change of direction.' To put it mildly, one of these two accounts has to be wrong.