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It's Time to Challenge General Petraeus

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Dear Members of the House Armed Services Committee,

As a former member of your Committee, I urge you to pursue some of the troubling questions that were left unanswered by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker during today's hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The most serious is whether the surge of U.S. forces is making things worse, not better in Iraq both militarily and politically. In addition, can we afford to continue to fund sectarian combatants who have not shown the slightest inclination to compromise and reconcile?

It is crucial that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker be challenged on these crucial points and that you use the opportunity of your hearing to separate myth from reality in Iraq.

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker continue to portray the Maliki government as combating lawlessness in an effort to unite Iraq under the rule of law. I urge you to make clear that this is a dangerous departure from reality. In fact, Iraq is more bitterly divided now than before the surge began. This is because Mr. Maliki functions as a sectarian combatant seeking to use the leverage of his power -- and US military backing -- to weaken and defeat his sectarian rivals. This was on graphic display in the recent failed attempt of Prime Minister Maliki to defeat his Shiite competitors in Basra after dragging U.S. forces into the conflict.

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have cited as evidence of success the reduction in violence that has resulted from enlisting Sunni combatants who once killed American troops to fight Al Qaeda. It is important to point out the obvious fact that there is great danger in paying people not to shoot at us. We are funding former Sunni enemy combatants who are now demanding more money, distributed more quickly, or they will defect and go back to shooting Americans. Do they not see a danger in buying the allegiance of those who once attacked and killed our troops, particularly when they remain bitter enemies of their sectarian rivals?

It is crucial that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker be confronted with the question: Can we afford to continue to fuel the fire of sectarian division by funding sectarian enemies who have shown no signs of seeking, let alone finding, common ground and reconciliation?

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker repeatedly pointed in their testimony today to the reduction in violence and casualties since the surge began. This reduction can be seen only in comparison to the extreme level of violence in 2005 and ignores the most recent developments on the ground in Iraq. According to U.S. military statistics, suicide bombings and Iraq casualties have spiked in the last few months. Iraqi deaths rose from 568 in December to more than 1,082 in March. U.S. troop deaths escalated from 23 in December to 38 in March, eclipsing the tragic milestone of 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. Do General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker consider this progress?

General Petraeus is recommending that we continue to keep buying time in Iraq. He called for the maintenance of troop levels greater than when the surge began during what he described as a 45 day "evaluation" period followed by the "commencement" of an indefinite "period of assessment". In short, let's keep kicking the can down the road. This needs to be challenged. Why? And to what end? Curiously, this time period coincides exactly with U.S. elections. If experts are correct that the current course is making things worse, not better in Iraq, then the time we are buying could actually be fueling the violence and bloodshed that will follow the election of the next U.S. president and Congress. Can we afford to take this horrible risk, particularly given the enormous price being paid by the deterioration of US military readiness?

Today's hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee failed to fully expose or explore the serious and dangerous consequences of maintaining our current course in Iraq. I urge you to pursue these consequences through tough but fair questions of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. There is too much at stake to do anything less.

Sincerely,
Tom Andrews, former Congressman and House Armed Services Committee member