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Center For American Progress: Petraeus's Song And Dance

SEPTEMBER 10, 2007
11:18 AM

CONTACT: Center For American Progress 
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Petraeus's Song And Dance
WASHINGTON - September 10 - 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.


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