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Gen. Petraeus almost made it through today's marathon hearing without a question about his September 2004 op-ed in the Washington Post claiming that training for the Iraqi security forces -- which he then commanded -- was going well. Almost.
Not much of that op-ed looks prescient today. Among its claims:
By early spring, nine academies in Iraq and one in Jordan will be graduating a total of 5,000 police each month from the eight-week course, which stresses patrolling and investigative skills, substantive and procedural legal knowledge, and proper use of force and weaponry, as well as pride in the profession and adherence to the police code of conduct.
Nearly three years later, the Jones commission found that the police have practically no investigative or forensic skills to speak of, and that the Iraqi Army -- considered the more competent and trustworthy service -- is at least a year away from having the capacity to take over the country. While it's hard to say that any specific statistic in the op-ed is wrong, events didn't bear out Petraeus' portrait of an increasingly competent security force.
In response to a question from Rep Eliot Engel (D-NY), however, Petraeus defended the piece.
In Petraeus' telling, all was going well with the Iraqi security forces until the 2006 al-Askariya mosque bombing in Samarra and the sectarian slaughter that ensued. That's a quite a simplified version of events. What it omits is that sectarian murder occurred all throughout 2005 with the imprimatur of the elected Shiite government. Late that year, U.S. forces discovered, for instance, that death squads and torture chambers operated out of the Interior Ministry, which controls the police. Then as now, the forces Petraeus' then-command trained became combatants in the civil war. All of this occurred well before Samarra.
It wouldn't have been very difficult for Petraeus to simply concede that his essay on the increasing competence of the security forces hadn't been vindicated. That probably would have humanized Petraeus considerably -- we all get things wrong, after all. Instead, he plowed through as if a statement was true simply because he wished it to be. Isn't that exactly the opposite of why President Bush put the trusted general in charge?