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Here's a surprise: Gen. Petraeus told Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS) that his command and the Maliki government have a standing committee to work out timetables for transferring control of Iraqi provinces to the Iraqis. Those timetables are apparently classified, but Petraeus said he'd get them to the House Armed Services Committee.

It would be interesting to know how the timetable for turning over Iraqi provinces corresponds to Gen. Petraeus' cautious recommendations on troop withdrawals. He said that the timetables can slip, owing to circumstances -- Diyala will take longer, owing to the infusion of insurgents to Baquba since the surge; Anbar will be turned over in January 2008 -- which is fair enough.

But does Petraeus envision a departure of forces from a province back to the U.S., or a reassignment of forces to a different one? Or will U.S. forces simply remain in some provinces in support roles? After all, at some point, all 18 provinces will be turned over. What will happen to U.S. forces then? Or will certain provinces -- say, Baghdad, which is its own province -- not be turned over in any foreseeable time frame?

Also, if Petraeus can say openly that Anbar can be handed over in January 2008, why should the rest of the timetables be classified?

As if he read this post, Gen. Petraeus offered his definition of sectarian violence for his tabulations: "acts taken by individual by one ethno-sectarian grouping against another." He added that "it's not that complicated": if "al-Qaeda bombs a Shiite area," it's sectarian violence. Fair enough, but it raises the question: how do you know when a bombing in a certain area is perpetrated by al-Qaeda? Andrew Tilghman documents in the Washington Monthly how MNF-I over-attributes violence in Iraq to al-Qaeda.

One thing that Petraeus specifically denied: a senior intelligence official's claim to the Washington Post that MNF-I tabulates sectarian killings by whether a bullet enters the head through the back or the front.

While Gen. Petraeus repeatedly cited the Sunni tribal turn against al-Qaeda as the most significant development in Iraq over the last year, he balks at the suggestion that his command is providing them with guns. "We have never given weapons to tribals," he said. "What we have done is applaud when they ask if they can point their guns at al-Qaeda."

But that's a precious distinction. As the New York Times reported yesterday:

Under the project, financed by the American military, the local tribes are paid $10 a day per man to provide security in their areas.

Despite protestations from United States commanders that they are not arming those “volunteers,” local American officers confirm that the sheiks can spend the contract money as they wish, diverting money from wages to buy weapons, radios or vehicles if they choose.

Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.) wasn't buying Amb. Crocker's portrait of sotto voce reconciliation efforts. Crocker, however, decided to double down, saying that the "Sunnis are now linking to the federal government by being part of the police force."

Unfortunately, the Shiite government believes, and not without reason, that the Sunni infusion into the local police and Iraqi Army will ultimately lead to a coup. Witness one Sunni recently telling The New York Times that "If we get into the Iraqi police we can move to Mahmudiya and Yusufiya and south Baghdad to free them and kill all the militias.”

To Crocker, those provincial moves against al-Qaeda "could be the seeds of reconciliation."

At several points during his testimony, Crocker has stated that "fundamental questions" over what sort of country Iraq will be is hindering reconciliation, while simultaneously hinting that such reconciliation is already occurring in miniature. Both statements can't be true at once.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) asked Gen. Petraeus why his withdrawal plan is so circumscribed when other military officials -- including the Central Command chief, Admiral William Fallon -- believe a more rapid draw-down is possible and responsible, as The Washington Post reported this weekend. "A senior civilian official" told the Post that calling relations between Fallon and Petraeus "bad" would be "the understatement of the century."

During the hearing, however, Petraeus called his plan his "best professional military judgment," and stated that both Admiral Fallon "fully supports" his recommendations, "as do the Joint Chiefs of Staff."

A few minutes later, Petraeus stated that he believes Fallon is the victim of mistaken press accounts. Supposedly there was a Central Command assessment taking a much longer view of the Iraq situation, and not in conflict with Petraeus' own. Fallon, he said, agrees with Petraeus' view.

And you thought the surge hadn't yielded tangible political gains. According to Amb. Crocker, the surge has "changed the dynamic" politically "for the better," as it has given Iraqis the "time and space to reflect on the kind of country they want." Significantly, Crocker is not conceding that reconciliation is failing, but attempting to change the terms of the debate.

As expected, Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified that the benchmarks aren't the only, or even the most important, indicators of political progress. "The seeds of reconciliation are being planted," said Crocker, referring to Iraqis in government discussing federalism and oil-wealth revenue sharing.

That's mightily convenient, given that Iraq isn't meeting the benchmarks, according to the GAO.

Update: You can read Crocker's opening remarks here.

So much for the surge ending in the spring of 2008. Petraeus said that in order to preserve the gains made in security, he's recommended drawing down one brigade combat team -- about 5,000 troops -- by December, with the remaining 25,000 or so troops of the surge out by July 2008. Any further draw-downs will have to wait for his further assessment -- coming in March 2008. So March 2008 is the new September 2007.

Update: This was demonstrated in one of the briefing slides:

General Petraeus brought out his data today, saying that two U.S. intelligence agencies back his methodology. He did not explain -- yet -- what that methodology is, but said that it has remained consistent over at least a year, which would predate Petraeus' arrival in Iraq.

Petraeus' information appears to measure attacks week by week. He didn't give comparisons to overall attacks in 2006, but opted instead to measure from discrete points in 2006: December for measures of overall violence; June 2006 for IED violence; October 2006 for attacks in Anbar province.

We'll have Petraeus' slides for you to see shortly.

Update: You can see the slides here.

Update: You can read Petraeus' opening remarks here.

The parents of former Alaska Rep. Vic Kohring, indicted for allegedly selling his vote on an oil pipeline proposal to Veco executives, have asked at least seven lobbyists for contributions to their son's legal defense fund, KTUU reports, appearances be damned:

"I think if Rep. Kohring really wants to try and say he honestly wasn't influenced illegally by this money, then I would find a different way to raise money than to ask lobbyists for it," [House Speaker John Harris] said.