David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

In 2004, Gen. Petraeus penned a Washington Post op-ed with a glowing account of the progress made in the training of Iraqi security forces, a program over which he was then in charge. In today's hearing, Petraeus was questioned about that op-ed and what, as events have borne out, were his overly optimistic assessments.

Several readers pointed out that the format of the chart of Iraqi civilian casualties produced by General Petraeus in the House committee hearing today didn't match up with the civilian casualty charts we had produced at TPMmuckraker. So we've combined the numbers into a single chart for comparison purposes (click to enlarge):

A couple of points of clarification. The Iraq Body Count provides a maximum and minimum range of casualties per month. We have included only the IBC minimum number in this chart (you can see both IBC numbers charted here). Also, as you can see from the chart, the most recent month for which IBC numbers are available is June 2007.

Let me emphasize again that this chart is not comparing apples to apples. The AP and IBC used different methodologies, and Petraeus has not revealed his command's methodology, which tellingly remains classified. So comparisons among the numbers have limited utility.

Late Update: One other point that should be emphasized is that the IBC's final numbers lag because of a reporting lag. The IBC expects its numbers, especially from more recent months, to rise as additional casualty reports are received.

Later Update: We've created a larger version of the chart above for your viewing pleasure.

It caught our ears when Gen. Petraeus testified that the U.S. military never gives weapons to Sunni tribal groups in Iraq. But that may be literally true, as the military actually gives the tribes money with which they are free to buy weapons.

In his testimony today, Gen Petraeus was asked about a Washington Post story over the weekend that reported on a "schism" between Petraeus and his immediate superior, CENTCOM commander Adm. William Fallon. The Post quoted a senior civilian official as saying about the relationship between Petraeus and Fallon, "Bad relations? That's the understatement of the century. . . . If you think Armageddon was a riot, that's one way of looking at it."

In response to questioning today, Petraeus denied that there was any disagreement among top military officials about his recommendation on how to proceed in Iraq, saying he had the support of both Fallon and Joint Chiefs. Take a look at the exchange.

Given the usual difficulties of sorting through internal Pentagon politics, we may have to stash this one away for the historians to unpack later. But something tells me there is more here than what Petraeus is letting on.

Sen. Larry Craig was so harried by potential press coverage of rumors that he was gay that, in a "state of intense anxiety," he caved in and pleaded guilty to charges of which he believed himself to be innocent.

Got that?

He was so fearful of being wrongly outed as a gay man that he wrongly pleaded guilty to charges arising from seeking gay sex in a public restroom.

We have the latest documents filed in the case, as Craig attempts to withdraw his guilty plea.

For ease of comparison, here are all three of the charts on Iraqi civilian deaths that we've been writing about today. The first chart was presented by Gen. Petraeus in his opening statement this afternoon to the House Armed Services Committee. The other two charts we created at TPMmuckraker, based on numbers compiled by the AP and Iraq Body Count, respectively.

Petraeus' numbers:

The AP's numbers:

The IBC's numbers:

We are still waiting to hear about the methodology employed by Petraeus in arriving at his numbers on civilian casualties, a methodology that he says was signed off on by two unidentified U.S. intelligence agencies. Earlier today, Spencer Ackerman provided an in-depth explanation of the AP and IBC numbers.

We have the full text of Gen. Petraeus' prepared testimony posted.

Late Update: Ambassador Crocker's full statement is here.

Spencer Ackerman has ongoing coverage of the Petraeus/Crocker hearings at TPMmuckraker.

Late Update: Petraeus offers his own stats on civilian deaths in Iraq--but has not yet divulged his methodology.

Later Update: So much for the spring of 2008. Looks like the surge will last into the summer of 2008.

Maybe there is a limit as to how far the White House will--or can--go to spin the situation on the ground in Iraq as positive.

On his way to the APEC conference in Australia this week, President Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq. Actually, the visit was limited to the confines of a U.S. base there. Iraq is too dangerous for the President to visit anywhere where Iraqis actually live. The very fact that the visit has to be a "surprise" for security reasons evidences the violence and instability within the country. But that wasn't going to stop a gung-ho White House speechwriter from touting the President's visit itself as proof that things are getting better in Iraq.

Here is a portion of the speech President Bush was to give today at the APEC conference. This is from the "as prepared for delivery" version of the speech which is released in advance to media organizations that cover the White House (emphasis mine):

On my way to this week’s summit, I stopped in Iraq’s Anbar Province. Last year, Anbar was an al Qaida stronghold and one of the most dangerous places in Iraq. Al Qaida terrorized the province, using torture and murder to keep the local population in line. Then, Sunnis who had fought with al Qaida against Coalition troops turned on the terrorists, and began fighting with Coalition troops against al Qaida. Together, Americans and Iraqis drove al Qaida from strongholds in the region. And today, because of their sacrifice, Anbar is one of the safest places in Iraq – so safe that the President of the United States can drop in to thank the troops for their courage in the fight to protect us all.

Someone must have spotted the sheer inanity of that line and rewrote it because in the speech the President actually delivered that section is gone, replaced with a more benign account of the President's visit:

You may have heard, on my way down here I stopped in Iraq--stopped in Anbar Province. Anbar was an al Qaeda stronghold. Their leaders of al Qaeda had announced that they were going to establish a safe haven from which to launch further attacks on my nation--for starters. It was a part of Iraq that was dangerous and, the truth of the matter is, the a lot of the experts in my country had said was lost to al Qaeda.

I went there because al Qaeda has lost Anbar. The opposite happened. Anbar is a Sunni province that once had people joining al Qaeda -- they're now turning against al Qaeda. . . . And I was proud to go there.

Citing the President's brief stop in a heavily guarded U.S. encampment as proof of peace and stability in the country at large was too over the top, even for the White House.