General Calls Iraq Situation ‘Dire’

By JOHN HOLUSHA

New York Times

January 23, 2007

“The situation in Iraq is dire,” Lt. Gen. David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee today. But he said the planned increase in troop levels and new tactics should enable American and Iraqi forces to provide security in Baghdad.

Nominated by President Bush to take over command of United States forces in Iraq and needing Senate confirmation for promotion to the rank required for the post, General Petraeus faced questioning this morning that was friendly on the personal level but showed clear differences over policy toward Iraq.

General Petraeus warned the senators on the committee not to expect any quick turnaround in the situation in Baghdad, where simple survival, he said, is the main objective of most people. Because of the violence, the Iraqi government “has found it difficult to gain traction,” he said at the hearing.

The general said that the military’s new approach will be for American and Iraqi military units to remain in areas they have cleared, providing a “persistent presence” that will allow Iraqi civilian leaders to make the political deals and compromises necessary for long-term stability.

“None of this will be rapid,” he said, but “hard is not hopeless.”

Responding to a question from Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, General Petraeus said that an early withdrawal of American forces from Iraq would prompt an increase in sectarian violence and probably lead neighboring powers to interfere there.

But if the American and Iraqi forces working together can begin to suppress the violence, they would be welcomed by the people. “The population wants security, no matter who provides it,” he said.

General Petraeus said he was unsure how long the additional 21,500 troops being dispatched by President Bush would have to remain in Iraq, saying he will have to assess the situation once he takes command.

The general, who recently oversaw a rewriting of the Army’s manual on how to cope with insurgencies, is “well qualified for this command,” said Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan and the chairman of the committee.