Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live


Petraeus Set to Give Much-Anticipated Iraq Report

Hear Analysis from NPR's Guy Raz

After weeks of anticipation and frenetic speculation, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, will finally brief Congress on Monday on the results of the so-called troop "surge" ordered by President Bush in January. Not since Gen. William C. Westmoreland addressed a joint session of Congress in 1967, during the height of the Vietnam War, has so much attention been focused on a briefing by a military commander.

Much of Petraeus' testimony has been kept under wraps, but he's expected to call for continuing the "surge." However, he may also open the door for a gradual reduction of forces beginning in the spring because of military successes achieved so far by the troop escalation.

"Based on the progress our forces are achieving, I expect to be able to recommend that some of our forces will be redeployed without replacement," Petraeus said in an e-mail to the Boston Globe last week.


In a separate missive sent Friday to U.S troops, the general said he would appear before Congress "conscious of the strain on our forces, the sacrifices that you and your families are making, the gains we have made in Iraq, the challenges that remain, and the importance of building on what we and our Iraqi counterparts have fought so hard to achieve."

Baghdad Violence Down

The Petraeus report, as it is widely called, is expected to trigger a full-scale debate over Iraq and a possible showdown between the White House and Congress. President Bush plans a nationally televised address later this week to "lay out a vision" for the American people about the U.S. role.

Most experts agree that the troop buildup has produced modest security gains in Baghdad and some other parts of Iraq. U.S. combat deaths are down from last spring. Sectarian violence in Baghdad has also decreased substantially. The number of car bombings—the deadliest weapon employed by insurgents—is down by nearly half compared to the same time a year ago, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

"There's no doubt that there has been a significant decrease in the amount of violence in Baghdad," says Michael O'Hanlon, a Brookings Institution analyst who is also author of the Iraq Index, a tabulation of key statistics on the war in Iraq. "All the data shows that."


Parliament Paralyzed

Another bright spot is Anbar province, where Sunni sheikhs have formed a loose alliance with U.S. troops and worked to weaken al-Qaida in Iraq. But those security gains in Baghdad and Anbar have not necessarily translated to all of Iraq, where civilian deaths nationwide rose last month to their second-highest level this year — at least 1,809, according to an Associated Press count. Attacks in Nineveh Province in northern Iraq have increased somewhat as militants have shifted their operations there.

Meanwhile, political reconciliation—one of the goals of the "surge"—has proved elusive. The Iraqi parliament has failed to act on much of its legislative agenda, including a crucial bill on sharing the country's massive oil wealth.

In his letter to American troops, Petraeus acknowledged that "progress has not, to be sure, been uniform across Baghdad or across Iraq." He also conceded that the troop buildup has "not worked out as we had hoped" because of the lack of political reconciliation in Iraq.

Many Realities

Petraeus will be adding his voice to a slew of Iraq reports that have come out in recent weeks. The reports have sometimes contradicted each other, and even themselves. They've depicted a mixed picture in Iraq, with progress in some areas and setbacks in others.

One reason for the confusion is that obtaining reliable statistics in Iraq is not easy. Some areas are inaccessible, and the U.S. often has to rely on Iraqi officials for data — and they may have their own interests to protect.

"There is not one reality in Iraq," says Jon Alterman, an analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "There are millions of realities, depending on who you are, where you and when you are."

More important than taking a snapshot of the security and political situation in Iraq, he says, is determining the trend: Are things getting better or worse?

On that score, "There is general agreement that some aspects of security are improving, but disagreement over how much they are improving and how sustainable it is," Alterman says. What is clear though, he adds, is that "the political reconciliation we had hoped to see has not taken place and is not imminent."

William Martel, a professor of political science at Tufts University, sees another common thread in all of the reports. "I think there is agreement that pulling out of Iraq in a hasty fashion will produce chaos," he says. As for the contradictory aspects of the reports, Martel says that's to be expected in a war as murky as the one in Iraq.

"I don't think people are trying to deceive, but they look for facts that will reinforce their beliefs about what is happening in Iraq," he says.

Alterman agrees. "Iraq is not an easy place to understand. If you're not a little confused, then you're not paying attention."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit