Petraeus vs. the Pentagon?

When it comes to security in southern Iraq, the assessments don't add up.

By Tim Grieve
Published September 18, 2007 4:54PM (UTC)
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When Gen. David Petraeus was asked last week to explain why his report from Iraq was so much rosier than that of the Government Accountability Office, he said that he had more recent data than the GAO did. Petraeus claimed that the GAO's "data cutoff" came at the end of July while his report to Congress included data running all the way through the end of August.

So how do we explain this? The Pentagon released its quarterly report on Iraq Monday, and it paints a significantly gloomier picture than the one Petraeus offered just last week, particularly with respect to the security situation in southern Iraq, where the Pentagon says "the security environment" took "a notable turn for the worse in August."

Among the seeming contradictions:

Petraeus on Basra: Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "the level of violence" in Basra "has come down fairly significantly." He told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that it has "just flat plummeted."

The Pentagon on Basra: "With the expected continued reduction of British forces, insurgent groups are increasingly focusing on Basra and are posturing themselves to control the city, where violence has increased due to the presence of multiple Shi'a militias -- most notably JAM and its splinter groups, the Badr Organization and the Fadilah Organization -- and criminal groups."

Petraeus on Muthanna and Dhi Qar: "Muthanna province, even though the governor was assassinated, we're pretty certain by militia extremists, continues to stay fine. They will have a new governor. They'll work out OK ... In Dhi Qar province, the capital of Nasiriyah, we have a single U.S. special forces team, there's an Australian battalion focused primarily on civil military operations. And, again, that province [is] doing really quite well."

The Pentagon on Muthanna and Dhi Qar: "There may be retaliation [for the assassination of the governors of Qadisiyah and Muthanna] and an increase in intra-Shi'a violence throughout the south, whereas before, this violence was mostly limited to Basra. Violence in Qadisiyah, Dhi Qar and Muthanna in recent months has highlighted JAM's ability to attack Iraqi forces and cause instability in the south."

To be fair, Petraeus and the Pentagon both say that security trends in Iraq are generally positive. "Overall," the Pentagon reports, "there continues to be a downward trend in total attack incidents, with eight of the past 11 weeks since June 15, 2007 showing decreases down to August 2006 levels." On the other hand, Petraeus and the Pentagon also concede -- tacitly, of course -- that the purpose of the "surge" is not being met. As the Pentagon explains, "The counterinsurgency operations associated with Operation Phantom Thunder have started to create the security conditions that will allow the Government of Iraq to implement reforms and pursue reconciliation initiatives. However, little political progress and reconciliation at the national level (as expressed in major legislative advances) occurred during this quarter."

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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