Senate Democrats

President Bush on Iraq: More Empty Rhetoric

For the second time in two weeks, President Bush sought to rally support for his failing Iraq policy with pure rhetoric. Last week, the President reversed himself and compared Iraq to Vietnam. Today, President Bush once again claimed that Iraq presents a “direct threat to American peace and security,” despite the judgment of the U.S. intelligence community that Al-Qaeda is the main threat to the U.S. He also painted a rosy picture of progress in Iraq, but the facts on the ground remain the same: high levels of violence, little progress towards national reconciliation and Iraqi security forces years away from conducting operations on their own. President Bush should heed the advice of General Pace and Senator Warner and work with Democrats to change course in Iraq.

Principal threat to U.S. is from Al-Qaeda, which is getting stronger:

NIE: Al-Qaeda Is Main Threat to U.S., Has Regenerated Key Elements of its Homeland Attack Capability. “Al-Qa’ida is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland, as its central leadership continues to plan high-impact plots, while pushing others in extremist Sunni communities to mimic its efforts and to supplement its capabilities. We assess the group has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability, including: a safehaven in the Pakistan Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), operational lieutenants, and its top leadership… As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.” [National Intelligence Estimate, 7/17/07]

Al-Qaeda Gaining Strength, Has Sanctuary on Afghanistan-Pakistan Border.  “Six years after the Bush administration declared war on al-Qaeda, the terrorist network is gaining strength and has established a safe haven in remote tribal areas of western Pakistan for training and planning attacks, according to a new Bush administration intelligence report to be discussed today at a White House meeting.” [Washington Post, 7/11/07]

Despite Bush’s rhetoric, sectarian violence is responsible for most violence in Iraq:

Intelligence and Military Say Sectarian Violence Makes up Vast Majority of Violence, is Responsible for Insecurity.  “U.S. intelligence agencies and military commanders say the Sunni-Shiite conflict is the greatest source of violence and insecurity in Iraq.  ‘Extremists — most notably the Sunni jihadist group al Qaida in Iraq and Shia oppositionist Jaysh al-Mahdi — continue to act as very effective accelerators for what has become a self-sustaining struggle between Shia and Sunnis,’ the National Intelligence Council wrote in the unclassified key judgments of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq published in January.” [McClatchy, 6/28/07]

Pentagon Says Bulk of Violence is Sectarian. “It [DOD Quarterly Report] attributes the bulk of the violence to ‘sectarian friction’ that reaches deep into Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government and security forces.” [Washington Post, 6/14/07]

U.S. Forces Found Few Foreign Fighters in Iraq – Most Members of Al-Qaeda in Iraq Are Iraqis. “As President Bush continues to stress al Qaeda as the chief threat to Iraq’s stability–a reprised effort to establish a link between al Qaeda in Iraq and the 9/11 attackers–U.S. military forces on the ground in Iraq are fighting a complex war in regions with vast networks of overlapping loyalties–and few foreign fighters. Most members of al Qaeda in Iraq, say commanders on the ground, are local Iraqi outcasts. ‘I can count them [foreign fighters] as a total I have engaged, dead or alive, in the 10 months I’ve been here on one hand,’ says Col. David Sutherland, the U.S. commander of coalition forces in the hotly contested area of Diyala province, an insurgent stronghold region some 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. There, Sutherland says, those involved in al Qaeda are largely dispossessed locals, not jihadists who have come from elsewhere.” [U.S. News and World Report, 7/25/07]

Saudis, Not Iranians, Make Up Half of Foreign Fighters in Iraq. “Iraqi lawmakers and a senior U.S. military officer in Baghdad said last month that Saudis make up nearly half of the foreign fighters in Iraq and are thought to have carried out more suicide bombings than any other nationality.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/1/07]

Child Fighters Are Increasing Because Foreign Fighters Have Decreased. “Boys, some as young as 11, now outnumber foreign fighters at U.S. detention camps in Iraq. Since March, their numbers have risen to 800 from 100, said Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, the commander of detainee operations. The Times reported last month that only 130 non-Iraqi fighters were in U.S. custody in Iraq. Stone attributes the rise in child fighters in the country, in part, to the pressure that the U.S. buildup of troops has placed on the flow of foreign fighters. Fewer of them are making it into the country, he said, and the militant group Al Qaeda in Iraq is having a difficult time recruiting adults locally. Thus, it has turned to children.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/27/07]

Iraq government has not made progress toward political reconciliation:

NIE: Iraqi Political Situation Will Become More Precarious Over the Next 12 Months. “The IC assesses that the Iraqi Government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months because of criticism by other members of the major Shia coalition (the Unified Iraqi Alliance, UIA), Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and other Sunni and Kurdish parties. Divisions between Maliki and the Sadrists have increased, and Shia factions have explored alternative coalitions aimed at constraining Maliki.” [National Intelligence Estimate, Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: Some Security Progress but Political Reconciliation Elusive, 8/07]

GAO Report Will Paint a Bleak Picture of Iraqi Political Reconciliation. “A completed 70-page report by the Government Accountability Office, to be delivered to Congress next Tuesday, paints a bleak picture of prospects for Iraqi political reconciliation, according to administration officials who have seen it.” [Washington Post, 8/28/07]

  • Iraqi Unity Government Has No Sunni Members and 17 Ministers Have Either Quit or Suspended Membership This Year. According to reports, the five Cabinet ministers loyal to Iraq’s first post-Saddam leader, Ayad Allawi, began boycotting government meetings, further deepening the political crisis that threatens the administration of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The boycotting ministers, members of the Iraqiya List, left the government, at least temporarily, with no Sunni participants. The boycott raises to 17 the number of government ministers who have either suspended membership or quit this year. Prime Minister Maliki decided to hold a meeting this week as an effort to bring the Sunni officials back to their respective roles. Sunni officials however claimed they could not trust Mr. Maliki’s government to implement any promises made at the meeting because past promises to deliver government services in Sunni areas of Baghdad still remain largely unfulfilled. In addition, in a written statement addressed to the Arab world, Adnan al-Dulaimi, the Sunni coalition leader, claimed that Shiite death squads and Iranian agents were conducting “genocide” against Sunnis with the tacit approval of government institutions. [Associated Press, 8/6/07; New York Times, 8/13/07]

Ambassador Crocker: Progress on National Reconciliation “Has Been Extremely Disappointing.” “[P]rogress on national level issues has been extremely disappointing …there’s not really a strong sense anywhere, really, of the central government being present and active in making conditions in Iraq better.  They’ve got to do more of that.” [Multi-National Force Press Briefing, 8/21/07]

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Has Lost Faith in the Maliki Government. “In an interview on Sunday on CNN’s ‘Late Edition,’ Mr. Allawi said his alliance had ‘lost our faith in the capability of the current government of salvaging the country and moving forward.’ ‘I don’t see that we are getting closer to reconciliation,’ he said. ‘I don’t see that we are getting closer to getting rid of the militias. I am not seeing that we are getting closer to having assertive policies, foreign policies, which would not allow Iran to intervene in Iraqi affairs.’” [New York Times, 8/27/07]

High levels of violence continue in Iraq:

More People Died in Iraq in First 8 Months of 2007 than Comparable Time Frame in 2006. “Nearly 1,000 more people have been killed in violence across Iraq in the first eight months of this year than in all of 2006. So far this year, about 14,800 people have died in war-related attacks and sectarian murders. AP reporting accounted for 13,811 deaths in 2006. The UN and other sources placed the 2006 toll far higher.” [Associated Press, 8/27/07]

Sectarian Attacks in Iraq Are Double the Pace of a Year Ago. “This year’s U.S. troop buildup has succeeded in bringing violence in the capital down from peak levels, but the death toll from sectarian attacks around the country is running nearly double the pace of a year ago… Iraq is suffering about double the war-related deaths countrywide compared with last year – an average daily toll of 62 so far this year, as against 33 in 2006.” [Associated Press, 8/27/07]

NIE: Overall Violence Remains High, Iraqi Political Leaders Remain Unable to Govern Effectively. “However, the level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high; Iraq’s sectarian groups remain unreconciled; AQI retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks; and to date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively.” [National Intelligence Estimate, Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: Some Security Progress but Political Reconciliation Elusive, 8/07]

  • General Petraeus Succeeded in Soften Security Judgements of the NIE. “The NIE, requested by the White House Iraq coordinator, Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute, in preparation for the testimony, met with resistance from U.S. military officials in Baghdad, according to a senior U.S. military intelligence officer there. Presented with a draft of the conclusions, Petraeus succeeded in having the security judgments softened to reflect improvements in recent months, the official said.” [Washington Post, 8/28/07]

This Has Been the Deadliest Summer for American Troops.  According to research published by the Brookings Institution, June, July and August of 2007 has been the deadliest summer for American troops with 229 killed so far. In June through August of 2006, 169 Americans were killed. During that same time period in 2005, 2004 and 2003, 217, 162 and 113 American soldiers were killed. [Brookings Institution: Iraq Index]

  • Insurgents Have Used U.S. Reconstruction Funds to Fight U.S. Troops. “Iraq’s deadly insurgent groups have financed their war against U.S. troops in part with hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. rebuilding funds that they’ve extorted from Iraqi contractors in Anbar province.” [McClatchy, 8/27/07]

Deadliest Attacks of the War Have Occurred Despite the Military Surge. “One week after a series of bombs hit two poor villages near the Syrian border, the known casualty toll has soared to more than 500 dead and 1,500 wounded, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, making them by far the worst coordinated attacks since the American-led invasion…  With these figures, the bombing would be the deadliest coordinated assault since the American-led invasion by a factor of nearly three.  In July about 155 people died in a massive explosion in the northern town of Amerli…and about 152 died in Tal Afar last month from a double truck bombing.” [New York Times, 8/22/07]

Sectarian Violence Is Fueling Iraq’s Escalating Displacement Crisis. “Sixty-three percent of the Iraqis surveyed by the United Nations said they had fled their neighborhoods because of direct threats to their lives, and more than 25 percent because they had been forcibly removed from their homes.”  Dana Graber Ladek, Iraq displacement specialist at the International Organization for Migration reported that “Sectarian violence is the biggest driving factor – militias coming into a neighborhood and kicking all the Sunnis out, or insurgents driving all the Shias away.” [New York Times, 8/24/07]

  • The Number of Iraqis Fleeing their Homes Has More than Doubled Since the Surge Began. “Statistics collected by one of the two humanitarian groups, the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization, indicate that the total number of internally displaced Iraqis has more than doubled, to 1.1 million from 499,000 since the buildup started in February.  Those figures are broadly consistent with data compiled independently by an office in the United Nations that specializes in tracking wide-scale dislocations.  That office, the International Organization for Migration, found that in recent months the rate of displacement in Baghdad, where the buildup has focused, had increased by as much as a factor of 20.” [New York Times, 8/24/07]

Iraqi security forces cannot operate on their own:

Report by Military Experts Found Iraqi Security Forces Are Years Away from Being Able to Take Over for U.S. Combat Forces. “The second report, by an independent commission of military experts, is being drafted. But a scorecard on the Iraqi security forces released yesterday by an adviser to the group concluded that the Iraqis are years away from taking over significant responsibility from U.S. combat forces.” [Washington Post, 8/28/07]

NIE: Iraqi Security Forces Cannot Conduct Independent Operations on a Sustained Basis. “Iraqi Security Forces involved in combined operations with Coalition forces have

performed adequately, and some units have demonstrated increasing professional  competence. However, we judge that the ISF have not improved enough to conduct

major operations independent of the Coalition on a sustained basis in multiple locations

and that the ISF remain reliant on the Coalition for important aspects of logistics and

combat support.” [National Intelligence Estimate, Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: Some Security Progress but Political Reconciliation Elusive, 8/07]

Former supporters of Bush’s Iraq policy are calling for redeployment:

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Is Expected to Call for Large Reduction of U.S. Troops in Iraq. “The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half, potentially creating a rift with top White House officials and other military commanders over the course of the war. Administration and military officials say Marine Gen. Peter Pace is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/24/07]

Senator John Warner Called on President Bush to Withdraw Some Troops from Iraq. “Sen. John W. Warner, one of the most influential Republican voices in Congress on national security, called on President Bush yesterday to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq in time for Christmas as a new intelligence report concluded that political leaders in Baghdad are ‘unable to govern effectively.’… At his Capitol Hill news conference, Warner, a former Navy secretary and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, threw Bush’s own words back at him by noting that the president has said the U.S. commitment in Iraq must not be ‘open-ended.’ Warner said it is time for the president to come up with an ‘orderly and carefully planned withdrawal,’ suggesting that Bush ‘send a sharp and clear message’ to the Iraqis by announcing a pullout plan by Sept. 15 — one that would involve at least a symbolic fraction of the 160,000 troops coming home by the holidays.” [Washington Post, 8/24/07]