April 8th, 2008
07:23 PM ET

The heat of battle shifts to Washington... for a day

Watching Ambassador Crocker’s and General Petraeus’s testimony today I heard nothing that would surprise Iraq’s leaders. Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh found the assessment fair although he sees more room for optimism now than has done for several years. Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki’s crackdown on the Mehdi militia of Shia cleric Moqtada al Sadr is a point in case for Saleh. He told me this evening by taking on his own Shia constituency the Prime Minister has taken a big step toward garnering more support from Sunnis and Kurds, increasing the possibility of political compromise and advancing the country on a unified nationalist agenda.

Under pressure, General Petraeus did criticize Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki’s planning and execution of his security crack down in the port city of Basra two weeks ago. But based on my conversations with the Prime Minister, it’ll be no surprise for him to hear it characterized that way. He told me was surprised “with the counter attack by the Mehdi Army” when he sent government forces into the city.  Equally I suspect the Prime Minister won’t have been surprised to hear General Petraeus'  plans to evaluate whether to draw troops down to pre-surge levels on the basis of Iraqi forces' readiness and political and economic conditions. When I talked to Maliki about U.S. troop drawdown he told me, “I don't believe the decision for a drawdown should be paused,” although he added the caveat, so long as Iraqi security forces continue to improve. Broadly speaking, that does put him in agreement with Petraeus and Crocker.

Even as we listen to the testimony in Washington, we are watching Baghdad, where violence has the potential to upstage these  debates. The person we are keeping an eye on most closely is al Sadr, who took a step back from direct confrontation with Maliki by postponing a million man march planned for Wednesday in Baghdad. At the same time, however, he threatened to end a ceasefire between his Mehdi Militia and U.S. and Iraqi government troops. Sadr seems to be playing a canny game. Faced with waning popular support he is casting himself as the savior of the Iraqi people and will likely try to leverage growing anger and frustration in his stronghold Sadr City where US and Iraqi troops fight bloody street battles with his militia. It may sound counterintuitive, but Sadr is blaming the government for the violence, claiming Iraqi troops are merely acting under American pressure, an argument that will increasingly resonate with his supporters as deprivation due to fighting grows.

Forty-eight people have been killed and 176 wounded in Sadr city in the past three days, according to Iraq’s Interior Ministry and many people have been fleeing the fighting. Food prices climbing and the government struggling in the face of militia attacks to deliver substantial humanitarian aid. Once the spotlight shifts back from Washington, Iraq’s Prime Minister will be in the hot seat again.

– Nic Robertson, Senior International Correspondent

Filed under: Iraq • Nic Robertson
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Penny

    Hi Anderson,
    Those are just the results and reflections of GW Bush. Failings of his mission and policies. He does not realize that those GENERALS think he is crazy because they are scared. IRAQ is a difficult place to be at ths time. Why don't McCain be the general, since he comes from a military family. He has been to VIETnAM. There are probably similarities to IRAQ. I dont see him stepping up to the that plate of going to IRAQ, instead he is trying to be a president. He needs a reality check. He is best needed in the military. Let's keep it "real". He is too OLD for both.

    April 9, 2008 at 2:32 pm |
  2. Pastol

    Please can we all just admit that there was and is no story here? Of course there were no surprises

    …I heard nothing that would surprise Iraq’s leaders.

    But based on my conversations with the Prime Minister, it’ll be no surprise for him to hear it characterized that way.

    I suspect the Prime Minister won’t have been surprised to hear…

    It goes on and on and on. As it has for years now. And the media continue to talk about it as if each time it is something new that we have never heard before. Let’s face it, the whole lot of it was nothing more than a continuation of a load of rhetoric coming from the mouths of men trying not to expose their own personal shame for the irresponsible actions of their county. How many more times will we be forced to listen to dreamers talk about impending peace and plans for peace in a land that will never know peace. Those who think that these conflicts can be quelled understand nothing of the Nation of Islam nor the culture of what we today call the middle east.

    The “testimony” given in Washington yesterday was meaningless. The political posturing of the candidates was unabashed self-serving drivel.

    April 9, 2008 at 7:03 am |
  3. Dave, Hawaii

    What is Dems think will happen after a pull out of U.S. troops? Do they think the Iraqi gov’t will suddenly be “more” motivated to establish an effective gov’t and the insurgence will suddenly find peace and harmony? Or is it more likely Iraq will sink into an abyss of terror led by Al Qaeda or establish a Hezbollah-like militant structure led by Iran? Regardless of your view of why we’re there, we are there now and we deal with it now or we deal with it later, but it must be dealt with. I serve in the military today so my son will not have to serve there after me. Mr. Obama, are you prepared to make a decision that may affect your children’s future? Would you let them serve if your decision to withdraw is wrong and we have to go back?

    April 9, 2008 at 4:59 am |
  4. Ken

    Seems like we still can't get a straight answer. We need to shift costs to Iraq, stopping helping their military, unless they really can't handle it, and start a withdrawal of our troops with a clear deadline. We need a real President like MR. OBAMA to get this done. Sorry, but even as a die hard republican, he is the only possible choice this time. Kenny South Korea/Kansas

    April 9, 2008 at 4:51 am |
  5. Nestor, Austin, TX

    It is good that progress is being made. You may not hear this from 'journalists', but Iraq is getting safer. I have friends there who tell me it's safer. It's certainly not perfect, but things are getting better. However, the politcal situation is tenuous at best. The Iraqis need to get their act together and soon, but it is in the best interest of the United States (and any country that loves freedom) that Iraq has a functioning democracy that is not under pressure from Iran, Al Sadr, or any terrorist organization. If we pull out before the job is done, 9/11 will look like a day at the park compared to what the terrorists will try to pull off.

    April 9, 2008 at 1:48 am |
  6. Sheri Lew

    Listening between the lines, I sense that Iraqis can't shed the centuries long tribal allegiances in favor of Iraq country wide interests.
    I don't believe democracy can live in this mindset, particularly since they have been tribal focused as was neccessary centuries ago for survival. This generational loyalty will be very difficult if not impossible to trade for the good of the whole country.
    A valiant goal but one which will take generations to infuse into society.

    April 9, 2008 at 1:35 am |
  7. Kay

    I have a coment regarding Michael Ware, although I respect his service and the risks he taken as a correspondent in Iraq, I am growing a bit weary with his lecturing on the U.S. "moral" responsibility to stay in Iraq indefinitely. He also reported tonight that he was "galled" by the political "grand standing" in the Senate committee hearings. Is Ware a U.S. citizen? Or is he just offering his opinion as an Australian about our political process and "responsibilities"?

    April 9, 2008 at 1:30 am |
  8. Penny

    Hello Anderson,
    Those guys are burned-out beaurecrats trying to run a war. GW Bush can't find any one better. They are just being paid big bucks to perpetrate and they do not know what they are doing. They are afraid also because they did not do their homework well. You can tell they do not understand the culture. Another thing is how can John Mc Cain run a war. As a POW, he was mostly on his back from being tortured or whatever. How can some one understand war in that regard. It seems he would only understand hostility. anger, and insanity more. He could have flashbacks. Just keep them "honest" and keep it "real"....

    April 8, 2008 at 11:10 pm |
  9. Celia, Jamaica

    It would be good if the members of the American media, including your network, could remember that the number of deaths in the Iraq war is NOT in the region of 4,000. That is just the Americans who have died. Believe it or not, there are some non-American human beings who died there whose lives mattered.... many thousands of them.

    April 8, 2008 at 11:06 pm |
  10. fcrooster

    Here we go again!

    After seven months—from September, 2007 to April, 2008—the joint pitch of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to Congress is that we stay put in Iraq. Again, success is around the corner. These Bush charges touched upon all the controversial bases in their assessments. What was fudged over, not acknowledged, or left out was even more revealing, as usual. All the Bush forces live in their own time warped bubble, seeing only what they want to. The “at whim,” bushed policies of intervention and occupation around the world must cease.

    To save treasure, face, and finally make the necessary investments here at home for our own people, the American charge for continued presence on bases around the world must be reduced. We must start the orderly process of bringing our troops home now. It is time for other nations to take responsibility for their own futures and to use their own resources to defend and protect themselves. Enough with the lies, obfuscating, double talk, buzz words, and platitudes! They do not serve us well in the 21st century.

    Time does not stand still, but our days are numbered. March’s surge in violence and deaths was conveniently left out by the opposition. While our civil servants conduct their war of words, our troops die needlessly. The voices of the people must be heard. This president must be held accountable for his high crimes and misdemeanors. America’s true patriotism must be restored.

    April 8, 2008 at 10:48 pm |
  11. Annie Kate

    I hope the Iraqi troops get the confidence they need to protect their own country so our troops can be withdrawn. We've been there far too long in a war that was questionable from the beginning.

    I would rather Anderson be on instead of a sub but if he is off I think Campbell Brown does a very good job as a substitute anchor. I hope she will be on more and I'm looking forward to when her own show debuts.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 8, 2008 at 10:40 pm |
  12. Michael Robert

    I'm sorry to have to tell you all that I decided to switch to BBC World and France 24 as long as Ms. Brown hosts the show. I'm not a masochist, dear CNN friends ...
    Who knows, I could become a swinger and just continue watching BBCW and F24 instead of CNN after being for decades a CNN loyalist. CNN, you got the choice and decision. Otherwise it will become our decision.

    All the Best to the Best and all the Worst to the Worst.

    Michael Robert / Frankfurt / Germany

    April 8, 2008 at 10:40 pm |
  13. Len

    I was disappointed that none of the Senators asked how much we're paying Sunni insurgents not to attack American troops. I heard that Petraeus was paying 80,000 former insurgents $300 a month. If true, that's a lot of protection money being paid by the US tax payers, sooner or later, although foreign govenrments like Communist China are financing this debacle for the time being.

    April 8, 2008 at 10:28 pm |
  14. veronica

    Obama was looking for more than American Presidential Idol points today and his questions were a masterstroke of strategy. Those shallowly focusing on Obama’s style of questioning fail to see one thing; He has bound the military and to some extent the administration with the answers they gave.

    1. We cannot define success as the elimination of Al Qaeda in Iraq
    2. We cannot define success as the elimination of Iranian influence in Iraq.

    Rather than grandstand on the outrage of the war, he has built his ammunition for a contrast with McCain in an election by going after the core of their BS argument and you will see it come to pass.

    You see, the political objectives for the war in Iraq, other than the overthrow of Saddam, have defeated. They cannot be achieved militarily. Generals fight wars and they do so to achieve political objectives set by responsible Commanders-in-Chief where diplomatic action has failed.

    If the decorated General Petraeus and the very experienced Ambassador Crocker sat there and basically said, the political objectives for which military commitment is being requested are not attainable, and are not reasonable definitions of success, the case for staying the course in the long-term is destroyed.

    If you choose to be impressed with the theater, you missed the strategic point of the questions. Senator Obama asked his questions very innocuously and they probably didn’t fully understand the ramifications of what their sworn answers on military strategy.

    Another thing the General and Ambassador went on the record as saying (by Joe Biden or John Kerry):

    3. Chasing Al Qaeda in Afghanistan/Pakistan is more important than chasing Al Qaeda in Iraq.

    …and people say Obama isn’t a smart guy….. wow. He’s brilliant!

    April 8, 2008 at 9:35 pm |
  15. Bob - WA

    No one admits that we are in Iraq for the oil and for the presence in the Mideast, including setting up bases from which to keep eyes on Russia and China. It is the same reason that we will be in Iran shortly. You have and will continue to hear every possible from Petraeus, Bush, McCain, Cheney, etc ... but the reality is no one will ever tell you the real reason. The US is imperialist. It is the only way the US form of capitalism can survive.

    April 8, 2008 at 9:33 pm |
  16. Indy in AZ

    I just have to start out by saying how much I've missed AC recently. The stand-in host, Campbell Brown is awful. With all due respect, I can't understand how CNN could be affiliated with someone like Ms. Brown (Senor) let alone allow her to host her own show! I've watched her, and feel as though if I close my eyes, I'm really listening to a program on FAUX news. There is nothing impartial about Ms. Brown-Senor's "journalistic integrity" and she really is right up there with Glenn Beck, and Tucker Carlson. Please CNN, send Campbell on her way!

    April 8, 2008 at 9:11 pm |
  17. Kathy, Chicago

    This report is the first one that makes me think that Nuri al Maliki is actuallu doing anything. al Sadr seems to play him like a puppet. I don't see how the Dem's think that they can pull troops out anytime soon. Hopefully the Iraqi army will get their act together and take control of the fighting. I love how they stopped for lunch the other day in the middle of battle.

    April 8, 2008 at 8:52 pm |
  18. Cindy

    I really wasn't surprised at all by much of what Petreaus and Crocker said. And I figured also that they would be really grilled by the Dems especially Hillary and Obama so that they could try and make some brownie points.

    Although I didn't think he'd be thinking about moving the troop levels back down to pre-surge levels so soon. I mean look at the mess that is going on there right now! I guess he's hoping beyond hope that the Iraqis can hold things together more. Let's hope he is right!

    Cynthia, Covington, Ga.

    April 8, 2008 at 8:01 pm |

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