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Progress in Iraq

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


PROGRESS IN IRAQ -- (Senate - April 09, 2008)

Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I want to take a few minutes to talk about the testimony given yesterday by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker regarding our progress and challenges in Iraq. I think it is important for the American people to understand and for our colleagues to understand that the surge of troops in Iraq that began in the early part of last year was a corrective measure, and that from the fall of Baghdad until January 2007, it was clear to me, Senator McCain, and others that our strategy during that period of time was not working; that we had too few troops; that the country got into a lawless state; that political progress and economic progress was virtually nonexistent. There was a paralysis when it came to the ability to govern in Baghdad: The economy was stalled; violence was spreading throughout the country to the point, in 2006, that the al-Qaida flag flew over parts of Anbar Province.

So there was a moment of reckoning. The President had a decision to make after the Republican losses in November of 2006. It was widely held that the reason Republicans lost in the midterm elections was because of Iraq policy. Secretary Rumsfeld resigned and the President had a choice. One of the choices would have been to adopt the strategy of withdrawing at a faster rate, the theory being to put pressure on the Iraqi military and government to perform better because they were not doing well because they were relying too much upon us. The other theory was that the security environment is so out of control and so tenuous that you will never have military, political, or economic progress until you get better control over security.

Well, the surge argument, advocated primarily by Senators MCCAIN, LIEBERMAN, and others, won the day with the President. So it was clear that we needed to change strategy at the end of 2006, and we did. There is an ongoing debate about whether that was the correct choice. To evaluate fairly the testimony of Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus, I think one has to look at what happened from January of 2007 up to today and planned out to July 2008.

During that period of time, there was a surge of American combat forces into Iraq of 30,000 additional combat troops. The security argument prevailed over the withdrawal argument. The troops were deployed in a significantly different way. Not only were there more of the troops, which was a requirement, General Petraeus came up with a new strategy. He got the troops out into the communities, at security stations, where American soldiers served with Iraqi soldiers and policemen within the community. That built a sense of confidence we had not seen before. At the end of 2006, something very startling happened in Anbar Province. Sheik Sattar, one of the young sheiks in the Anbar Sunni region, after part of his family was murdered by al-Qaida, came to an American colonel and said: We have had it, we want to fight with you. We want these guys out of Anbar. We don't want to be dominated by al-Qaida in Iraq. The commander seized the moment and put a couple of tanks around the guy's house. From that action by the colonel and the addition of combat forces, Anbar Province is a completely different place.

If you ask me what is the most successful event of all within the surge period of time, I would argue it is the uprising in Anbar Province by Iraqi Sunni Arabs against the al-Qaida presence in Anbar. They have rejected the al-Qaida agenda and joined forces with the coalition forces, American forces, and we have literally delivered a punishing blow to al-Qaida in Anbar Province--to the point now that Ramadi and Fallujah are some of the safest places in all of Iraq.

So for the American public to grasp what is going on here, I think you have to understand this one fact. When Arab Muslim people say no to al-Qaida and we will fight bin Laden, his agents, and sympathizers, that is a good day for America. That is what the war is going to be about conventionally, in terms of how we win. If the people in the Mideast turn on al-Qaida and they say no and shoulder the burden of fighting and create a community in place of al-Qaida's agenda that is more tolerant, more open, that will allow the Shia and the Kurds to live in peace; that will not try to pass on the al-Qaida philosophy and agenda to everybody surrounding the region. So this is incredibly good news from the surge, with the increased combat capability and the overplaying of al-Qaida's hand in Anbar; they were incredibly vicious to the people.

I have been to Iraq 11 times, and the stories that come out of Anbar Province while al-Qaida dominated the region are heart-breaking and bone-chilling. Now we have, in April of 2008, a completely changed Anbar Province, where we have over 90,000 Iraqis, called the ``Sons of Iraq,'' patrolling their communities at night and during the day to make sure al-Qaida doesn't come back.

Iraq is a changed place in many ways. If you had to list the winners and losers of the surge, I argue that the biggest loser of all is the al-Qaida presence in Iraq. Any time al-Qaida is losing, we are winning. What has happened in that period of time? The economic progress in Iraq is real and is fundamentally different than it was before the surge. The reason I think we have had economic progress in Iraq is because, with better security, you can engage in commerce. It is hard to run an economy when you are afraid to go to work. It is hard to build a society when your children cannot go to school. The GDP growth in Iraq is about 7 percent, and inflation before the surge was at 66 percent. Now it is close to 12 percent, and dropping. The oil production is up by 50 percent. Electricity demand is up by 25 percent.

We have economic progress in Iraq that is showing signs of a vibrant country moving toward normalcy. We had a budget path in Baghdad by the Iraqi Parliament, where Sunni, Shia, and Kurds took the $48 billion of revenue that the central government has under their authority and shared it with each province and each and every group within Iraq. What does that mean? I think most political leaders in America would tell you that money is political power. In our minority status as Republicans, the Democratic majority gives us an allocation to run our staffs and participate in committee activity. We share the resources of running the Senate. We sit down and say the Republicans get this and the Democrats get that. That is a recognition that we may disagree with, but we all have a vibrant role and we need the resources. The fact that the Shia, Sunni, and Kurds were able to come together and allocate resources owned by the country as a whole to each and every group is a major step forward. It would not have happened a year and a half ago. It is a buy-in by every group that Iraq is a separate country with a common identity. When you can get all three groups giving the resources of the country to each other, that is a buy-in to win Iraq.

There is more than that. An amnesty law was passed about 90 days ago. That means there are thousands of people in jail in Iraq--mostly Sunnis--who were captured in part of the surge and some before--that were taking up arms against the central government. These Sunnis in jail didn't want to participate in democracy. They ran the show under Saddam Hussein. Even though they were a minority in Iraq when Saddam was in power, they ran the show. They had an uprising, using violence to get their way, to topple the government. They landed in jail. One thing history will tell you and teach you, if you follow it closely, is that there will never be a reconciliation of a country that is divided ethnically or politically until there is a level of forgiveness. Reconciliation is a word, and it means nothing without action. The amnesty law was passed by the Shia, Kurds, and Sunnis, and it gave the people in jail who were captured as part of the Sunni insurgency a chance to be released and to start over again. There have been 24,000 applications to be released from jail under the amnesty law and 17,000, I have been told, have been granted.

That is a statement by the Shia and the Kurds who were on the receiving end of the violence to the people in jail, saying: Go back home. Let's start over as a new country. That, to me, is an act of forgiveness that is a precondition to reconciliation, and it would not have happened if there had not been a surge in the reduction of sectarian violence.

I see my good friend from Arizona.

Mr. KYL. I wonder if I might interrupt the Senator to ask a couple of questions.

Mr. GRAHAM. Please.

Mr. KYL. I think the Senator from South Carolina makes an exceedingly important point here, and that is that our theory, which was that the Muslim world itself had to reject this virulent, militant Islamist approach, which is manifested in the terrorism of al-Qaida; that until the Muslim world itself turned on those militants, those terrorists, it would be difficult for the West itself to actually defeat terrorism. It could pose a defensive posture, but it would not be defeated. What the Senator from South Carolina has said is what we are now seeing, as a result of the American support for the Iraqi people: A, a unification of the Iraqi people and, B, importantly, a rejection of this militant Islamist terrorism to the point that they are now joining in the fight and have something invested in that in terms of their country.

The question I want to ask has to do with how all of this relates to American security. Yesterday, Senator Warner asked both General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker whether, as a result of the success of the surge--and a key point that the Senator from South Carolina made, that now the Iraqi Muslim population was itself fighting to excise this cancer from the region--whether this fact does translate into America being safer. I wonder if the Senator could comment on both General Petraeus's response to that and Ambassador Crocker's response, and the Senator's own extensive experience and what his comments on that would be.

Mr. GRAHAM. I asked General Petraeus that very question. He said that anytime Muslims would take up arms against al-Qaida, it is marching toward the solution America has been seeking. I think General Petraeus, myself, and Senators Kyl and Lieberman understand this war is not just about killing terrorists; this is about supporting moderation where you can find it, isolating the elements within the region.

If you had to put a list of extreme elements together, al-Qaida would be at the top. To those men and women who have participated in the surge and stood by the Anbar Iraqis who turned on al-Qaida, I think you have made our country safer. To the Iraqis who took up arms against al-Qaida, I think you have made Iraq safer and the world safer.

Mr. President, my question back to the Senator from Arizona, if I may, is, from his understanding of what was said yesterday, what can the Congress do, rather than criticize, what constructively can we do as a body to support those in harm's way and make sure we leave Iraq with a successful outcome?

Mr. KYL. Mr. President, that is an extremely important question because there is a lot of rhetoric about this war. The question is, What is the action line here, what can Congress do? Actually, it is a question of what Congress must do.

As I understand it, looking at General Petraeus's testimony, he was very adamant that Congress needed to pass the supplemental appropriations bill that will actually fund the troops in the field. This money was requested over a year ago. It represents a little over $100 billion.

According to his testimony, it is critical not only to the military needs but also he importantly talked about the Commander's Emergency Response Program, the State Department's Quick Response Fund, and the USAID programs.

The Senator from South Carolina was talking a moment ago about this two-part process, not only the political reconciliation but the economic reconstruction of the country.

General Petraeus himself, who clearly wants to get the troops funded, noted the interrelationship of the funding to help reconstruct the country, as well as to support the troops.

We are very soon going to be in a situation, according to Secretary Gates, where the Armed Forces are going to have to allow money to be borrowed from their regular operational accounts to fund the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said the results of that would be a slowdown in training and equipping Iraqi forces, the halting of military operations and pay of defense personnel, and losing the ability to replace lost and damaged equipment by ongoing operations and, finally, that some operations simply would not be started because they will not know in advance that the funding will be there to complete the operation, something with which I am sure no operational commander in the field would want to live.

My understanding of his testimony is he very strongly urged the Congress to quickly pass the supplemental appropriations bill so the troops in the field can be funded and do the mission, after all, we have sent them to do.

Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I see our colleague, Senator Lieberman, is on the floor. If I may, I wish to direct a question his way.

One of the themes of the testimony from General Petraeus is that after the surge has progressed to this stage, the biggest threat to Iraqi stability is no longer al-Qaida or sectarian violence but special groups trained by the Iranian Government sent back into Iraq to destabilize this effort of moderation.

Mr. President, can Senator Lieberman tell us his take on Iran's involvement and where he thinks we need to go as a nation?

Mr. LIEBERMAN. Mr. President, I thank my friend from South Carolina and also my friend from Arizona.

This is a very important question, and I thought it was a very compelling part of the testimony offered both by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker yesterday. If I may approach this by going back to the colloquy between my two friends earlier, they put their finger on a very important point. Let me go even a little further back.

After 9/11/01, after we were attacked, one of the insights we had was there is a violent civil war, both theological and political, going on within the Muslim world between a small group of fanatics, violent jihadists and the rest of the Muslim world who are pretty much like the rest of all of us. They want to live better, freer, more opportunity-filled lives for themselves and their children.

We went into Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein. We are there now to essentially help the Iraqis--and remember, Iraq is not just another country. It is one of the historic centers of the Arab world--to help this great country and its leaders and people to take hold of their own destiny and, in doing so, reject the extremists, the jihadists, the suicide bombers, and create for the Muslim world a different path to the future than the extremism and suicidal death and hatred and primitivism that al-Qaida, the current leadership of Iran, and others of that sort present to them.

Part of what the testimony yesterday, I think, from Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus said is that thanks to the backing of the United States through the surge, the Iraqis are taking control of their destiny.

As my colleagues pointed out, the moderates are winning. They have al-Qaida on the run out of Al Anbar Province. The businesses are reopening. The children are going back to school. They have hopes of a better future.

One of our colleagues on the Armed Services Committee said to General Petraeus: What is going on here? I thought we were in Iraq to fight al-Qaida. Now you are telling me we pretty much have beaten al-Qaida, we have them on the run, and now you are telling us we are there to fight Iran.

That question missed the point, the point my colleagues have made in their colloquy. The point is, we are there for an affirmative reason. We are there to help the Iraqis establish a self-governing, self-defending moderate country, an antiterrorist country. We do have al-Qaida on the run, but as the two witnesses made clear yesterday, Iran is not on the run. In fact, Iran is an expansionist, fanatic power not only working through these special groups in Iraq but through Hezbollah in Lebanon and through Hamas in the Palestinian areas. They were tremendous statements yesterday, very strong.

Ambassador Crocker:

Iran continues to undermine the efforts of the Iraqi Government to establish a stable, secure state.

This takes me--and then I will yield back to my colleagues--to what seemed to be the frustration of some of our colleagues on the committee yesterday. They were trying to get General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to tell us again: We are going to get all our troops or most of our troops out by X date. Fortunately, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are not accountable to political calculus. They have been given the responsibility for this mission. They have American lives on the line. They have lost American lives.

The answer General Petraeus gave us is clearly the right one: I wish I could tell you how many brigades more I can pull out after July, but I can't until I see what conditions on the ground are. Maybe I can bring out some more, but maybe I can't. If I do it prematurely, we will run the risk of chaos and a loss of all we have gained in Iraq; frankly, a disrespect of the lives of Americans who have been lost there. Their families and loved ones always tell us: Don't let them to have died in vain. The No. 1 winner, if we pull out prematurely, would be Iran. They are all over Iraq. They have their hands in just about everything.

If we leave and chaos ensues, as Ambassador Crocker said yesterday:

Iran has said publicly it will fill any vacuum in Iraq, and extremist Shi'a militias would reassert themselves.

We cannot let that happen. I thank my colleague.

Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I think our time expires in the next 5 minutes. I will quickly wrap up my thoughts and ask my colleagues to comment.

People want to know when we are going to come home. Trust me, if you have been to Iraq at all, if you spent any time with our men and women in uniform, you want them to be with their families and out of harm's way in the most desperate way.

The point I want people to remember is these are all volunteers. Some have been there two, three, four times. They make one simple request to me as a Senator: Take care of us, but support us so we can win. The reason they go back time and time again is they understand the consequences to our Nation if we lose.

So if you want to take stress off the military--and don't we all--the best stress we can take off our military is the stress of not knowing if they are going to be allowed to win.

I hope colleagues in this body will respect General Petraeus's reasoned opinion and give him some deference because I think he has produced results that will go down in history as one of the most successful military counterinsurgency operations anywhere on the planet and give a little deference and respect to Ambassador Crocker, who has put together political progress under the most difficult circumstances, where the Iraqis are seeing each other now not as enemies but as partners in an endeavor to create a better life for themselves, to live at peace with their neighbors, and to make the whole world safer against extremism.

When we come home is not the question for the ages. It may be for your next election and it may be about your political future; that may be the way you are looking at it or it may be about the Republican Party's political future. It is not that way for me, Senator McCain, or I think anybody else, certainly not for Senator Lieberman.

The question for me, the question for our Nation, and the world over time is, What did we leave behind? I am more confident than ever that we can leave behind, in the heart of the Mideast, in the center of the Arab world, a group of people called Iraqis, who will be our friends for a long time to come, will contain Iranian expansionism, and will continue to be al-Qaida's worst nightmare. That day is coming. The only way we can lose now is for Congress to undercut it.

To Senator Kyl, how important is it for the Congress to pass a supplemental without strings attached?

Mr. KYL. Mr. President, I say to my colleague there are going to be efforts apparently to hold this war funding hostage to other funding requests. For example, one of our colleagues said we are going to look at the supplemental not only for the $190 billion for the war--by the way, that figure is incorrect; it is $102 billion--but also what we can do on this bill for summer jobs programs.

I submit it is important to fund the troops because we have sent them on a mission. They volunteered, and they deserve our support. We should not threaten to withhold that support unless there is also funding for other programs that have a far lower priority than the security of our troops and the security of the United States.

I will also add one other point. In reading from what General Petraeus said yesterday and focusing right down on the American people, it is clearly in our national interest, he said, to help Iraq prevent the resurgence of al-Qaida in the heart of the Arab world. Both he and Ambassador Crocker said it is worth it to the United States that the success there is making us safer here at home. That is what it all gets back to, when folks say we need to have supplemental funding on other programs. This is making us safer at home.

I will conclude. I want my colleague from Connecticut to comment for a moment, and the Senator from Tennessee also wanted a couple minutes at the end of our time. I assured him we would have a of couple minutes. We may have to ask for an extra minute or so.

Mr. LIEBERMAN. Mr. President, I thank my friend. Briefly, I recount a conversation with a friend of mine this morning. He said, watching the hearings yesterday, that he thought those who have been critical of our effort in Iraq seemed quite restrained yesterday. I said they were, and I think it is because the record General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker were giving us was one of remarkable progress militarily, politically, and economically. It was hard to criticize, so the criticisms were kind of around the side: Why can't you tell us when we will get out exactly? Why didn't President Maliki consult more before he went south?

What I wish is that our colleagues had accepted the facts General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker gave us of the extraordinary progress in Iraq, which is very critical to our security because it creates a victory for the moderates, the good guys in the civil war within the Islamic world, and it protects our security in that sense because, remember, it is the fanatics who killed 3,000 of us on 9/11.

Let's hope for another day when there will be an agreement on the facts, and maybe we can get together to figure out how we can accelerate progress in Iraq so what all of us want can happen, which is we bring as many of our troops home as quickly as possible, with honor and after success.

What can Congress do? I would say two things, after listening yesterday. One is to pass a supplemental. The second is to stay out of the way and not force our military and diplomatic leaders to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Don't impose deadlines.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator's time has expired.

Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that Senator Alexander be recognized for 3 minutes to celebrate a big event for the State of Tennessee.


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