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Opening Statement of Senator Carl Levin
Opening Statement of Senator Carl Levin, Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on the Situation in Iraq with Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus
April 8, 2008
Welcome General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker. Thank you for joining us today, and thank you for your service to our nation. Please express our deep gratitude to the brave men and women serving in Iraq both in our armed forces and in the civilian agencies of our government.
We look forward to your report and recommendations as to where we go from here. Until recent attacks on the Green Zone, heightened attacks on our forces, and the violent events in Basra and Baghdad, the surge, along with other factors, appeared to have achieved some success in reducing violence in Iraq. This new increase in violence raises questions about the military success of the surge. But, more significantly, the purpose of the surge as announced by President Bush last year - to give the Iraqi leaders breathing room to work out a settlement - has not been achieved. This reality leads many of us to once again challenge President Bush's policies.
During my recent trip to Iraq, just before the latest outbreak of violence, a senior U.S. military officer told me that when he asked an Iraqi official, "Why is it that we're using our U.S. dollars to pay your people to clean up your towns instead of you using your funds?", the Iraqi replied, "As long as you are willing to pay for the clean-up, why should we do it?"
This story crystallizes the fundamental problem of our policy in Iraq. It highlights the need to change our current course in order to shift responsibility from our troops and our taxpayers to the Iraqi government, to force that government to take responsibility for their own future, politically, economically and militarily.
Our current open-ended commitment is an invitation to continuing dependency. An open-ended pause starting in July would be just the next page in a war plan with no exit strategy. As another senior U.S. military officer in Iraq put it two weeks ago, "It is time to take the training wheels off, and time to take our hands off the Iraqis' bicycle seat."
The Bush administration strategy has been built on the assumption that, so long as we continue to provide the Maliki government with plenty of time, military support and financial assistance, they will take responsibility for Iraq's future. But the major political steps have not yet been taken by the Iraqis, including establishing a framework for controlling and sharing oil revenue, adopting an election law so an October 1 provincial election will take place, and considering amendments to the constitution.
Even the few small political steps that have been taken by the Iraqis are in jeopardy because of the incompetence and excessively sectarian leadership of Mr. Maliki. Last week, this incompetence was dramatized in the military operation in Basra. Far from being the "defining moment" President Bush described, it was a haphazardly planned operation, carried out apparently without meaningful consultation with the U.S. military or even key Iraqi leaders, while Maliki made unrealistic claims, promises and threats.
In January of last year, when President Bush announced the surge, he said the Iraqi government planned to take responsibility for security across Iraq by November 2007. The President also pledged to hold the Iraqi government to a number of other political benchmarks which were supposed to be achieved by the end of 2007. But instead of forcefully pressing for political progress, President Bush has failed to hold the Maliki government to their promises, showering them instead with praise that they are "bold" and "strong." The President has ignored the view of his own military leaders who, according to a State Department report less than five months ago, concluded that "the intransigence of Iraq's Shiite-dominated government [is] the key threat facing the U.S. effort in Iraq, rather than al-Qaida terrorists, Sunni insurgents or Iranian-backed militias." Now violence appears to be on the rise, and President Bush would once again take pressure off of Maliki if he announces that reductions of our troops will be halted in July and that the pause is open-ended.
On the economic side, five years after the war began, skyrocketing oil prices have swelled Iraqi oil revenues beyond all expectations. Iraq now has tens of billions of dollars in surplus funds in their banks and in accounts around the world, including about $30 billion in U.S. banks. But Iraqi leaders and bureaucrats aren't spending those funds. The result is that, far from financing "its own reconstruction" as the administration promised five years ago, the Iraqi government has left the U.S. to make most of the capital expenditures needed to provide essential services and improve the quality of life of Iraqi citizens.
American taxpayers are spending vast sums on reconstruction efforts. For example, the U.S. has spent at least $27.6 billion to date on major infrastructure projects, job training, education and training and equipping of the Iraqi Security Forces. On the other hand, according to the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, the Iraqi Government budgeted $6.2 billion for its capital budget in 2006 but spent less than a quarter of it. As of August 31, 2007, the Iraqi Government had spent somewhere between 4.4 percent (according to the GAO) and 24 percent (according to the White House) of its $10.1 billion capital budget for 2007. As of last Thursday, the U.S. government is paying the salaries of almost 100,000 Iraqis who are working on reconstruction.
To add insult to injury, in addition to spending tens of billions of U.S. dollars on reconstruction, American taxpayers are also paying three to four dollars a gallon on gas here at home, much of which originates in the Middle East, including Iraq. The Iraqi government seems content to sit by, build up surpluses and let Americans reconstruct their country and foot the bill. But the American people surely aren't content with that, and the Bush administration shouldn't be either.
Militarily, five years after the war began, the Iraqi Army now numbers 160,000 soldiers, over 60% of whom, according to our own statistics, are capable of taking the lead in operations carried out in conjunction with U.S. troops. However, in four key northern provinces where the Iraqis have 50,000 trained soldiers and United States forces number 20,000, we were told on our recent visit that from December 29, 2007 to March 16, 2008, there were 110 combined U.S.-Iraqi operations of company size or greater and the Iraqi Army led in just ten of those operations.
As the fighting in Basra and Baghdad demonstrates, we are being drawn deeper into what General Odierno described last week as an inter-communal conflict. And that conflict, which has nothing to do with Al Qaeda and everything to do with civil war, appears to be growing. There is consensus among the President's supporters and critics alike that there is no military solution to this conflict and that there will be no end to it unless the Iraq political leaders take responsibility for their country's future. An announcement of an open-ended pause in troop reductions starting in July would simply send the wrong message to the Iraqi leaders.
Rather, we need to put continuous and increasing pressure on the Iraqis:
* to settle their political differences;
* to pay for their own reconstruction with their oil windfalls; and
* to take the lead in conducting military operations.
The way to do that is to adopt a reasonable timetable for a change of mission and redeployment of most of our troops. Promptly shifting responsibility to the Iraqis for their own future - politically, militarily, and economically - is the best hope for a successful outcome in Iraq and represents, finally, an exit strategy for most of our troops.