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Exclusive: Back from Iraq: Briefing for America

This is a rush transcript of an exclusive interview with Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker conducted by FNC's Brit Hume on September 10, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Good evening. On a day when they gave their much- anticipated testimony to the House of Representatives on the state of affairs in Iraq, U.S. Commanding General David Petraeus and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker are here to give us the essence of what they have already briefed to the White House, Pentagon, and one house of Congress.

Welcome, gentlemen. First to you, General Petraeus. Give us, for the benefit of those who may have only heard bits and pieces and summaries of your testimony, the synopsis of where you feel we now stand in Iraq.

MAJ. GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. ARMY: Well, what I laid out today was a forthright assessment of the situation and the recommendations that I have given to the chain of command. And I stated up front that I felt that the military aspects of the surge are largely achieving success. It's uneven, and I lay that out with a number of charts that I'll show to you here. But without question, our forces and Iraqi forces have, indeed, achieved progress in the security arena.

I discussed the nature of the conflict, that this is an ethno-sectarian competition for power and resources. It is one that is going to play out. It can be more or less violent in how it plays out, and we obviously want to see it be less violent.

I talked about the situation in December '06. As we looked to the future, we actually found it useful to revisit the past. We did that.

We went back and looked at the assessment that was done by General Casey and Ambassador Khalilzad in December '06 at the height of the ethno-sectarian violence in Iraq, where they assessed that the effort was failing to achieve its objectives. That, of course, led to the surge of forces that started flowing in January and was complete in mid-June.

And then I talked about what it is that we have tried to do, as we have the additional forces on the ground, particularly with the surge of offenses that started in mid-June, where we sought to improve the security of the population, employing a variety of different counterinsurgency techniques, living with the population that you're going to secure, going after Al Qaeda and trying to take away from them some of the sanctuaries that they have had, in some cases, for several years and to damage them, to defeat them as much as we possibly can, the effort to disrupt militia extremists who have been supported by Iran, funded, armed, and trained, and even, in some cases, directed by Iran, and then the effort to continue support for the Iraqi security forces and, as possible, as quickly as possible, to transition responsibilities to them.

And then I laid out, using a variety of charts, with data that we collect from our subordinate operation centers and from Iraqi operation centers, then confirm and analyze and so forth, the data that has — the basis, if you will, to back up what we feel, as commanders and what our tactical commanders feel is taking place, and that is, again, progress on the ground.I talk, for example, in this first chart here about the level of incidents. The fact you can see what happened in the latter part of 2006 in particular, how the level of violence stayed very high, the level of incidents of attacks. And then as we reached, after the mid-June surge of offensives, eight or 12 weeks seen a decline in the level of incidents to the lowest level all the way back to June of 2006.

HUME: This represents the whole sweep of our operations in Iraq?

PETRAEUS: It goes back to about October '04. And you can see it was generally bumping along here, going up, going down, and then came the Samarra mosque bombing right there in 22 February '06. And that was a watershed event. That was an Al Qaeda effort to ignite ethno- sectarian violence, and it did. And you can see what happened after that, as that violence just climbed and climbed and climbed, until — with the surge of offensives made possible by the surge of forces in mid-June, we've been able, with our Iraqi counterparts, to start driving the level of incidents down to the point, as I said, that the last two weeks have been the lowest since June of '06.

I talked about the level of civilian deaths. We collect that data.
And that level is still very high. You can see over right here, this is 1,500 deaths in a month. These are non...

(CROSSTALK)

PETRAEUS: ... this is all of Iraq right here.

HUME: Blue line...

PETRAEUS: And the blue represents Baghdad.

HUME: Right.

PETRAEUS: You can see very clearly the number of those deaths back in the December '06 timeframe. And then it has come down — it came down pretty steeply, about the time, in fact, that the Baghdad security plan was announced. It bounced up and down, just based on whether or not — in fact, very large car bombs went off.

For example, these represent, in some cases, the bombings that were in the Yazidi villages, also some against Kurds in recent months, Turkmen in recent months, as well. In Baghdad, on the other hand, it has come down a good bit more.

And we focused also in on what are called ethno-sectarian deaths. These are deaths of one ethnic or sectarian group, on the next chart, against another ethno-sectarian group. And this shows that, the top line, again, being Iraq, the bottom line, again, being Baghdad. And you can see that that number in Baghdad has come down very substantially, and that is in large measure a result of having driven some of the Al Qaeda Iraq bomb networks out of business, defeating some of them, but still certainly not all of them. Al Qaeda does remain very dangerous. And, again, you can see the impact of some of their car
bombings outside Baghdad.

HUME: And you see a spike up.

PETRAEUS: Also in some of these minorities. That is exactly right.
We track hot spots. I don't know how well these show, but you can see back in December of '06...

HUME: Red being...

PETRAEUS: Red, hot spots, that showed ethno-sectarian incidents. And those gradually diminishing over time, although, again, that we can still see areas in Baghdad — this is heart of Baghdad right here. This is south Baghdad, an area that is still very tough, in terms of sectarian fault lines and other areas in which that violence continues to plague the city and where we clearly have a lot more work to do.

We talked about the developments in Anbar province, which are showing on this next chart, where the tribes and the sheiks decided to say no more to Al Qaeda. They were tired of the indiscriminate violence, tired of the Taliban-like ideology and the other practices.

HUME: And they're Sunnis, right?

PETRAEUS: They are Sunni Arabs rising up against a largely Sunni Arab Al Qaeda Iraq. And, again, you can see just a plummeting. From the height back in October, somewhere in there is where one of the key sheiks stood up and said, "Would it be OK with you, would you support us, in fact, if we, instead of pointing our weapons at you, pointed them at Al Qaeda?" And we obviously supported that.

But then I will tell you: We have not armed tribes. Initially, the sheik's paid their men themselves. We eventually did help with that.

But then we have tried to transition them to legitimate Iraqi security force institutions. And, in fact, over 20,000 are members of the Iraqi police, the National Ministry of Iraq Police, and on their payroll, not on any kind of local payroll, because, in fact, in Iraq, there are no locally paid police.

But you can see the impact of this effort, where our coalition forces, particularly in mid-March, where they went in and cleared Ramadi, one of the last major strongholds of Al Qaeda Iraq in Anbar province. And, again, you can see the hot spots. They ran up and down the Euphrates River Valley back in October, diminished a bit in January and March, and then came way, way down by the time we look over here at August. Still some operations in Anbar province ongoing, still some violence. But you can see a vastly reduced number here, over 200, compared with here, which was about 1,315 attacks.

HUME: And that was an area that was supposed to be the strongest outposts, the strongest ground for the...

PETRAEUS: It was. It was really seen as a sanctuary for Al Qaeda Iraq. And it was assessed, in fact, by the Marine intelligence officer last fall as lost politically. So that's a very dramatic turnaround.

Now, all of Iraq is not Anbar. This model doesn't fit for everywhere.
But the idea of locals being involved in local security is of huge significance, needless to say. And previously, locals would not volunteer for that.

Now, we have some other provinces, as well, because this has been uneven. And I stated that in my statement today. Salah ad Din province, for example, Saddam's former hometown and province, up and down during that time, in part because some of the Al Qaeda that we didn't kill or capture in Anbar province or in Baquba did, in fact, flee to Salah ad Din province.

Gradually, it has come down more recently, actually fairly steeply. What we need to do now is to fight to keep that down. Baghdad, again, pretty saw-toothed, went up in one period here, when we had some big offensive operations, and then has come down more recently. Nineveh province, again, similar to Salah ad Din province, another location in northern Iraq where Al Qaeda has sought to open up a second front, but the Iraqi forces there, in particular, have beat this back fairly effectively. In fact, it was the Iraqis who killed the emir of Mosul some weeks ago.

HUME: Who was an insurgent...

PETRAEUS: Al Qaeda — Al Qaeda — the emir being the local leader, regional leader, really, of Iraq's third-largest city, so a very significant action.

And they have had a number of other significant actions, although Al Qaeda remains very dangerous and has continued in particular in Nineveh province. That's also where the poor Yazidi villages were — that were bombed several weeks ago and caused such horrific death. They continue there, and that is not going to be easy.

If you look at Al Qaeda, you can see, for example, these red spots here, back in January, mark where Al Qaeda had very significant influence. And this has been greatly diminished by the operations of our forces.

If you look at the Euphrates River valley, again, it's really not an Al Qaeda...

HUME: That's all now, right?

PETRAEUS: This is now. That's right. Baghdad, still some areas around Baghdad, although several key neighborhoods in Baghdad have really been taken away from Al Qaeda by, again, local volunteers standing up and saying, no more to Al Qaeda. Certainly still some presence in the Tigris River valley north of Baghdad, up to Mosul, and you can see a very significant presence there, and then down in the area east of Tikrit and Salah ad Din province.

I mentioned in fact that we had taken down five media cells — it's actually six now — and also about 100 or so of their key leaders, of the emirs, the foreign fighter facilitators, the senior Iraqi in Al Qaeda Iraq...

HUME: That's who these guys are?

PETRAEUS: ... and so forth. That is who these represent. This is actually from a slide where we used pictures for another briefing. We had to black them out for the purposes of this, but that is what that does represent.
And in fact, the small print lists some of the emirs of different cities and different areas that have been killed or captured over time.

Another area that is very significant is weapons caches. And as this next slide shows, just so far this year, we have found and cleared over 4,400 caches of arms, ammunition, weapons and so forth. As you can see, over 17 — nearly 1,700 more than all of last year. In a reflection, in fact, of certainly additional U.S. forces, additional Iraqi forces, but also very much more freedom of maneuver for our forces as we have gone into areas that were sanctuaries for Al Qaeda in the past, taking them away from them, and in many respects, taking the initiative away from Al Qaeda as well.

Beyond that, as we clear an area like Ramadi or the Euphrates River valley, and the locals stand up, they start of course to come forward and to say, hey, by the way, there's these mortar rounds in my field out back; could you come get these so they don't blow the kids up. And that type of thing goes on very, very much as well.

We also talked about this Iraqi security forces. And they've had a rocky road. They actually went down hill during the period of the heightened sectarian violence. But as you can see, they are somewhere around 135 or so — this line here shows 135 or so that are in the fight, and somewhere around 90 or so of those, 95, that are actually in the lead of actually capable of independent operations.

And the point I've made is that the Iraqi security forces are in the fight. They are still a mixed bag in many respects, ranging from high-end elements, special operations forces that are among the best in the region, to some about which we still have concerns over sectarian influence. And General Jones' report, General retired Jim Jones, who did the commission looking at Iraqi security forces, correctly identified, in fact, concerns that we have about, for example, the national police. A lot of actions taken against them, including wholesale replacement of both division commanders, nine of nine brigade commanders, 17 of 27 battalion commanders and so forth, but still a work in progress.

And then I got to the recommendations. And in the recommendations, I explained that the title of the recommendations I have made is significant. It talks about security while transitioning. In other words, the importance of maintaining the population security that, in fact, we and our Iraqi counterparts have fought hard to improve in a number of different areas, while maintaining, of course, counter-terrorist operations and also transitioning responsibilities to Iraqi security forces as quickly as they can take on those responsibilities.

I then talked about the reduction in forces that I have recommended as well. And that includes a Marine expeditionary unit, 1,000 or so Marines, leaving in fact Anbar province later this month. And then if the recommendations are approved, five Army brigade combat teams starting in
mid-
December — which is a good bit earlier, by the way, than when we — we could have run the clock all the way out with the surge to the 15-month mark, for every brigade, and not start it until April. The battlefield geometry and other considerations are what led us to do that.

But starting in mid-December and then ending in mid-July, the five Army brigade combat teams and two Marine battalions will redeploy...

HUME: Out of Iraq.

PETRAEUS: ... with that replacement. Out of Iraq, that's correct.

HUME: Let me — I understand that that's starting, that process of bringing them out, is starting sooner than you might originally have anticipated, but at the end of that process, as you've described it, you'll be basically back to pre-surge levels. Is that correct?

PETRAEUS: With the brigade combat teams. There is actually some enablers that right now we would like to keep in Iraq. Enablers meaning additional military police for detainees, because the detainee pool has grown, and so forth.

HUME: You've got a chart here that shows that.

PETRAEUS: For example, recommendation here in December...

HUME: September.

PETRAEUS: Yes, right now. Recommendation — Marine expeditionary unit that comes out, and then starting in mid-December, down to July, the five Army brigade combat teams and a Marine battalion.

I also recommended that the next decision be not until about mid- March. I said that I cannot, as a professional military man, make a recommendation now about what should be done beyond mid-July.

HUME: Right.

PETRAEUS: I do believe there will be further reductions in forces.
But I can't look out now...

HUME: I see you contemplate them...

PETRAEUS: And we do. We do indeed.

HUME: ... but there are no dates attached to any of these later lower numbers.

PETRAEUS: There are not dates attached to these. These are really — this just takes out our plans, what we have thought about, how we would stair — step down the force levels over time.

HUME: But just to be perfectly clear...

PETRAEUS: But the recommendation coming around mid-March or so. No later than that. And then the date to start that. And really, it's the slope of the line and so forth, would be made in mid-March.

HUME: I just want to be clear, though, that when you get done with what you can see, with a date on it...

PETRAEUS: Right.

HUME: ... you're basically roughly, give or take, back to where you were before the surge began.

PETRAEUS: That's correct. In terms of the brigade combat teams, that's exactly right.

HUME: All right. I want to get to Ambassador Crocker, which I planned to do sooner, but we have to take a break, so why don't we do that, and we'll get to Ambassador Crocker right after that. More with both of these gentlemen in just a moment. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUME: Joining me again, U.S. commanding General David Petraeus and the ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker.

Ambassador Crocker, let me turn to you now for your assessment of how things are going in your area, which may not be as easy to pinpoint with metrics, but it may not be as easy to carry out, either. Tell us about it.

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Well, bottom line, what I told the House today, is that the goal of a stable, secure, democratic Iraq, at peace with its neighbors and an ally in the war on terror, is attainable. We can do it. It can be done. The trajectory of political, economic and diplomatic trends is up. The slope is not very steep, but it's going in the right direction.

This is not going to be easy. It's not going to be quick. There will be setbacks, as well as achievements, and it's going to take a very substantial U.S. commitment and resolve to get it done.

I explained to the House why this is hard. The legacy of 35 years of Ba'athi rule, that deconstructed society down to below the family level and instilled a climate of fear that was absolutely universal, and then that was overlaid by a year and a half of really vicious sectarian violence, 2006, beginning of 2007.

So the challenge is great.

Why do I think this is attainable? At the national level, we're seeing some interesting trends. For the first time, we see Iraqis have a serious discussion about the nature of the state. Sunnis are now talking about a federal Iraq, as well as Shia and Kurds. And I think this indicates a promising direction for future decision-making.

HUME: You mean by that a decentralized Iraq.

CROCKER: Decentralized Iraq. But bear in mind that as Iraq is currently structured in one important respect, which is finance, it is centralized, and I'll come to that in a second, because that's an important part of this whole equation. So I think that's significant.

The fact that while Iraqis may be having difficulty achieving national benchmarks, complex pieces of national legislation — they're actually working effectively on the ground to solve immediate problems that have national implications.

HUME: Such as?

CROCKER: For example, in Abu Ghraib, which is just west of Baghdad, the Iraqi government has agreed to bring 1,700 young men into the security forces. They are in training now as policemen. Some of these young men are former members of an insurgent group, Jaish al- Islami. So the fact that the government is prepared to bring them aboard as police is a form of conditional immunity, or amnesty, even if you don't yet have a full national amnesty.

HUME: Which is one of — which is a benchmark.

CROCKER: Which is a benchmark.

HUME: And so what you're saying is they don't have a benchmark law but — I mean, an amnesty law, but they're beginning to have an amnesty program.

CROCKER: You're getting amnesty on the ground.

HUME: Right.

CROCKER: Similarly, while they have agreement in principle on de- Baathification reform, another benchmark, they haven't...

HUME: That is the allowing of more Ba'athists who may have been sort of innocent players in the old Ba'athist government to participate.

CROCKER: To come back into the system, exactly.

HUME: Right.

CROCKER: So while that legislative benchmark is not yet achieved, the government has been reaching out to former military officers, many of them Ba'athis, to offer them either reinstatement in the military, a pension, or employment elsewhere in the public sector. So once again, you have got something being done in practice that is not yet attainable as national policy.

What may be the most encouraging is what's going on in the provinces, as General Petraeus mentioned in the case of Anbar, and how that is starting to link to the center. Again, as General Petraeus noted, you have 21,000 young men out in Anbar, who are now policemen, paid by the central government.

More significant even than that, though, is the fact that the central government is getting financial resources out to the provinces. The economy is working with the government as the distributor of resources. So, again, even without a revenue distribution law — another benchmark — you have the government distributing revenues. And in the case of Anbar, just a few days ago, when I was out there for it, a government — central government representatives brought out a package to Ramadi, the capital city, an additional $70 million for their capital budget, a 70 percent increase, and $50 million for compensation for damages suffered in the struggle against Al Qaeda.

So we are seeing the center and the provinces start to knit together on an economic as well as a nascent political basis.

Diplomatically, there is much more going on now, internationally and with the neighbors. And I think that's important, because the neighbors have not always played a constructive role. Right now, we see, for example, with Turkey, Iraq is exporting crude oil through Turkey as well as through the Gulf. They're on the verge of concluding a commercial deal with Kuwait for the supply of diesel, which is critical for power generation here. Saudi Arabia is talking about or prepared to open its embassy for the first time since the fall of Saddam. Jordan has issued a statement actively supporting the recent achievement of Iraq's leaders, a declaration on the 26th, agreement in principle on de-Baathification and provincial powers.

It leaves you Syria and Iran. Syria is much more problematic. On the one hand, they have arrested some foreign fighters coming across into Iraq. They host almost 2 million refugees.

HUME: From Iraq.

CROCKER: From Iraq. But on the other hand, we think they're also allowing other foreign fighters to continue the transit.

Iran's role is harmful. There are no two ways about it. They are supporting radical militias. They are supplying the explosively formed projectiles that target our troops as well as Iraqis. And they are playing a destabilizing role.

HUME: I want to explore Iran and Syria both with you — with both of you when we return. We have to take a break. Thank you very much, Ambassador Crocker. More with both of these gentlemen when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUME: Joining me again, U.S. Commanding General David Petraeus and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.

Gentlemen, in both your testimony today, you indicated that there had been this bottom-up reconciliation which was sort of unpredicted and much welcomed, but it seemed to be mostly in Sunni areas. And the situation with the Shia seem — and the possible misbehavior, difficulty, problems with Shia militias, and so on with — and with Iranian influence always something you worry about when it comes to the Shiites, you indicated that Iran would be a big winner in its own eyes, at least, if this all went badly in Iraq. Why should we not believe that, as progress is made with the Sunnis and progress is made militarily, that Iran could simply ratchet up its interference in Iraq to the point where it would, in the end, spoil whatever progress was being made?

Mr. Ambassador?

CROCKER: Iran is something of a self-limiting phenomenon in Iraq. You have to remember that Iran, it's not an Arab state. It's Persian. Different language, different culture, different history. And Iran fought a brutal, bloody, eight-year war with Iraq, in which hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shia died. So it's simply not correct to think that, because an Iraqi is a Shia, that he is somehow allied with Iran. It's not the case.

What we're seeing, actually, is a phenomenon that in some respects, in Shia areas, resembles what happened with Al Qaeda in the Sunni areas. About 10 days ago, you may recall, there were attacks by the Jaish al Mahdi, Iranian- backed elements of that militia...

HUME: That's what we refer to around here as the Mahdi Army, the Mahdi Army, right? That's Muqtada al-Sadr's militia supposedly.

CROCKER: That is correct. And on one of the most holy days of the Shia Islamic calendar, elements of that militia attacked shrine guards in the city of Karbala. And that led to a fairly substantial negative reaction. It triggered a statement from Muqtada al-Sadr calling for Jaish al Mahdi to stand down in its attacks on Iraqis and on coalition forces.

HUME: Are they doing it?

CROCKER: It's still a little early to gauge, but we think it has had some effect. So what we may be seeing is, again, not a parallel exactly, but a similar phenomenon, where Iraqi Shia decide they have had enough of radical extremist Iranian-backed elements, just as Iraq's Sunnis decided they'd had enough of Al Qaeda and its excesses.

HUME: What about the supplying of terrorists in Iraq of any stripe who are resisting your efforts there, General Petraeus? How big an actor is Iran in that camp?

PETRAEUS: Well, as you may recall, we captured the head of the so- called special groups, these elements that are associated with, again, the Mahdi Army but are set apart, because they have, in fact, generally received training, equipping, arming, funding and, in some cases, even direction from the Iranian Quds force. When we captured these individuals...

HUME: What's the Quds force, for those who may not know?

PETRAEUS: This is an element of the Iranian Republican Guard's Corps, a separate element, that essentially, by the way, controls the foreign policy for Iraq and for a couple of other key countries. In fact, the ambassador...

HUME: The foreign policy of Iran.

PETRAEUS: ... of Iran, for Iraq, the ambassador with whom Ambassador Crocker has met, for example, the ambassador of Iran in Baghdad is a Quds member. It's well-known, but he is, in fact, the ambassador to Iraq.

When we captured these individuals and the deputy commander of a Lebanese Hezbollah department that was created to support their efforts in Iraq, we've learned a great deal about how Iran has, in fact, supported these elements and how those elements have carried out violent acts against our forces, Iraqi forces, and innocent civilians. The attacks using these special improvised explosive devices that are particularly lethal against armored vehicles, attacks with rockets provided by Iran on the international zone on civilians and on our forces, and so forth.

So Iran's role in Iraq is very destructive. It is something that Iraqis certainly would hope would be much more of a normal role among countries, but one about which they have become very concerned in recent months as they, along with us, have learned the extent of Iranian involvement.

HUME: Do the rules of engagement that you're operating under allow you to do what you think needs to be done to suppress this activity on the part of Iran? Or perhaps do you need assistance from military not under your command to do this?

PETRAEUS: Well, they allow us to do what we need to do with inside Iraq.

HUME: Right.

PETRAEUS: Beyond that...

HUME: Is that enough, in your view?

PETRAEUS: Well, that's what I'm responsible for. And, again, when I have concerns about something beyond that, I take them, of course, to my boss, Admiral Fallon, who is the regional commander. And, in fact, we have shared our concerns with him and with the chain of command. And there's a pretty hard look ongoing at that particular situation.

HUME: That sounds pretty disturbing, Ambassador Crocker, that we are confronting with Iran now a situation where — I mean, it doesn't appear we have any diplomatic possibility there, do we, to suppress this activity by Iran? Or do we?

CROCKER: Well, I have had a couple of meetings now with my Iranian counterpart, in which we've laid out very clearly what our concerns are, and said that what they need to do is align practice on the ground with their stated policy of support for a stable, democratic Iraq.

HUME: You have said, by the way, today that you thought that they believe that a stable, democratic Iraq was in their interest. And at the same time, though, you said that if it all went to hell over there, that it would be — that they would be, as you put it, a big winner. Which is right?

CROCKER: Well, I think you see a collision in Iran between their long- term strategic interests and their narrow tactical desires. Their narrow tactical desires I would define as trying to administer a defeat to the U.S. in Iraq. The problem they've got is that, if they are able to create circumstances that cause us to reconsider our commitment, the result is going to be a chaotic Iraq that, over the long run, could potentially be dangerous for them, as well.

HUME: Got to take a break here. More with General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker when we come back. Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUME: Joining me again, U.S. commanding general, David Petraeus, and ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker.

Nouri al-Maliki, the man the president of the United States says he has confidence in and thinks is the right man for Iraq, but he's become a whipping boy in Washington, and perhaps elsewhere as well. And when you look at the progress on the legislative benchmarks that have been set by the U.S. Congress,it's not hard to see why. Only a handful have really been met.
Depending on whose count you read, it's still, no matter how you shake it, it's less than half have been fully met.

And you said today, Ambassador Crocker, that the Iraqi leaders have the will to do what needs to be done. And yet, these benchmarks, if achieved, would be so helpful to their cause because it would solidify or at least help to solidify the support they so obviously continued to need from the United States. So what is wrong there? What is the problem there?

CROCKER: These benchmarks are important. They do stand for something, and indeed, they are Iraqi benchmarks...

HUME: Right.

CROCKER: ... that we agreed to. But in the context of Iraq currently, they are enormously hard to achieve. These are very complex pieces of legislation, whether you're looking at the oil law, the revenue distribution law, they're just — they are complex technically, but they are also very complicated politically. If you look at provincial powers, for example — that's states rights. That's our states rights debate right there. I've heard the prime minister, Prime Minister Maliki, express grave concern over the notion that a provincial governor, for example, could command federal forces.

So these are the kinds of things that took us decades to work through.

De-Baathification reform — it's a little bit like civil rights. So these are all major, major issues, which is why...

HUME: Yet we thought they could be done quickly, didn't we?

CROCKER: Well, we did. And I think we underestimated the difficulty.

I think the Iraqis underestimated the difficulty.But what we're seeing is this interesting and important phenomenon, where without legislation, you're getting in many respects the effects of legislation. Oil revenues are being shared. Former military officers who were members of the Ba'ath Party are being given a chance at reinstatements or pensions, as we've talked about before. These things are going on. So I think that's important to keep in perspective, again, both the complexity and the fact that we are getting on the ground in many cases the same results.

HUME: How do you assess Maliki as a man?

CROCKER: I think he is a person of integrity and courage.

HUME: Really?

CROCKER: The courage we saw, again, during the fighting in Karbala 10 days ago. Pretty messy situation. His immediate response was to organize a convoy, go down...

HUME: Himself.

CROCKER: Himself. And lead from the front. He took charge of that operation within 12 hours of the first shots being fired. And that's the kind of thing that I think Iraqis respect.

HUME: General Petraeus, has he held up his end of the deal militarily, in terms of what he was supposed to do to help with his part of the military plan?

PETRAEUS: He has. There is nothing — there is no part of Iraq that is off-limits to us.

You may recall some months, way back, that...

HUME: Sadr City was off-limits.

PETRAEUS: ... my predecessor was not allowed to keep even checkpoints around Sadr City. That is not the case. In fact, he has publicly come out and stated his concerns about the impact of militias, and in fact, his concern about some subset of units that clearly has sectarian influence in it.

So this has been very important. He and I had a lot of — with the ambassador — had a lot of long conversations in the early months of the surge, as we discussed the modalities, if you will, for what we needed to do. But he has upheld his end of the bargain.

HUME: Now, you've indicated that there has been some signs of reconciliation among the Shia. How would you characterize the level of — you've suppressed the insurgency by Al Qaeda to a considerable extent, but what about the Shia militias, death squads and so on? How does that matter stand in terms of your assessment of it militarily and what the Iraqi government has been willing to do?

PETRAEUS: Well, we still have concerns about sectarian violence on either side, some still carried out by Al Qaeda when they can. They are less active. They are off balance, is the way I think we'd like to describe it, but still dangerous.

The activities of the Shia death squads are substantially reduced. That is explained, if you will, or shown by the reduction in the ethno- sectarian deaths, particularly in Baghdad.

(CROSSTALK)

PETRAEUS: But there are still some very, very tough areas there. There is still dead bodies that turn up in Baghdad about which there is no question but they are the result of sectarian violence. So there is still work to be done, although the reduction is substantial.

HUME: Now, do you feel you're making as aggressive an effort against that as you've been able to make against the Al Qaeda- sponsored attacks?

PETRAEUS: Yes. Yes. We are still working with some of these units, again, about which we have concerns over sectarian influence. I mentioned some of the actions that the minister of interior has already taken against the national police. They've also had retraining. Each of the brigades, one after another, for a month — the Italian Carabineris are going to come in and help with that as well. Clearly, more work to be done, and that — and I think the jury is still out, candidly, on certain elements of the national police.

HUME: Would you — you — you said today — I think the phrase you used, correct me if I'm wrong, about Al Qaeda was — when I guess you were asked the question about who is the principal enemy there — you said Al Qaeda was — I think you called it the wolf closest to the sled.

PETRAEUS: Well, it is. Al Qaeda is still the element in Iraq that carries out the most horrific attacks, causes the mass casualties, tries to reignite ethno-sectarian violence. It was Al Qaeda that blew up the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra that really set off — that was like pouring gas on an ember.

HUME: Would you say that we wouldn't be in the situation we are in today, in terms of sectarian violence in Iraq, generally, had not Al Qaeda been present and active there?

PETRAEUS: That's correct.

HUME: Does that make Al Qaeda...

PETRAEUS: That is correct.

HUME: Is this, in an ultimate sense, turned out to be, more than anything else, a war with Al Qaeda?

PETRAEUS: Well, it is Al Qaeda and associated movements, I think, or affiliates, if you will. Because again, the insurgents, until they started flipping more and more, certainly throughout the Euphrates River valley and now other areas, certainly were associated with Al Qaeda, at the very least turning a blind eye to them, at the most, in many cases aiding and abetting them. And so there is a dramatic transformation in those areas where Sunni Arabs have said, no more to Al Qaeda. And that includes some neighborhoods in Baghdad, some very important ones, in recent months, where former resistance fighters, as they termed themselves, have also turned against Al Qaeda, taken some of their forces, worked with our forces, and now are working with the Iraqi army as well.

HUME: General, thank you. Ambassador, thank you.

We've got more questions for the general and the ambassador when we return. Please stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HUME: I'm back with U.S. commanding General David Petraeus and the ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker.

I want to ask both of you about an advertisement that appeared today in the New York Times, sponsored by the liberal political activist organization MoveOn.org. I think we're able to show it on the screen. It said "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" And the subtitle of the ad was "Cooking the Books for the White House." The suggestion being that you had manipulated the numbers to show progress where, perhaps, none existed.

First of all, what role did the White House play or the Pentagon play in the preparation of the testimony you delivered on Capitol Hill today, General?

PETRAEUS: Well, I did give my assessment and my recommendations to my chain of command, which extends all the way to the White House. But the testimony that I provided today was mine.

I took control of the electrons about two weeks ago. I wrote it. I did not clear it, nor even provide a copy of it to anyone in the Pentagon, Congress or the White House.

HUME: The assessment that you gave, prior to the preparation of your testimony, was that influenced by the White House or the Pentagon?

PETRAEUS: No. That was my assessment as part of my recommendations.
In other words, to give recommendations, you obviously have to talk about the situation, talk about the operational and strategic considerations that are the underpinning for those recommendations. But again, those were mine. They were not the White House's or anyone else's.

HUME: Ambassador Crocker, same question to you about your testimony.

CROCKER: And it's exactly the same answer. I gave the president and Secretary Rice an oral assessment exactly a week ago, when the president came to Iraq. He didn't influence it. He didn't seek to influence it.

And the testimony, again, was my own. I did not show it to anybody. I did not clear it with anyone. It was prepared by myself and my immediate staff. And the first that the White House saw of it or Secretary Rice saw of it was when it came out this morning in the Congress.

HUME: And it was — in fact, copies of it were delivered. I assume everybody got it at once, including the White House?

CROCKER: That's correct.

HUME: And the State Department.

All right. Well, what about the specific allegations that's made in that ad, General, that — that you had made some earlier assessments of — back in '04, when you talked about progress being made and so on. And that those assertions turned out to be off-base and that, therefore, why should we trust you now? What about that?

PETRAEUS: Well, that came back to an op-ed piece that I did back in the fall of 2004, reporting on how we were doing with the training and equip mission. In fact, some excerpts of that were used today in the testimony, actually, by one of the questioners, a member of Congress.

And I stand by it. It said, basically, that we were helping stand up the Iraqi army. We were doing it from the bottom up and the top down. There was some progress. There were some units in the field fighting.

I also laid out a number of the challenges that are out there, that there will be difficult times ahead, and so on and so forth. But I certainly stand by that.

Having said that, I mean, over time that continued to build. That effort continued to move along, but some of it, certainly, was undone by the sectarian violence that...

HUME: That blew up in '06 and '07.

PETRAEUS: In '06 and '07. The impact, again, of that Golden Dome Mosque bombing by Al Qaeda was very significant.

HUME: Both of you described today and asserted today that the situation in Iraq, if we fail there and it all goes to hell and we leave, as one that would be very much to the disadvantage of the United States of America and to the region and so on.

But what about success? What is the great reward of this undertaking? Which, even if we go forward with what both of you are hoping to achieve there, would mean the cost of much treasure, still many American lives, many Iraqi lives, as well, for a situation which is not likely to be — no one at least now seems to be saying it's not going to be a great beacon of democracy, as it's once been hoped. There were no weapons of mass destruction, which was originally — what, briefly, General, is the payoff here?

PETRAEUS: Well, I think an enormous payoff is the fact that we may be able to defeat Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda central, if you will, does regard Iraq as the central front in its war on terror. Our overall commander, who prosecutes the global war on terrorism in the Joint Special Operations Force commander, regards that as the central front.

And so this would be, frankly, an enormous blow to Al Qaeda, if we were able to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq.

The converse of that would be a, really, a huge lift for Al Qaeda, and really, a shot of adrenaline to them.

HUME: Your thoughts on that, Ambassador Crocker? You've got about 30 seconds.

CROCKER: The region and indeed the international community have suffered for a long time from an Iraq that basically was a threat. Again, decades of Saddam's rule. I think we have a prospect now of helping bring into being an Iraq that is the opposite, a source of stability and security in the region. And I think that's important.

HUME: Ambassador Crocker, General Petraeus, gentlemen, thank you very much.

That does it for this FOX News special. Stay tuned now for "On the Record" with Greta Van Susteren, which is coming up next.

Content and Programming Copyright 2007 Fox News Network, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, LLC'S and Voxant, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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