Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Anti-war protesters interrupted Gen. David Petraeus' much-anticipated report to Congress on Monday concerning progress in Iraq. They urged the general to tell the truth. But one of the protest leaders told Cybercast News Service that Petraeus' testimony was irrelevant.
"I am anxious to be here when Petraeus gives his report because we want him to know, and we want Congress to know, and we want the American people to know that we don't believe the rosy picture that he's going to be painting," Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war group Code Pink, said before the start of the joint House Foreign Affairs and Armed Service Committee hearing on Monday.
"The American people are tired of this war no matter what Petraeus says," Benjamin said. "We want our troops to come home."
"He can say things are getting better - if they're getting better, then let's leave," she said. "He could say things are not very good, and we could say if things are not very good, then we shouldn't be there.
"No matter what he says, our message actually reflects what the American people think, which is that we should leave," Benjamin added.
Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Petraeus had "been sent here to restore credibility to a discredited policy."
"We and the American people already know that the situation in Iraq is grim, and a growing majority of this Congress and of the American people want our troops out," he said. "The administration's myopic policies in Iraq have created a fiasco.
"We cannot take any of this administration's assertions about Iraq at face value anymore," Lantos said. "The fact remains that the president has sent you here today to convince ... Congress that victory is at hand - I don't buy it."
But Petraeus began his testimony by noting that the White House did not screen his analysis and recommendations.
"I wrote this testimony myself," he said. "It has not been cleared by, nor shared with, anyone in the Pentagon, the White House or Congress.
"The military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met," Petraeus continued, calling the progress "substantial" and noting that security has improved in Iraq.
"Though the improvements have been uneven across Iraq, the overall number of security incidents in Iraq has declined in eight of the past 12 weeks, with the numbers of incidents in the last two weeks at the lowest levels seen since June 2006," he said. "One of the reasons for the decline in incidents is the progress against al Qaeda in Iraq.
"Though al Qaeda and its affiliate in Iraq remain dangerous, we have taken away a number of their sanctuaries and gained initiative in many areas," Petraeus said.
He also noted that ethno-sectarian violence has declined and the number of civilian deaths has also declined, "although the numbers in each area are still at troubling levels."
"Additionally, in what may be the most significant development of the past eight months, the tribal rejection of al Qaeda that started in Anbar province and helped produce such significant change there has now spread to a number of other locations as well," Petraeus said.
"There may have been some technical successes, but strategically, the escalation has failed," argued Lantos. "By arming, training and funding those militias, we are working against our own goals of national unity."
But, Petraeus said, based on successes in Iraq "and on the further progress we believe we can achieve over the next few months, I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve," he said.
"Innumerable challenges lie ahead, however. Coalition and Iraqi security forces have made progress toward achieving sustainable security," said the general. "As a result, the United States will be in a position to reduce its forces in Iraq in the months ahead. I have recommended a drawdown of the surge forces from Iraq."
Petraeus said U.S. forces should be at pre-surge levels by July 2008, and redeployment could continue thereafter.
"Americans - Republicans and Democrats alike - want to know that our policy is working," said Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) at a briefing with reporters late Monday. "That is now an undisputed point. Anbar is real, measurable, tangible progress."
"It's a step moving in the direction that we all want to go," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.). He questioned whether the Democrats' demands differed significantly from what Petraeus recommended. "Is this what has divided Congress and the American public so divisively?"
"Lots of people have made up their minds already," he noted. "This allows us to take a step back and look at where we are today and where we need to go.
"This is not just about Iraq - we're doing this on the eve of 9/11 - it reminds us that this is about a larger struggle," he said. "Iraq is just one front in a wide range of fronts that we need to confront."
But Benjamin argued that "Congress has been derelict in their duties."
"They haven't represented the voice of the American people," she said. "They were put in there in November 2006 with a mandate for peace.
"The American people expected that when the Democrats took over there was going to be change - there was going to be a fixed timeline for withdrawal, that they were perhaps not going to keep funding this war - and then they see that the Congress just rolled over and gave Bush another $95 billion for war and now they're being asked for another almost $200 billion," Benjamin added.
"It is time for the Democrats to stand up and lead us out of Iraq," she said.
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