Floor and Committee Statements

Wednesday, August 1, 2007 -

Floor Statement on Iraq

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
Floor Statement on Iraq
Remarks as Delivered on the Senate Floor

Mr. President, there have been some in the leadership of the majority, a few months ago, who declared the war in Iraq was lost. There have been others who have been invested in two significant debates we have had over withdrawing precipitously without any consideration for the consequences. I have steadfastly supported our effort in the global war on terror and, in particular, our effort in Iraq, cautious to understand we have had difficulties and we have made mistakes. But today I rise to ask those who have, in the past, declared defeat or withdrawal to consider the alternative should America win.

Yesterday, in the New York Times, Kenneth Pollack and Michael O'Hanlon wrote a significant editorial--neither one an advocate, per se, of the war and the surge--that said this is a war we might win. News that comes today from the Christian Science Monitor declares a precipitous decline in the number of deaths of U.S. soldiers and casualties and a tremendous decrease in IEDs.

On Monday night, the people of Iraq in every city, hamlet, and town turned out in the streets, and without a single injury, they celebrated the victory of the Iraqi soccer team in the Asian soccer games.

We must ask the question: What do we say if, in fact, the tide has turned and we are winning? I think there may be some who will try and redescribe what victory is, and for that purpose, I wish to describe and remind everybody of what we already declared victory would be.

When President Bush asked all of us, and I supported going into Iraq to enforce Resolution 1441 of the United Nations with 29 other partners, we declared three goals: One, to find the weapons of mass destruction and to depose Saddam Hussein; two, to allow the Iraqis the chance to hold free elections and write a constitution; and, three, to train the Iraqi military so it was capable of defending the people of Iraq.

Saddam Hussein is gone, tried by his people and gone from this planet. Weapons of mass destruction--no smoking gun was found, but all the components were Scud missiles buried in the sand, elements of sarin gas in the Euphrates River, some of the biological mobile laboratories we thought were there were found, and 400,000 bodies in 8 mass graves near Baghdad in Iraq. So that was accomplished.

Second, the Iraqis held three elections, wrote a constitution, and now meet in a parliamentary form of government. It may not be everything we like, but it is their Government and their progress, and America gave them the opportunity to do it.

Now today in Iraq on the ground, Shiites who fought against us have joined with us against al-Qaida. Sunnis who fought against us have joined us in fighting against al-Qaida. In Ramadi, the streets are clear. The people in Baghdad are happy the American soldiers are there and afraid American soldiers may leave precipitously.

We are on the cusp of meeting the third goal. Iraqi troops--it is being recognized now--Iraqi battalions have, in some cases--not all, in some cases--demonstrated the capability of holding the areas Americans have secured. America's soldiers are in the same camps with Sunni, Shia, and Kurdish soldiers of the Iraqi military.

This war is not over, but two-thirds of the goals we established are accomplished, and the third goal is within our reach. When we look in the next 6 weeks toward September 15--and I don't know what General Petraeus is going to say, but I know what the New York Times is saying, I know what the Christian Science Monitor is saying, I know what the Georgia soldiers I talk with or get e-mails from on the ground are saying, I know what the attitude and morale of the American soldiers is and the hopes and aspirations of the American people. Today I ask that as we get ready to break, as we wait for the report on September 15, we need to be prepared for victory, not invested in defeat.

This has been a tough battle. Some of my friends in Georgia have lost their children. They have fought for a dream Americans have fought for since this great Republic was founded, and that is the right to self-determine your future.

I hope the Government of al-Maliki will accomplish some reconciliation. I hope they will accomplish a hydrocarbon deal. I hope debaathification can work. But I hope we would not declare failure when, in fact, we have the opportunity it looks like to succeed. A lot of brave young men and women in America have invested their lives in the chance to win a victory, not for ourselves but for mankind, for civility, for peace, for democracy, and for all the principles upon which this country was founded.

So I hope for those who have been invested in the possibility that we will fail, that they will get equally invested in the probability or possibility that we will succeed and that together, as a Congress, we can reward those who fought so valiantly and see to it that one more democracy is born in the Middle East of this world.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that an article that appeared this morning in the Christian Science Monitor and yesterday's article of Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack in the New York Times be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

[From the Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 1, 2007]
U.S. Troop Fatalities in Iraq Drop Sharply
(By Gordon Lubold)

U.S. troop fatalities in Iraq have plummeted from near-historic highs just two months ago. The number of deaths attributed to improvised explosive devices is down by more than half. Violence is down in the four most dangerous provinces.

The decrease is an apparent sign that, by at least one indicator, the surge of American forces is doing something it set out to do: tamp down the violence.

But even if this positive trend were to continue for the next several months, the larger question remains unanswered: will the reduced levels of violence push Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni groups to reach political reconciliation so that U.S. troops can withdraw? U.S. military officials are wary.

"Success does not hinge on the effectiveness or success solely of the security situation,'' says one senior official in uniform, who requested anonymity, echoing what many military officials have said. "It really depends on political governance.''

As a single measure of success or failure in Iraq, the rate of American fatalities has its own limitations. But it does reflect the ability of the US to reduce insurgent-led violence. Two months ago, U.S. fatalities climbed to 128, making May the third deadliest month for US troops in Iraq since the war began in 2003. But since then, as the surge of 30,000 new U.S. forces has arrived, fatalities have fallen sharply. At press time, the toll for the month of July stood at 74, a decrease of 42 percent compared with May. That's the lowest fatality rate since last November.

When the surge was announced earlier this year, critics said adding more troops in one area would simply force insurgents to provoke violence in other areas. But according to an analysis by Pentagon officials, fatalities are down in July in all four of the most violent provinces of Iraq: Baghdad, Anbar, Salahaddin, and Diyala.

In Baghdad Province, for example, 27 Americans were killed as of July 24, down from 44 in May. In Diyala Province, six Americans were killed as of July 24, a decrease from 19 in May. Sunni-dominated Anbar Province to the west of Baghdad, where violence has been tamped down in part because Sunni sheiks have organized against Sunni extremism there, five American service members were killed as of July 24, down from 14 for the month of May. Salahaddin saw the same trend, where 12 were killed in May, six in July. The four provinces represent about 37 percent of the Iraqi population but nearly 80 percent of the violence that occurs in Iraq.

The toll from improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, has also decreased considerably in the last two months. As of July 24, 40 Americans had been killed in July, down from 95 in May.

Iraqis are also seeing a decrease in violence. The number of Iraqi security forces and civilian fatalities has declined since May as well, according to icasualties.org, a website that tracks such information. The site reports that there were 1,664 civilians and Iraqi security forces killed in July, down from 1,980 in May, but it notes that no such tallies are completely accurate and are probably much higher.

The reduction in violence doesn't appear to be the result of summer weather, when the intense heat might discourage insurgent attacks. According to an analysis by the Marine command in Anbar, violence trends upward from a low point in January, when it's coldest, through summer to October for each of the last three years. This year, according to Marine Maj. Gen. Walter Gaskin, commander of Multi-national Force West, the violence in Anbar has trended downward instead.

All this may be illustrating what to some is a new reality in Iraq even if much of Washington has yet to acknowledge it, says Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.

Mr. O'Hanlon has been critical of the war and has remained skeptical of the current strategy. But on Monday, he coauthored an Op-Ed in The New York Times titled "A War We Might Just Win.'' In it, O'Hanlon says he is impressed with the improved security situation, the reasonably high morale of US troops, and the increasing competency of Iraqi forces. "We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms,'' O'Hanlon wrote, along with Brookings colleague Kenneth Pollack. "As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily 'victory' but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.''

Military officials are heartened by decreases in American fatalities but are reluctant to characterize it as a turning point.

"My initial thought is this is what we thought would happen once we got control of the real key areas that are controlled by these terrorists,'' Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the No. 2 American commander in Iraq, said on Thursday. "It's an initial positive sign, but I would argue I need a bit more time to make an assessment of whether it's a true trend or not.''

In May, noting the high number of casualties among American forces, General Odierno said it was the result of taking the fight to the enemy, going into places like Diyala and Baquba to fight insurgents, and that he expected over time that the number of casualties would decrease, as it appears to have done now.

Odierno says he may need more time, but Congress is waiting for an assessment as early as next month. That's when Odierno's boss, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, is expected to provide a comprehensive report of the security situation in Iraq. Military officials caution that General Petraeus's assessment may not make specific recommendations regarding a possible drawdown of the more than 155,000 US troops currently serving in Iraq.

"Petraeus is very, very cautious about how much success he is going to advertise,'' the senior uniformed official says. "The culminating point is when the hearts and minds finally tip'' in Iraq.


[From the New York Times, July 30, 2007]
A War We Just Might Win
(By Michael E. O'Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack)

WASHINGTON. --Viewed from Iraq, where we just spent eight days meeting with American and Iraqi military and civilian personnel, the political debate in Washington is surreal. The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility. Yet now the administration's critics, in part as a result, seem unaware of the significant changes taking place.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration's miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily ``victory'' but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated--many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Everywhere, Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements at the local level and providing basic services--electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation--to the people. Yet in each place, operations had been appropriately tailored to the specific needs of the community. As a result, civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began--though they remain very high, underscoring how much more still needs to be done.

In Ramadi, for example, we talked with an outstanding Marine captain whose company was living in harmony in a complex with a (largely Sunni) Iraqi police company and a (largely Shiite) Iraqi Army unit. He and his men had built an Arab-style living room, here he met with the local Sunni sheiks--all formerly allies of Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups--who were now competing to secure his friendship.

In Baghdad's Ghazaliya neighborhood, which has seen some of the worst sectarian combat, we walked a street slowly coming back to life with stores and shoppers. The Sunni residents were unhappy with the nearby police checkpoint, where Shiite officers reportedly abused them, but they seemed genuinely happy with the American soldiers and a mostly Kurdish Iraqi Army company patrolling the street. The local Sunni militia even had agreed to confine itself to its compound once the Americans and Iraqi units arrived.

We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside. A local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American departure from Iraq. All across the country, the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark.

But for now, things look much better than before. American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).

In addition, far more Iraqi units are well integrated in terms of ethnicity and religion. The Iraqi Army's highly effective Third Infantry Division started out as overwhelmingly Kurdish in 2005. Today, it is 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni Arab.

In the past, few Iraqi units could do more than provide a few ``jundis'' (soldiers) to put a thin Iraqi face on largely American operations. Today, in only a few sectors did we find American commanders complaining that their Iraqi formations were useless--something that was the rule, not the exception, on a previous trip to Iraq in late 2005.

The additional American military formations brought in as part of the surge, General Petraeus's determination to hold areas until they are truly secure before redeploying units, and the increasing competence of the Iraqis has had another critical effect: no more whack-a-mole, with insurgents popping back up after the Americans leave.

In war, sometimes it's important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups, as well as (to a lesser extent) against Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.

These groups have tried to impose Shariah law, brutalized average Iraqis to keep them in line, killed important local leaders and seized young women to marry off to their loyalists. The result has been that in the last six months Iraqis have begun to turn on the extremists and turn to the Americans for security and help. The most important and best-known example of this is in Anbar Province, which in less than six months has gone from the worst part of Iraq to the best (outside the Kurdish areas). Today the Sunni sheiks there are close to crippling Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies. Just a few months ago, American marines were fighting for every yard of Ramadi; last week we strolled down its streets without body armor.

Another surprise was how well the coalition's new Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams are working. Wherever we found a fully staffed team, we also found local Iraqi leaders and businessmen cooperating with it to revive the local economy and build new political structures. Although much more needs to be done to create jobs, a new emphasis on microloans and small-scale projects was having some success where the previous aid programs often built white elephants.

In some places where we have failed to provide the civilian manpower to fill out the reconstruction teams, the surge has still allowed the military to fashion its own advisory groups from battalion, brigade and division staffs. We talked to dozens of military officers who before the war had known little about governance or business but were now ably immersing themselves in projects to provide the average Iraqi with a decent life.

Outside Baghdad, one of the biggest factors in the progress so far has been the efforts to decentralize power to the provinces and local governments. But more must be done. For example, the Iraqi National Police, which are controlled by the Interior Ministry, remain mostly a disaster. In response, many towns and neighborhoods are standing up local police forces, which generally prove more effective, less corrupt and less sectarian. The coalition has to force the warlords in Baghdad to allow the creation of neutral security forces beyond their control.

In the end, the situation in Iraq remains grave. In particular, we still face huge hurdles on the political front. Iraqi politicians of all stripes continue to dawdle and maneuver for position against one another when major steps towards reconciliation--or at least accommodation--are needed. This cannot continue indefinitely. Otherwise, once we begin to downsize, important communities may not feel committed to the status quo, and Iraqi security forces may splinter along ethnic and religious lines.

How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission? These haunting questions underscore the reality that the surge cannot go on forever. But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.