General David Petraeus and U. S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker came to Capitol Hill last week to deliver their much-anticipated assessment of the situation in Iraq. They spoke frankly about challenges the U.S. faces and outlined successes that strengthen the prospects for achieving a secure Iraq.

The General reported positive results from the surge of additional U.S. troops put into place this summer. The American people and their elected representatives should applaud the very real progress our military is making. I believe the best chance for success is to follow Gen. Petraeus’ lead and build on these gains.

IMMEDIATE TROOP PULLOUT ILL-ADVISED

The General recommended a significant troop withdrawal of five brigades, cutting approximately 30,000 soldiers over the next eight months. The President, in a national address Thursday, agreed to put the General’s plan into motion. In the hearings, Gen. Petraeus cautioned against an accelerated and large-scale pullout of personnel, noting it could have grave consequences in Iraq and the global war on terrorism. Such action would do irreparable harm to American credibility and bring devastating human suffering to those who have placed their faith in us.

Iraq is the central battleground in a worldwide struggle, which also includes Afghanistan and other terrorist cells. Failure in Iraq would strengthen Al Qaeda and their allies everywhere.

Key accomplishments that have not received enough attention include:

* Rejection of Al Qaeda. Action by local leaders to oppose Al Qaeda and insurgents is a dramatic development. Anbar Province, once labeled “lost” politically, has experienced a turnaround as residents have rejected the terrorists’ extremist ideology and barbaric tactics. These actions began in Sunni Muslim regions and have spread to Shiite Muslim areas as well.

* Local reconciliation. The central government has reached out to thousands of former members of the army, offering incentives for their return to military service or public sector jobs. The Iraqi security forces also recently signed up 1,700 men from a troubled area of Baghdad, including many former members of insurgent groups.

* National leaders’ agreement. In an important move to advance national governance, the five most prominent national leaders reached agreement in August on legislative initiatives that address key national issues. The leaders represent all three major ethnic divisions in Iraq.

* Reduced civilian violence. Sectarian attacks are down significantly all over the country — 70 percent in Baghdad. Religious and ethnic killings over the past year have been reduced by 75 percent.

* Economic gains. Oil exports are expected to top $30 billion in 2007, and one-third of that revenue has been allocated for capital improvements throughout the country. Economic growth will exceed six percent, and foreign investors are seeking new opportunities in Iraq.

These developments have prompted some previous critics to rethink their position. U.S. Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), recently returned from Iraq saying the facts on the ground had “changed for the better and they justify changing our position on what should be done.”

As is the case in any war, there are areas of concern — including the national government’s inability to take charge of the country’s affairs and the uneven security situation in some regions. But these challenges should not lead us to abandon the critical mission of defeating Islamic jihadism.

GREATEST SECURITY CHALLENGE OF OUR TIME

The Congressional testimony was set against the backdrop of the sixth anniversary of 9-11, and the Monday hearing concluded in time for Republicans and Democrats to unite on the Capitol steps to remember that tragic day. I wish Congress could show the same bipartisanship in meeting the greatest national security challenge of our time. We cannot afford to forget Al Qaeda’s unprovoked attacks. They have vowed to destroy America and have chosen to fight in Iraq. Our best opportunity to end Al Qaeda’s international menace is to defeat them in Iraq.

Rep. Roger Wicker Press Release
9/14/7