All eyes are on Capitol Hill this week as General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testify before Congress on Iraq War Policy for the first time since last September. The hot topic of the week is progress—military, political and economic. As expected, General Petraeus asked Congress on Tuesday to temporarily halt troop withdrawals. Current plans mandate that U.S. forces in Iraq will gradually decline to pre-surge levels by the end of July, and Petraeus thinks that a hold on troop reduction would help maintain the recent success and promote further progress in the region.
Key questions for the testimony include, “Can the security gains made in the past year under the surge strategy be sustained with lower number of U.S. troops?” and “Can Iraq’s leader consolidate the gains for the military surge through a surge of political progress?”
The latter question should be addressed by Ambassador Crocker. Political and economic development has lagged behind progress on the security front. Democrats are pushing for Iraq to use more if its own money for reconstruction efforts, while U.S. officials are reporting that the Iraqi government has outspent the U.S. on reconstruction efforts at a ratio of 11:1 and will cover 100 percent of the costs soon. A sustainable political framework must be established soon, as evidenced by recent events in Basra. The Iraqi government’s campaign to extend the rule of law to Basra was a step in the right direction; however, Iran exploited the situation and will gain much more influence in Iraq if the next Administration rapidly withdraws U.S. troops while the political conditions remain fragile.
Overall, both Petraeus and Crocker must clearly assert to Congress what exactly is at stake in Iraq. No one can deny that the U.S. has paid a heavy price in Iraq, and while some say the cost is too high, some say that these costs are necessary to support the development of a stable democracy in the vital Persian Gulf region. These issues must be addressed in order to gain the public and Congressional support necessary to sustain the recent progress in Iraq.