Before we begin, let me outline today’s proceedings, and welcome to our refurbished Committee room. After my opening statement and that of our distinguished colleague, Ranking Republican Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, we will hear the witnesses’ opening statements. Then I’ll recognize committee members for five minutes each, based on seniority for those who were here at the opening of the hearing – that was 30 seconds ago -- and in order of arrival for those joining us later.

Second, let me make clear our committee’s policy on handling protests. We have no objection to audience members wearing t-shirts and hats expressing their views. But to maintain order in the hearing room, we request that audience members do not hold up or wave signs, make gestures to attract attention, stand up in protest, shout or yell your views, or otherwise disrupt the hearing. We’ll ask the Capitol Police to remove anyone from the room who violates this policy. And I should let people know that it is the policy of the Capitol Police to arrest anyone ejected from the hearing room.

Our witnesses are in the home stretch of a congressional testimony marathon; to some, this hearing may even seem like the fourth time around an endless loop. That’s why we are asking both Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus more or less to summarize the main points of their testimony at their discretion, a report to Congress that has been heard once in the House and twice in the Senate already. This way, we’ll move along more quickly to the questions posed by members of the committee.

To make sure that as many members of the committee as possible are yielded time, I intend to use the gavel at the five-minute mark exactly. In other words, a member can use his or her time to give a speech or to question the witnesses, but no back-loading – no four-and-a-half-minute speech, with then the questions coming. The witnesses will not be answering those kinds of questions.

Now that these house-keeping points have been made, I recognize myself for some opening remarks to our distinguished witnesses:The committee has great respect, Mr. Ambassador, General Petraeus, for your accomplishments and appreciates your service; we are also keenly aware of the sacrifices being made by the U.S. military and our dedicated diplomatic corps in Iraq, along with their families. But our respect and appreciation for you and the people you lead does not mean that we should yield in our oversight responsibilities – quite the opposite. We have to make a tough-minded assessment that is fact-based and not ideologically driven. It is right and appropriate to question the reports of progress that the Executive Branch offers to Congress.

Congress and the people who sent us to Washington want to see the years of effort in Iraq end with a positive, meaningful and lasting result: a stable, cohesive Iraqi government, democratic in nature; an Iraq that does not threaten its neighbors and is able to resist domination by them; a country living under the rule of law, with protection for individual and minority rights. This would be good for Iraq, of course – but more importantly, it would be good for American interests. But are we there yet? Hardly. Can we get there at a cost appropriate to that benefit? I’m not convinced.

In fact, in some areas we seem to be slipping backwards. General Petraeus, when you last came before this committee, you argued that the “surge” would allow U.S. troops to help their Iraqi counterparts seize and hold areas that were then under the control of anti-American forces. How effective could this effort have been when mortars and rockets can rain on the Green Zone, launched from the Sadr City district of Baghdad, directly across the Tigris?

Our diplomats and other civilian personnel are literally under fire. For more than two weeks our embassy is bombarded. In all, the past two-plus weeks have seen the worst violence in the Green Zone since the war began five years ago.

I have a clear memory that the seize-and-hold component of the “surge” strategy, as conceived in late 2006 and implemented in 2007, would eventually be directed at the most violent and unstable areas of Sadr City.

Yet we do not even seem to be close to seizing and holding Sadr City – why not? Are we focusing our efforts on securing this district for the long term, or must we rely on the whims of Moqtada al-Sadr to maintain the peace?

What can you tell us about how this situation came about? What is the source of this mortar and rocket-fire. What is the reason for it? What, if anything, can be done to stop it? Some reports say the rockets were made in China; is that the case – and if so, how have they made their way to Baghdad?

On another subject, the “surge” was intended to quell the violence primarily in order to create political space for Iraqis to move on toward national reconciliation.

Two years ago, a key Iraqi leader with whom I met defined national reconciliation this way: moderate Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders coming together across sectarian lines as Iraqis to join hands so they could get things done for the benefit of the whole country. The middle would rise in Iraq and lead the way in this process. Gentlemen, the American sacrifices involved in creating the space for reconciliation have not brought us there yet; we haven’t seen much progress. General, you acknowledged this in you own quote in The Washington Post a little while ago, last month, conceding that “no one” in the U.S. or Iraqi governments “feels that there has been sufficient progress by any means in the area of national reconciliation,” I quote, or the provision of basic services in Iraq. You were both honest and obvious in those comments. Ambassador Crocker, please address this point in your testimony.

The most disturbing strategic development of the war is that Iran, the most dangerous state in the region, so far has emerged as the winner. Their enemy Saddam is gone, and in his place is a government seemingly very open to Iranian friendship and influence. Iran’s gains from the war were underscored again in recent days by the fact that representatives of Prime Minister Maliki traveled to Iran to negotiate a cease-fire with the militia of Moqtada al-Sadr. The last time you two gentlemen came before this committee, Prime Minister Maliki had just told the world that if American forces were to leave Iraq, he could, quote, “find new friends.” Well, we haven’t left, but he seems to be cementing his friendship with Iran.

Ambassador Crocker, what is the nature and level of Iranian influence in Iraq today, and what is the U.S. doing to limit it? To what extent was the cease-fire in Basra the result of Iranian initiative? To what extent does our ultimate success in Iraq depend on decisions in Teheran? General Petraeus, without giving our enemies operational details, can you provide the American people with your plan to eliminate the Iranian anti-coalition presence in Iraq?

The “surge” produced a number of tactical successes and a few opportunities to achieve political progress, as well. But strategically, it seems to me that we’re treading water. The “surge” was meant to buy time for Mr. Maliki and other Iraqi leaders to move toward ending this civil conflict with a political settlement. Unfortunately, they seem not to have much availed themselves of this opportunity. And in the meantime, we have strained U.S. military readiness, sacrificed precious lives and billions of hard-earned dollars, and curtailed our ability to address our country’s other needs and priorities. All in the name of creating a more stable, secure Iraq that would in turn help bring more security to the Middle East. Gentlemen, are we anywhere near there yet? This committee awaits your answers.

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