By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 9, 2007 - The commander of coalition forces in Iraq said he won't "pull any punches" in the Iraqi benchmark report due to Congress by Sept. 15. The report will reflect both tactical progress being made in Iraq and areas that still need work, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said yesterday on Fox News Radio's "Alan Colmes Show."
"I have vowed that I will provide a forthright and comprehensive assessment," he said during an interview from Baghdad.
President Bush has said he'll rely heavily on the report by Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker to chart the way ahead in Iraq.
A highlight of the report is expected to be progress on the security front. Petraeus said the troop surge in Iraq is working. "We are making progress," he said. "We have achieved tactical momentum in many areas, especially against al Qaeda in Iraq, and to a lesser degree against the militia extremists."
Petraeus also said he's "heartened by the number of Iraqi tribes and local citizens who have rejected al Qaeda." He conceded that this can't be attributed directly to the surge, "but the surge certainly enabled that to move much more rapidly, we believe, than it otherwise would have."
He said it's too soon to tell how long the surge will need to continue. He and Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Multinational Corps Iraq commander, have been doing "battlefield geometry" to evaluate the impact of troop rotations this fall.
While recognizing the desire to reduce the troop presence in Iraq, he said, "We obviously want to do this in a way that does not surrender gains that our soldiers have fought very hard to achieve."
Troops alone can't solve Iraq's problems, Petraeus said. He reiterated a comment by Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chief of naval operations and the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "No amount of troops in no amount of time will make a difference if there is not commensurate progress on the political level."
In that regard, there's still "an enormous amount of hard work" ahead. Petraeus called himself "a realist" and said he has "a very realistic appraisal of the challenges that are here and the enormous difficulties that face this country in our endeavor."
Sectarian violence is a big concern, and some of Iraq's best military units got caught up in it, he said. He also expressed concern that, despite progress in terms of local reconciliation, "there has not been comparable progress at the national political level here in Iraq."
Petraeus said he and Crocker will report these concerns in full in their upcoming benchmark report. "It will not be an unblemished report," he said, noting that it will likely be more like the interim report, "a mixed bag."