HILLA, Iraq (Reuters) - The top U.S. military commander in Iraq on Thursday promised the truth from a progress report on the country that he will deliver to Washington in September.
“We are not going back to present examples of success,” General David Petraeus told Reuters and two other foreign reporters who accompanied him on a trip to the city of Hilla, south of Baghdad.
“We are going back to present the truth, to provide a forthright, comprehensive assessment of the situation at the time.”
The report to U.S. lawmakers by Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker will examine how much has been achieved since 28,000 extra troops were sent to the country for a major summer offensive to halt Iraq’s slide into sectarian civil war.
The findings might be critical for future support from Congress, which can cut funding for the increasingly unpopular war and where calls for a troop withdrawal have mounted.
Two senior members of U.S. President George W. Bush’s own Republican Party this week called for a new approach, reflecting public skepticism over the White House’s Iraq strategy.
Petraeus said he was well aware that the “clock is moving back at a pretty high rate of speed” in Washington. But he vowed this would not influence the September assessment, and cautioned the report would acknowledge poor progress on some issues.
“The ambassador and I will go back and we will lay it out as it is,” he said after a graduation ceremony for 1,000 Iraqi cadets at the Hilla Police Academy.
“There certainly will be areas in which the Iraqis, with our support, have not been able to achieve all that they hoped to, or all that is in all the different benchmarks,” he said.
The United States wants to see new laws agreed on sharing oil revenues more fairly, holding provincial elections, and amending a ban on former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath party from serving in the government or military.
The new laws are aimed at reconciling the majority Shi’ite government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki with minority Sunni Arabs, who received preferential treatment under Saddam’s regime and are now the backbone of the anti-U.S. insurgency.
Shi’ite anger at sectarian attacks blamed on Sunni Islamist al Qaeda, such as the destruction of the twin minarets of a Shi’ite mosque in the city of Samarra this month, has also inflamed tensions.
Washington hopes its summer offensive in and around Baghdad will dampen the violence by disrupting al Qaeda suicide bombers from carrying out attacks.
Petraeus said there had been some early signs of success from the operation, as tens of thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops target militant hotbeds, but he cautioned against any premature judgments.
“The fact is that we have only had all of our forces actually on the ground and in action here for still less than a couple of weeks,” he said.
With the arrival of all reinforcements, the U.S. military now has 157,000 troops in Iraq.