The day has finally arrived for the congressional hearings on Iraq featuring Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker. And although today was once seen as a marker of when things in Iraq would have to change, it looks like Petraeus will ask for six more months, says the New York Timesin its lead story. Petraeus is apparently willing to withdraw one brigade (about 4,000 troops) in mid-December but wants to delay any decision on major pullbacks until March. The Washington Postgoes across the top with today's testimony but focuses on Crocker, who has received much less attention but whose testimony "may carry far more import for the long-term future of Iraq and the U.S. presence there." In the mostly positive profile, the Post's Karen DeYoung, who has filed a couple of great stories this past week, says Crocker will be able to report some small bits of progress even though the larger political landscape in Iraq is far from positive.
USA Todayleads with a new poll that says most Americans don't think Petraeus will give an objective report on the war and that 60 percent say a withdrawal timetable should be set and followed "regardless of what is going on in Iraq." The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with news that the United States is planning to build a military base near the Iraq-Iran border to help keep smuggled weapons from reaching Shiite militias. This is seen as an example of how the U.S. military is more focused on Shiite militias and not Sunnis. The Los Angeles Timesleads with word that the Hewlett Foundation will give UC-Berkeley $113 million to help prevent top professors from leaving for private universities with deeper pockets.
Petraeus' willingness to remove one brigade out of 20 in mid-December, which is slightly different from what the papers reported last week, would be the beginning of a process to withdraw a few more brigades next year. This would reduce the American presence in Iraq to 15 combat brigades by August. But that is still dependent on conditions on the ground and Petraeus has recommended that no decisions be made on reducing the number of troops below the pre-"surge" levels before March.
Much of what Petraeus is likely to tell Congress has already been reported in the papers over the past few days, so no one expects any big surprises. The LAT handily summarizes the three major points: There's been some progress, the Iraq government has failed but local officials are taking up some of the slack, and a quick withdrawal would be disastrous. Although the cooperation with Sunni leaders in Anbar is likely to be mentioned prominently, the LAT fronts a look at how most don't believe it's actually a model that could be followed for all of Iraq.
The NYT also fronts a poll, and just like USAT,reports that despite the skepticism of Petraeus' report most Americans trust the military commanders more than the president or Congress to deal with Iraq. More than 60 percent of Americans believe the war was a mistake and most favor a "measured approach" to troop reduction.
Democrats also expressed skepticism yesterday that the testimony by Petraeus and Crocker will truly be objective, a claim the White House vehemently denied.
Although this week will certainly bring lots of debate, the WSJ fronts Democrats conceding they won't have enough votes to force a major change in strategy. This would mean "the decision on how and when to disengage from Iraq will almost certainly fall to the next president," says the WSJ.
The Post goes inside with a look at how Democrats have repeatedly tried, and failed, to change the direction of the Iraq war. Meanwhile, they've had to sit and watch as Congress' approval ratings have plunged to historic lows. Of course, much of this failure is because of simple math and their slim majority in the Senate, but Democrats have repeatedly failed to capitalize on growing skepticism among Republicans toward the war. Democratic leaders now seem more willing to compromise, but it's unclear whether it will make much of a difference.
Although there's a certain feeling of déjà vu to this whole process, the NYT notes inside that one thing that has definitely changed is this time around "no one will be talking about achieving victory, just stability." The administration's plan is to keep Bush out of the way until he addresses the country about future plans for Iraq later in the week (probably on Thursday, says the WP).
The WSJ fronts word that Dallas-based Hunt Oil Co. has come to an agreement with Iraq's Kurdish region to explore for oil. This is seen as a sign of how foreign companies are willing to skip over Baghdad and deal directly with regional leaders.