Iraq & the U.S.: Autumn 2007

Students consider official testimony and reports measuring the progress--or lack of it--in Iraq.

The war in Iraq and the US presence there will doubtless be the chief issue in the 2008 elections. The recent reports by General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker and President Bush along with responses to them offer a teachable moment on this critical issue. The three student readings below offer 1) an overview of benchmarks for the Iraqi government and how they have been met according to official sources; 2) excerpts from the reports of the general, the president and the National Intelligence Estimate; 3) conflicting statistics and views of life in Iraq.

Teachers might find a recent New York Times article useful for background. In a front page article on September 9, 2007, by two of its correspondents in Iraq, the Times offers a detailed account headed "At Street Level, Unmet Goals in Iraq: Statistical Gains From Troop Buildup Mask Explosive Tensions in Baghdad."


Student Reading 1:


President Bush, other government officials, military leaders and most of the American public agree that ending violence in Iraq depends upon political reconciliation among the various Iraqi political and sectarian groups. Most prominently, they include Shiites, who represent about 60 percent of the population; Sunnis, who were the dominant group for most of Iraq's history but represent only about 20 percent of Iraqis; and Kurds, a non-Arabic but Muslim group, also representing about 20 percent of Iraqis.

On January 10, 2007, President Bush in a speech to the nation announced a "new strategy" for Iraq. It included a "surge" of additional troops that ultimately added 30,000 to the 130,000 already in Iraq. He said these troops would make it possible to reduce the violence and create "a breathing space" for Iraqi political leaders to come together and solve their problems. The president said:

"I've made it clear to the Prime Minister [al-Maliki] and Iraq's other leaders that America's commitment is not open-ended. If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people-and it will lose the support of the Iraqi people.

"The new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks.  Yet over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. When this happens, daily life will improve...and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas...

"America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has [approve] legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis...spend $10 billion of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs...empower local leaders [by holding] ...provincial elections later this year...allow more Iraqis to enter their nation's political life by [reforming] de-Baathification laws...establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq's constitution."

How has this strategy worked? There are differences of opinion, but two recent official reports offered the following evaluation:

Report card on benchmarks

Column 1 is from the General Accountability Office's evaluation of the Iraqi government's performance this year. Column 2 is the Bush administration's own evaluation. The General Accountability Office is "an agency that works for Congress and the American people," according to the GAO's website ( "Congress asks GAO to study the programs and expenditures of the federal government. GAO, commonly called the investigative arm of Congress or the congressional watchdog, is independent and nonpartisan." The GAO report was made in July, the Administration's in September.

Ensuring that the Iraqi Security Forces are providing
even-handed law enforcement
Not met
Reducing sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security
Not met
Ensuring that Iraq's political authorities are not undermining Iraq's security forces
Not met
Not satisfactory
Passing an oil law ensuring a fair distribution of energy resources to all Iraqis
Not met
Not satisfactory
Spending reconstruction money and delivering essential services on a fair basis
Establishing an independent electoral commission, a provincial elections law and a date for provincial
Not met
Approving and acting upon legislation to make possible participation in the government and civic life for Sunni members of Saddam Hussein's former Baath party
Not met
Forming a constitutional review committee and then completing the constitutional review
Not met



1. What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?

2. If you were to mark the GAO's evaluation with a grade, what would it be? Why? What would be the Administration's grade? Why?

3. Why do you think that the president and most other people think each of the benchmarks is necessary for political resolution?


Student Reading 2:

Official testimony and Reports on Iraq 8 Months Later

The Petraeus report

"I see tangible progress...Iraqi security forces have...continued to grow and shoulder more of the load, albeit slowly and amid continuing concerns about the sectarian tendencies of some elements in their ranks. In general, however, Iraqi elements have been standing and fighting and sustaining tough losses, and they have taken the lead in operations in many areas...Coalition and Iraqi operations have helped reduce ethno-sectarian violence, as well as bringing down the number of ethno-sectarian deaths substantially in Baghdad and across Iraq since the height of sectarian violence last December. The number of overall civilian deaths has also declined during this period..."
(General David Petraeus, top US commander in Iraq, testimony to Congress, 9/11-9/12/07)

President Bush's report

In their testimony, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker "made clear that conditions in Iraq are improving, that we are seizing the initiative from the enemy, and that the troop surge is working...[In Baghdad] many schools and markets are reopening and ordinary life is beginning to return...Because of this success, General Petraeus believes we have now reached the point where we can maintain our security gains with fewer American forces...This vision for a reduced American presence also has the support of Iraqi leaders from all communities.

"At the same time, they understand that their success will require US political, economic, and security engagement that extends beyond my presidency...The success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States. A free Iraq will deny Al Qaeda a safe haven. A free Iraq will counter the destructive ambitions of Iran." (9/13/07)

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report (8/23/07)

The NIE report represents the collective evaluation of 16 US intelligence agencies.

"There have been measurable but uneven improvements in Iraq's security situation since our last NIE on Iraq in January 2007...However, the level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians remains high: Iraq's sectarian groups remain unreconciled; Al Qaeda in Iraq retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks; and to date Iraq's political leaders remain unable to govern effectively."

The chief factors in the continuing violence are "Shia insecurity about retaining political dominance, widespread Sunni unwillingness to accept a diminished political status, factional rivalries within the sectarian communities resulting in armed conflict and the actions of extremists such as Al Qaeda in Iraq and elements of the Sadrist Jaysh al-Mahdi militia that try to fuel sectarian violence."

Testimony of General Petraeus and US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker before Senate Armed Services Committee, 9/11/07 and 9/12/07

Senator John Warner: "Do you feel that the surge "is making America safer?"
General Petraeus: "Sir, I don't know actually. I have not sat down and sorted out in my own mind."

Senator McCain: "What is your level of confidence that the Iraqi government will do the things that we've been asking them to do for a long time?"
Ambassador Crocker: "My level of confidence is under control."

Ambassador Crocker: "The Iraqi government is in many respects dysfunctional."


1. What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be answered?

2. What reasons does General Petraeus give for seeing "tangible progress"? What kinds of progress-political? military? something else?

3. Why does the president see in the Petraeus report reasons that the US can reduce its military forces in Iraq? Do you agree? Why or why not?

4. If you were to ask the president one question that would help you to understand the situation in Iraq better, what would that question be? How do you think he would answer?

5. What do you know about "Al Qaeda in Iraq"? If you don't know much, how might you find out? Why would you need such information to evaluate the president's comment about Al Qaeda?

6. What do you know about what the president calls "the destructive ambitions of Iran"? How do you evaluate his view? If you don't know enough to evaluate it, how might you find out?

7. How does the NIE evaluation of the situation in Iraq compare with General Petraeus' and the president's view? How would you explain any differences?

8. How do you understand the responses of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to questions asked by senators? Why do you suppose the general can't say whether the surge is making America safer? Why do you think the ambassador views the Iraqi government as being dysfunctional in many respects?


Student Reading 3:

Contradictory statistics, life in Iraq and some observations

1. "According to senior officials in Baghdad, overall attacks in Iraq were down to 960 a week in August, compared with 1,700 a week in June, and civilian casualties had fallen 17 percent between December 2006 and last month [August 2007]."
(, 9/6/07)

2. "The death toll from sectarian deaths around the country is running nearly double the pace from a year ago...The deaths of 1,809 Iraqi civilians in August 2007 is the highest monthly total this year." (Associated Press, 8/25/07)

3. Seventy percent of Iraqis believe security has deteriorated since the surge began in early 2007, according to an ABC/BBC poll.

4. According to the Interior Ministry in Baghdad, 1,011 Iraqis died violently in August. But the British newspaper The Independent reports that according to an official in that ministry, the true figure was 2,890. (, 9/12/07) According to the Associated Press, the figure was 1,809. (, 9/10/07)

5. Those who "have looked at the full range of US government statistics on violence accuse the military of cherry-picking positive indicators and caution that the numbers-most of which are classified-are often confusing and contradictory. 'Let's just say that there are several different sources within the administration and those sources do not agree,' Comptroller David Walker told releasing a new General Accounting Office report on Iraq" in July.

Intelligence analysts "puzzled over how the military designated attacks as combat, sectarian or criminal, according to one senior intelligence official in Washington. 'If a bullet went through the back of the head, it's sectarian,' the official said. 'If it went through the front, it's criminal.'"

Warfare in Basra between rival militias that included assassinations of two southern provincial governors was not included in the numbers of attacks. "We do not track this data to any significant degree," said a military spokesperson. Attacks by U.S.-allied Sunni tribesmen recruited to fight Al Qaeda "are also excluded from the US military's calculation of the violence levels."

(, 9/6/07)

6. The Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, reported in 2006 "significant underreporting of violence" in Iraq, noting that "a murder is not necessarily counted as an attack."

7. On average, between 50,000 and 100,000 Iraqis fled their homes during each "surge" month between February and July 2007. (The Red Crescent Society, Iraq's version of the Red Cross, estimates the latter number, the United Nations International Organization for Migration the former.) According to the Global Policy Forum, a nonprofit organization that monitors international developments, more than 4 million Iraqis overall have fled their homes, 2 million to other countries, mostly to Syria and Jordan, and another 2 million to other places in Iraq. Most "have sought refuge with relatives, or in mosques, empty public buildings, or tent camps."

8. "In Iraq, the central government is an object of scorn and ridicule. Mr. Crocker [US ambassador to Iraq] mentioned...the government's failure to deliver needed services, focusing primarily on Baghdad's lack of electricity. However, electricity is a problem in many parts of Diyala, Diwaniya and other areas. Health services have steadily declined because many doctors, along with a broad swath of the educated middle class, have fled the country...

"Crippled by corruption and inefficiency, departments in many ministries are all but private fiefs. While there are dedicated government workers and administrators, they face the longest of odds in trying to deliver services. In some areas, militias control the distribution of gas for cooking as well as ice for refrigeration."
(Analysis by reporters stationed in Baghdad for the New York Times, 9/11/07)

9. "There are three major wars going on in Iraq 1) for control of oil-rich Basra, among Shiite militias and tribes; 2) for control of Baghdad and its hinterlands between Sunni Arabs and Shiites; and 3) for control of oil-rich Kirkuk in the North, between Kurds on the one side and Arabs and Turkmen on the other."
(Juan Cole, professor of Middle East Studies, University of Michigan, at, 9/11/07)

10. The Iraqi armed forces suffer from "limited operational effectiveness." For the "foreseeable future" they will continue to depend upon the US for transportation, air cover, communications, logistical and equipment maintenance. According to a report by an independent commission headed by retired General James Jones of the Marines, "The commission assesses that in the next 12 to 18 months there will be continued improvement in their readiness and capability, but not the ability to operate independently."
(New York Times, 9/6/07)

11. "The Iraq conflict has become a great cause for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement...The Iraq jihad [is one of the underlying factors] fueling the spread of the jihadist movement.
(NIE report, 4/06)

12. "Day after day, the American people see and hear evidence that the president's policy is failing despite incessant cheerleading by administration officials. It is no wonder that the administration's credibility is in tatters and the president largely looked to his top general to sell his stay-the-course strategy."—Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, Democrat and House majority leader
(New York Times, 9/15/07)


1. What questions do you have about the reading? How might they be answered?

2. How would you explain the conflicting statistics about such matters as the death toll in Iraq and the overall security situation?

3. How do the reports in this reading about daily life in Iraq compare with the president's view? How would you explain the different evaluations?

4. According to Juan Cole's description, what contributes to the complexity of the situation in Iraq?

5. According to the NIE, how has the US invasion of Iraq affected the jihadist movement?


For Citizenship

See "Teaching Social Responsibility" on this website for suggestions about how to help students develop a better understanding of the situation in Iraq and become involved as citizens in a vital issue.


For Writing

Write a well-developed paper in which you discuss your views on one of the following and why you hold them:

1. A key benchmark
2. Iraq and the statistics problem

3. Daily life in Iraq

4. Muslim resentment over US involvement in Iraq

5. Is Iraq critical to US security?

This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: