WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, on Monday appeared before a joint session of the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees to testify about the progress of the war in Iraq.
Gen. David Petraeus, left, and Ryan Crocker prepare to testify Monday.
Following is a partial transcript of opening statements.
Gen. David Petraeus
Mr. Chairman, ranking members, members of the committees, thank you for the opportunity to provide my assessment of the security situation in Iraq and to discuss the recommendations I recently provided to my chain of command for the way forward.
At the outset I would like to note that this is my testimony. Although I have briefed my assessment and recommendations to my chain of command, I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared by nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House or the Congress until it was just handed out.
As a bottom line up front, the military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met. In recent months, in the face of tough enemies in the brutal summer heat of Iraq, coalition and Iraqi security forces have achieved progress in the security arena.
Though the improvements have been uneven across Iraq, the overall number of security incidents in Iraq has declined in eight of the past 12 weeks, with the number of incidents in the last two weeks at the lowest levels seen since June 2006.
One reason for the decline in incidence is that coalition and Iraqi forces have dealt significant blows to al Qaeda Iraq. Though al Qaeda and its affiliates remain dangerous, we have taken away a number of their sanctuaries and gained the initiative in many areas.
We have also disrupted Shiite militia extremists, capturing the head and numerous other leaders of the Iranian-supportive special groups, along with a senior Lebanese Hezbollah operative supporting Iran's activities in Iraq.
Coalition and Iraqi operations have helped reduce ethno-sectarian violence as well, bringing down the number of ethno-sectarian deaths substantially in Baghdad and across Iraq since the height of the sectarian violence last December.
The number of overall civilian deaths has also declined during this period, although the numbers in each area are still at troubling levels.
Iraqi security forces have also continued to grow and to 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.
Additionally, in what may be the most significant development of the past eight months, the tribal rejection of al Qaeda that started in Anbar province and helped produce such significant change there has now spread to a number of other locations as well.
Based on all this, and on the further progress we believe we can achieve over the next few months, I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve.
Beyond that, while noting that the situation in Iraq remains complex, difficult and sometimes downright frustrating, I also believe that it is possible to achieve our objectives in Iraq over time, although doing so will be neither quick nor easy.
Having provided that summary, I would like to review the nature of the conflict in Iraq, recall the situation before the surge, describe the current situation and explain the recommendations I have provided to my chain of command for the way ahead in Iraq.
The fundamental source of the conflict in Iraq is competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources. This competition will take place and its resolution is key to producing long-term stability in the new Iraq. The question is whether the competition takes place more or less violently.
This chart shows the security challenges in Iraq.
This chart shows the security challenges in Iraq. Foreign and homegrown terrorists, insurgents, militia extremists and criminals all push the ethno-sectarian competition toward violence. Malign actions by Syria and especially by Iran fuel that violence.
Lack of adequate governmental capacity, lingering sectarian mistrust, and various forms of corruption add to Iraq's challenges.
In our recent efforts to look to the future, we found it useful to revisit the past.
In December 2006, during the height of the ethno-sectarian violence that escalated in the wake of the bombing of the golden dome mosque in Samarra, the leaders in Iraq at that time, General George Casey and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, concluded that the coalition was failing to achieve its objectives.
Their review underscored the need to protect the population and reduce sectarian violence, especially in Baghdad.
As a result, General Casey requested additional forces to enable the coalition to accomplish these tasks and those forces began to flow in January.
In the ensuing months, our forces and our Iraqi counterparts have focused on improving security, especially in Baghdad and the areas around it. Wresting sanctuaries from al Qaeda control and disrupting the efforts of the Iranian-supported militia extremists.
We have employed counterinsurgency practices and an underscored the importance of units living among the people they are securing. And, accordingly, our forces have established dozens of joint security stations and patrol bases manned by coalition and Iraqi forces in Baghdad and in other areas across Iraq.
In mid-June, with all the surge capabilities in place, we launched a series of offensive operations focused on expanding the gains achieved in the preceding months in Anbar province, clearing Baquba, several key Baghdad neighborhoods, the remaining sanctuaries in Anbar province and important areas in the so called belts around Baghdad, and pursuing al Qaeda in the Diyala river valley and several other areas.
Throughout this period as well, we engage in dialogue with insurgent groups and tribes. And this led to additional elements standing up to oppose al Qaeda and other extremists.
We also continued to emphasize the development of the Iraqi security forces and we employed non-kinetic means to exploit the opportunities provided by the conduct or our kinetic combat operations, aided in this effort by the arrival of additional provincial reconstruction teams.
The progress our forces have achieved with our Iraqi counterparts has, as I noted at the outset, been substantial. While there have been setbacks as well as successes and tough losses along the way, overall our tactical commanders and I see improvements in the security environment.
We do not, however, just rely on gut feel or personal observations. We also conduct considerable data collection and analysis to gauge progress and determine trends. We do this by gathering and refining data from coalition and Iraqi operation centers, using a methodology that has been in place for well over a year, and that has benefited over the past seven months from the increased presence of our forces living among the Iraqi people.
We endeavor to ensure our analysis of that data is conducted with rigor and consistency, as our ability to achieve a nuanced understanding of the security environment is dependent on collecting and analyzing data in a consistent way over time.
Two U.S. intelligence agencies recently reviewed our methodology and they concluded that the data we produced is the most accurate and authoritative in Iraq.
As I mentioned up front and as the chart before you reflects, the level of security incidents has decreased significantly since the start of the surge of offensive operations in mid-June, declining in eight of the past 12 weeks, with the level of incidents in the past two weeks the lowest since June 2006, and with the number of attacks this past week the lowest since April 2006.
Civilian deaths of all categories, less natural causes, have also declined considerably, by over 45 percent Iraq-wide since the height of the sectarian violence in December. This is shown by the top line on this chart. And the decline by some 70 percent in Baghdad is shown by the bottom line.
Periodic mass casualty attacks by al Qaeda have tragically added to the numbers outside Baghdad in particular. Even without the sensational attacks, however, the level of civilian deaths is clearly still too high and continues to be of serious concern.
As the next chart shows, the number of ethno-sectarian deaths, an important subset of the overall civilian casualty figures, has also declined significantly since the height of the sectarian violence in December. Iraq-wide, as shown by the top line on this chart, the number of ethno-sectarian deaths has come down by over 55 percent, and it would have come down much further were it not for the casualties inflicted by barbaric al Qaeda bombings attempting to reignite sectarian violence.
In Baghdad, as the bottom line shows, the number of ethno- sectarian deaths has come down by some 80 percent since December.
This chart also displays the density of sectarian incidents in various Baghdad neighborhoods, and it both reflects the progress made in reducing ethno-sectarian violence in the Iraqi capital, and identifies the areas that remain the most challenging.
As we have gone on the offensive in former al Qaeda and insurgent sanctuaries, and as locals have increasingly supported our efforts, we have found a substantially increased the number of arms, ammunition and explosives caches.
As this chart shows, we have, so far this year, already found and cleared over 4,400 caches; nearly 1,700 more than we discovered in all of last year.
This may be a factor in the reduction in the number of overall improvised explosive device attacks in recent months, which, as this chart shows, has declined sharply by about one third since June.
The change in the security situation in Anbar province has, of course, been particularly dramatic.
As this chart shows, monthly attack levels in Anbar have declined from some 1,350 in October 2006, to a bit over 200 in August of this year. This dramatic decrease reflects the significance of the local rejection of al Qaeda and the newfound willingness of local Anbaris to volunteer to serve in the Iraqi army and Iraqi police service.
As I noted earlier, we are seeing similar actions in other locations as well. To be sure, trends have not been uniformly positive across Iraq, as is shown by this chart depicting violence levels in several key Iraqi provinces.
The trend in Nineveh province, for example, has been much more up and down until a recent decline, and the same is true in Salahuddin province, Saddam's former home province, though recent trends there and in Baghdad have been in the right direction recently.
In any event, the overall trajectory in Iraq, a steady decline of incidents in the past three months, is still quite significant.
The number of car bombings and suicide attacks has also declined in each of the past five months from a high of some 175 in March, as this chart shows, to about 90 this past month.
While this trend in recent months has been heartening, the number of high-profile attacks is still too high, and we continue to work hard to destroy the networks that carry out these barbaric attacks.
Our operations have, in fact, produced substantial progress against al Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq.
As this chart shows, in the past eight months, we have considerably reduced the areas in which al Qaeda enjoyed sanctuary. We have also neutralized five media cells, detained the senior Iraqi leader of al Qaeda Iraq, and killed or captured nearly 100 other key leaders and some 2,500 rank-and-file fighters.
Al Qaeda is certainly not defeated. However, it is off balance, and we are pursuing its leaders and operators aggressively.
Of note, as the recent national intelligence estimate on Iraq explained, these gains against al Qaeda are as a result of the synergy of actions by conventional forces to deny the terrorists sanctuary, intelligence of surveillance and reconnaissance assets to find the enemy, and special operations elements to conduct targeted raids.
A combination of these assets is necessary to prevent the creation of a terrorist safe haven in Iraq.
In the past six months, we have also targeted Shia militia extremists, capturing a number of senior leaders and fighters, as well as the deputy commander of Lebanese Hezbollah Department 2800, the organization created to support the training, arming, funding -- in some cases -- direction of the militia extremists by the Iranian Republican Guard Corps Quds Force.
These elements have assassinated and kidnapped Iraqi governmental leaders, killed and wounded our soldiers with advanced explosive devices provided by Iran and indiscriminately rocketed civilians in the international zone and elsewhere.
It is increasingly apparent to both coalition and Iraqi leaders that Iran, through the use of this Quds Force, seeks to turn the Iraqi special groups into Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.
(Protester shouts off-mike)
Petraeus: The most significant developments...
(Protester shouts off-mike)
Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Missouri: Would the gentleman suspend -- will the entire group that's back there supporting that person be removed?
Petraeus: The most significant development...
Skelton: Just a minute, general.
Petraeus: Yes, sir.
Petraeus: The most significant development in the past six months likely has been the increasing emergence of tribes and local citizens rejecting al Qaeda and other extremists.
This has, of course, been most visible in Anbar province. A year ago the province was assessed as lost politically. Today it is a model of what happens when local leaders and citizens decide to oppose al Qaeda and reject its Taliban-like ideology.
While Anbar is unique and the model it provides cannot be replicated everywhere in Iraq, it does demonstrate the dramatic change in security that is possible with the support and participation of local citizens.
As this chart shows, other tribes have been inspired by the actions of those in Anbar and have volunteered to fight extremists as well.
We have, in coordination with the Iraqi government's National Reconciliation Committee, been engaging these tribes and groups of local citizens who want to oppose extremists and to contribute to local security. Some 20,000 such individuals are already being hired for the Iraqi police. Thousands of others are being assimilated into the Iraqi army. And thousands more are vying for a spot in Iraq's security forces.
As I noted earlier, Iraqi security forces have continued to grow, to develop their capabilities, and to shoulder more of the burdens of providing security for their country.
Despite concerns about sectarian influence, inadequate logistics and supporting institutions, and an insufficient number of qualified commissioned and noncommissioned officers, Iraqi units are engaged around the country.
As this chart shows, there are now nearly 140 Iraqi army, national police and special operations forces battalions in the fight, with about 95 of those capable of taking the lead in operations, albeit with some coalition support.
Beyond that, all of Iraq's battalions have been heavily involved in combat operations that often result in the loss of leaders, soldiers and equipment. These losses are among the shortcomings identified by operational readiness assessments, but we should not take from these assessments the impression that Iraqi forces are not in the fight and contributing.
Indeed, despite their shortages, many Iraqi units across Iraq now operate with minimal coalition assistance.
As counterinsurgency operations require substantial numbers of boots on the ground, we are helping the Iraqis expand the size of their security forces.
Currently there are some 445,000 individuals on the payrolls of Iraq's Interior and Defense Ministries. Based on recent decisions by Prime Minister Maliki, the number of Iraq security forces will grow further by the end of this year, possibly by as much as 40,000.
Given the security challenges Iraq faces, we support this decision, and we will work with the two security ministries as they continue their efforts to expand their basic training capacity, leader development programs, logistical structures and elements, and various other institutional capabilities to support the substantial growth in Iraqi forces.
Significantly, in 2007, Iraq will, as in 2006, spend more on its security forces than it will receive in security assistance from the United States. In fact, Iraq is becoming one of the United States' larger foreign military sales customers, committing some $1.6 billion to FMS already, with a possibility of up to $1.8 billion more being committed before the end of the year.
(more to come) E-mail to a friend