WASHINGTON ROWS OVER SURGE POLICY – while Bil Laden proclaims ‘US is weak’

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GENERAL David Petraeus, the top US military commander in Iraq, has clashed with his immediate military superior over President George W Bush’s troop ‘surge’ policy in Iraq, The Washington Post newspaper reported on Sunday.

Admiral William Fallon, the head of Central Command and responsible for US military operations across the Middle East, believes the ‘surge’ strategy is using up valuable troops needed to face other threats, such as Iran, the Post reported.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff – the top generals and admirals who advise the president and are responsible for military readiness – sympathise with that view, according to the Post.

Petraeus and US ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker will testify to Congress on the success of the ‘surge’ policy, which Bush announced in January and involved flooding 28,500 extra troops into war-battered Iraq.

The clash has been brewing since Fallon sent a rear admiral to Baghdad at mid-year to gather information. Soon after Fallon developed plans to radically draw down US troops, the Post reported.

‘He’s been saying from Day One, “This isn’t working”, an unnamed senior administration official told the Post.

Fallon, appointed head of CENTCOM in March, has little trust in the goals and competence of Iraq’s leaders, and doubts the surge will succeed, according to the Post.

‘Bad relations?’ an unnamed senior civilian official told the Post, commenting on the Petraeus-Fallon relationship. ‘That’s the understatement of the century . . . If you think Armageddon was a riot, that’s one way of looking at it.’

Also the independent US government auditor on Friday cast doubt on US military statistics expected to show a huge dip in sectarian violence in Iraq under the current troop surge strategy.

Comptroller General David Walker said there was a ‘significant difference’ of approach between the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which he heads, and Pentagon evaluations of violence in Iraq.

‘The primary difference between us and the military, is whether or not violence has been reduced with regard to sectarian violence,’ Walker told the Senate Armed Services committee.

A GAO report published this week on 18 benchmarks for progress for the Iraqi government set down in law by Congress, found that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s administration had failed to reach targets for cutting violence.

‘It is unclear whether sectarian violence in Iraq has decreased – a key security benchmark,’ the report said, pointing to the difficulty in judging whether a killing was sectarian or criminal in nature.

In his long-awaited testimony to Congress on the progress of the surge, Walker said war commander General David Petraeus cited a large decrease in sectarian violence.

‘I think you need to ask him how he defines sectarian violence,’ Walker told senators.

‘The other thing you have to look at is if it’s sustainable.’

Petraeus argues that sectarian violence in Iraq has fallen by up to 75 per cent under the surge.

‘We could not get comfortable with (the military’s) methodology for determining what’s sectarian versus nonsectarian violence,’ Walker told senators.

‘You know, it’s extremely difficult to know who did it, what their intent was.’

Walker was unable to go into further details, as the rest of the GAO’s conclusions in the report on sectarian violence have been declared secret by the Pentagon, and urged senators to read the classified version of the study.

Democratic Senator Jack Reed asked why such vital information to assessing the state of US policy in Iraq was such a closely guarded secret.

‘This may seem like a dumb question – why is this classified? I mean, who are we trying to keep this information from: the American people?’ Reed said.

Democratic committee chairman Carl Levin meanwhile said he would make a request by the end of Friday for relevant portions of the report to be declassified, so senators could discuss them in a public setting.

Meanwhile, US success in quelling violence in Iraq is uneven, and political progress there is not as the he had hoped, General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, said in a letter to US forces.

Petraeus, who testified before Congress in Washington on Monday on the effectiveness of an eight-month-old, 30,000-man ‘surge’ of US troops told US soldiers in Iraq that there has been significant and continuing progress but that the situation is ‘exceedingly complex.’

‘My sense is that we have achieved tactical momentum and wrested the initiative from our enemies in a number of areas of Iraq,’ Petraeus said in the letter dated September 7 offering a general assessment of the surge.

‘The result has been progress in the security arena, although it has, as you know, been uneven.’

He cited a significant reduction in the number of attacks across the country, in the last week in August hitting the lowest level since June 2006.

‘The progress has not, to be sure, been uniform across Baghdad or across Iraq,’ he said, mentioning recent huge bombings in Baghdad.

‘However, the overall trajectory has been encouraging, especially when compared to the situation at the height of the sectarian violence in late 2006 and early 2007.’

But Petraeus was less positive about advances made on the Iraqi political scene.

‘One of the justifications for the surge, after all, was that it would help create the space for Iraqi leaders to tackle the tough questions and agree on key pieces of “national reconciliation” legislation.

‘It has not worked out as we had hoped,’ he said.

l Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden has mocked the United States as ‘weak’ and vowed to escalate fighting in Iraq in a new video, his first such appearance in nearly three years.

Bin Laden discusses current events but issues no direct threats in the video, released last Friday.

There are two ways to end the Iraq war, bin Laden says, according to a transcript released by the US-based SITE Intelligence Group which monitors Islamic militant websites.

‘The first is from our side, and it is to continue to escalate the killing and fighting against you,’ he says.

The second is to do away with the US democratic system of government, which he says merely serves the interests of major corporations.

In the message bin Laden attacks US President George W Bush, the US neoconservative thinkers that support him and global corporations for fomenting the Iraq war.

He also attacks the US Democratic Party, which he claims has done little to halt the war, makes references to global capitalism and climate change, and invites Americans to embrace Islam.

US intelligence agencies confirmed the tape’s authenticity.

Bin Laden mocks the United States for its troubles in Iraq and the effect of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

‘Despite America being the greatest economic power and possessing the most powerful and up-to-date military arsenal as well . . . 19 young men were able – by the grace of God, the most high – to change the direction of its compass,’ he said in a reference to the September 11 hijackers.

‘America is weak despite its apparent strength,’ he says.

According to the video transcript, bin Laden begins with ‘praise to God’ and his ‘law of retaliation’ – ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and the killer is killed.’

Bush is ‘like the one who ploughs and sows the seed: He harvests nothing but failure,’ bin Laden said.

Addressing the American people directly, he refers to domestic opposition to the Iraq war, saying: ‘the world is following your news in regards to your invasion of Iraq, for people have recently come to know that, after several years of tragedies of this war, the vast majority of you want it stopped.’

He says the Democrats who now control the US Congress have failed to stop the war, and even ‘continue to agree to the spending of tens of billions to continue the killing and war there.’

Bin Laden also refers to recent US headline stories, referring to ‘the burden of interest-related debts, insane taxes and real estate mortgages; global warming and its woes.’