Back From Iraq, Still Facing Fire

Today and tomorrow, the United States ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, and the top American general there, David Petraeus, will appear before Congress to offer a progress report on the war. The Op-Ed page asked six experts on the Iraq conflict to come up with three questions they would pose to the two men.

Beyond the Surge

1. General Petraeus, has the surge bought us anything more enduring than fleeting tactical victories?

2. You and Adm. Michael Mullen, the incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have both said the surge will end in April 2008. What options do we have then?

3. If the United States reduces its forces in Iraq over the next 12 to 24 months, is there a way to pursue our strategic goals of no genocide, no safe haven for Al Qaeda, and no regional war?

Nathaniel Fick, a Marine infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan and the author of One Bullet Away.

Starving the Troops

1. General Petraeus, why have the White House and State Department failed you by neglecting a diplomatic and economic surge to complement the military one?

2. Based on the counterinsurgency calculus in the new Army manual you helped write, you don’t have sufficient manpower in Iraq, even with the surge. Why has the administration not given you enough troops?

3. Americans are well aware of the shortages of matériel, from rifle scopes to armored Humvees, our troops have suffered from. Why, for example, have you not been given a sufficient number of the effective mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles called “MRAPs”?

Paul D. Eaton, a retired Army major general who was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004.

Wrong Way to Vote?

1. Ambassador Crocker, in Iraqi elections, voters pick national party lists, not individuals to represent specific district constituencies. Has this system made it harder for Iraqi leaders to achieve legislative progress? If so, can it be changed?

2. What changes in United States law could help you succeed in your work in Iraq?

3. Should the United States create a civilian reserve corps to train, equip and deploy volunteer civilians for civilian reconstruction tasks, just as we do military reservists for military tasks?

Douglas J. Feith, under secretary of defense for policy from July 2001 to August 2005.

Our 9-Year Plan

1. General Petraeus, with Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, having declared that the current level of American military commitments is “not sustainable,” what are your plans for preserving your recent gains while also achieving security in the rest of Iraq?

2. In an interview with the BBC, you recently observed that “the average counterinsurgency is somewhere around a 9- or a 10-year endeavor.” With the Iraq war now approaching the four-and-a-half year mark, are we halfway to our goal? Or did the nine-year clock begin ticking only with the initiation of the surge?

3. You have described your mission as “buying time for Iraqis to reconcile.” How will we know when reconciliation is occurring? Please explain how American collaboration with Sunni insurgents lends itself to this larger process of reconciliation.

Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

Keep an Eye on Iran

1. Ambassador Crocker, President Bush and others have made reference to bottom-up conciliation and the tribal uprising against insurgents in Anbar Province. Would Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and other Iraqi officials have taken any action to work with Sunni tribal leaders without pressure from the United States? Aren’t you getting constant complaints from tribal leaders, and local and provincial Sunni officials, about the lack of central government cooperation and response?

2. What is the level of Iranian influence over the central government and in Shiite-majority areas in the south? Is it growing or weakening? How does Iran affect the size and actions of the various Shiite militias?

3. What Iraqi ministries are now effective and fully functioning in serving the needs of all Iraqis, rather than influenced by various religious and political factions?

Anthony H. Cordesman, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Bye to the Brits

1. General Petraeus, even if we accept evidence that the “surge” is indeed delivering real tactical results, how great is the value of these when the Iraqi national government and its institutions still seem so ill fitted to exploit them?

2. What do you think might be the consequences for the security situation in Iraq if the United States undertook military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities?

3. How serious are the consequences for allied strategy of the British Army’s withdrawal from Basra? Are the British justified in their assertion that the security situation in the city is now sufficiently stable to allow the Iraqi National Army to manage it?

Max Hastings, British military historian and author of Warriors: Portraits From the Battlefield.