In his testimony to Congress on Sept. 10, 2007, Gen. David Petraeus used a flagrantly misleading slide to depict how violence in Baghdad had changed over time. Petraeus’ report to Congress, you’ll recall, was oral rather than in writing; the only points of reference he provided were this set of slides (PDF). The slide in question (on page 4) misrepresented, by minimizing, the very considerable extent of ethnic/sectarian cleansing that had occurred during the "surge". I exposed the falsification here on the day he testified.
It was hard to avoid the conclusion that Petraeus or his staff had deliberately falsified that one critical slide, especially given that a similar but unfalsified slide had appeared in a report that was issued only a few days earlier. Although McClatchy picked up and reported upon the falsification, as far as I know neither the Pentagon nor Gen. Petraeus ever owned up to misleading Congress. It should have been a major scandal, because it speaks to the question of Petraeus' credibility about the alleged success of the "surge". But instead the falsification received relatively little attention in the traditional media.
Yesterday, Petraeus showed another slide of changing violence in Baghdad (PDF). This version is considerably more accurate than the earlier slide. Indeed to select one example for illustration, it’s immediately apparent that Petraeus’ current depiction of the state of Baghdad in December 2006 has changed since his report to Congress last September. Petraeus has quietly corrected the false slide he showed to Congress in September.
Hence with this correction Petraeus has tacitly demonstrated that he knows he misled Congress in his September 2007 report.
Here (on the far right) is the version he showed Congress last September depicting Baghdad in Dec. 2006, and (to the left of that) is the map he showed Congress yesterday. Blue zones depict majority Sunni neighborhoods; green zones are majority Shiite neighborhoods; and brown zones are mixed Shiite/Sunni neighborhoods.
The map from yesterday appears to be accurate. In any case, the sectarian make up of the neighborhoods is different from the inaccurate map shown last September. Notice for example that yesterday's version has a large mixed (brown) neighborhood in the south of the city, whereas the falsified slide on the right showed that neighborhood as majority Sunni.
Why in the world would Petraeus have showed a falsified slide to Congress last September? The reason easily can be inferred, I think, from the map he showed last fall of Baghdad as of September 2007. Compare that to his map (above, right) of the city in December 2006. The sectarian make up of the city was essentially identical in the two slides. No coincidence, that. The sectarian make up of Baghdad remained static in each of Petraeus' violence-maps spanning the period Dec. 2006 to Sept. 2007. If you were a member of Congress last September, you would have concluded from that set of maps that ethnic/sectarian cleansing had stopped during that 10 month period.
The opposite was true, of course. Baghdad neighborhoods had suffered horrific cleansing during the period of the "surge". It was an enormous political embarrassment for the Bush administration. As I remarked last September while exposing the falsification:
The maps falsify one of the most delicate of issues: The failure of the "surge" to stem ethnic/sectarian cleansing of Baghdad. If that information were brought to the fore, it would call into question the claims by Petraeus and other spokespeople for the Bush administration that the "surge" is responsible for an alleged drop in violence in Baghdad. If there is any such drop, it may be due in large part to the success of Shia attempts to drive Sunnis from their homes and into exile.
How can we be sure that the falsification was deliberate? Take a look at this illustration from page 34 of the Report of the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq (PDF). The Commission, headed by Gen. James Jones USMC (Ret.), released its report four days before Petraeus' testimony, on Sept. 6, 2007. These violence-maps are similar in format to those of Petraeus. However, the Jones maps honestly represent the changing face of Baghdad as sectarian cleansing proceeds over time, in contrast to the falsified maps of Petraeus.
It's clear that both sets of slides originated inside the Pentagon. The graphics of Petraeus' slides have obvious affinities to those in the Pentagon quarterly reports on Iraq, for example. To observe that, one need only compare slide 2 of Petraeus' September report with the same illustration at page 16 of the Pentagon's Dec. 2007 Quarterly Report.
It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the violence maps from last September were produced in an above-board way by the Pentagon, and used as received by the Jones Commission. But by contrast, Petraeus or his staff tweaked those Pentagon maps to eliminate the signs of sectarian cleansing. After the falsification was exposed, perhaps Petraeus decided not to try that game a second time.
It's far from clear whether the slides Petraeus showed Congress this time are entirely reliable. His violence map for March 2008 shows a reversal of sectarian cleansing in certain neighborhoods since last August. For example, in central Baghdad there appear to be many more mixed neighborhoods now in what used to be predominantly Shiite-controlled areas. That strikes me as somewhat dubious, though not impossible. Others who are more familiar with the current ethnic mix in Baghdad might wish to take a close look at the current map presented by Gen. Petraeus, particularly given that his maps last September were demonstrably false.
In any case, the most important point is that Gen. Petraeus has essentially admitted now that his presentation to Congress contained false information. He did so quietly, however, rather than forthrightly. Will he come forward and explain why that information was false?