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Read the Reports


I read the reports on Iraq presented to Congress over the past few weeks. It was disheartening. The brightest news is that many tribal leaders in Anbar province have turned against Al Qaeda and are cooperating, on certain shared objectives, with the U.S. military.

The National Intelligence Estimate—a very carefully worded document—finds that the level of “overall violence remains high” and “Iraq’s sectarian groups remain unreconciled, and Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively.” The report concludes bleakly that “long-term political progress, and economic development are unlikely to emerge unless there is a fundamental shift in the factors driving Iraqi political and security developments.”

The Government Accountability Office observes that “the Iraqi government met 3, partially met 4, and did not meet 11 of its 18 benchmarks. Overall, key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds.” The report notes also that it’s “unclear” whether sectarian violence has decreased, and concludes by warning Congress to balance progress in Iraq with “homeland security goals, foreign policy goals, and other goals of the United States.”

Gen. James Jones’ report finds that—when supported by U.S. forces—more than 75 percent of the battalions in the Iraqi Army can carry out counterinsurgency operations. The bad news is that the Iraqi Army “will be unable to fulfill their essential security responsibilities independently over the next 12-18 months.” The Iraqi police service is “under-equipped and compromised by militia and insurgent infiltration” and is “incapable of providing security at a level sufficient to protect Iraqi neighborhoods.” As for the national police, “the force is not viable in its current form” and should be disbanded and reorganized. Most devastating, “The Ministry of the Interior is a ministry in name only.”

Gen. David H. Petraeus’ report to Congress starts with a flourish: “As a bottom line up front,” says the general, “the military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met.” Like the earlier speakers, he notes the favorable turn of events in Anbar province. But unlike the others, this general is emphatically clear in stating “the number of security incidents in Iraq has declined in 8 of the past 12 weeks, with the numbers of incidents in the last two weeks at the lowest levels seen since June 2006.”

A churlish skeptic might question how Petraeus calculated those shrinking “security incidents.” The context indicates the general is talking about combat deaths, but death-count totals provided by the United States Department of Defense show more U.S. troops have died in Iraq during June, July, and August of this year than the same three-month period in 2003, 2004, 2005, or 2006.

Petraeus further states that the number of sectarian deaths also has declined. But for some bizarre reason the general doesn’t count any victim who has died from a shot to the front of the head. By excluding those deaths, he comes up with a happy result showing that sectarian violence has dropped by 55 percent. But by the reckoning of the Iraqi government, there has been little or no decline in violence.

Gen. Petraeus is widely considered the best man for the job in Iraq because, as Congress likes to say, he wrote the book on counterinsurgency. I wonder if anyone in Congress has read it. Counterinsurgency Field Manual (sometimes know as Field Manual 3-24) is a comprehensive book, filled with an alert sensitivity to the way individuals and societies actually work. After reading Petraeus’ manual, it’s impossible to imagine a counterinsurgency more difficult to carry out than this in Iraq.

Petraeus writes that the main objective of counterinsurgency is to establish the legitimacy of the Iraqi government. The primary piece of good news celebrated in the reports to Congress is the shift of certain tribal leaders in Anbar province. Those Sunni now work with United States support against Al Qaeda; furthermore, the United States is helping them establish a police force drawn from the local Sunni population. They’ve also quit the prime minister’s cabinet. Success along these lines means a Sunni province better able to stand apart from the Shia government in Baghdad.

If success of this kind is replicated in other areas, the Iraqi government may eventually control only its patch of real estate in the American Green Zone. At best, Iraq will become a weak federation with a Kurdish state up north, a Sunni state to the west, and a Shia state extending south where, currently, three Shia factions are battling for control of Iraq’s second largest city.

In his book, Petraeus stresses that military action is only one dimension of a successful counterinsurgency campaign, and that a host of governmental and social services need to advance alongside the pacification of cities and countryside. But the reports to Congress depict a dysfunctional government. Shi’ite Moqtada al-Sadr, who helped bring the government to power, is withdrawing his support, namely 30 seats in parliament. As for the population as a whole, 2 million people have fled the country.

President George Bush and his confederates have been wrong about Iraq on every point. It would be folly to trust their judgment now. A reading of the reports and of Petraeus’ own words leads to the conclusion that we should withdraw from Iraq. Bush’s “success,” will take years. Or, as he put it, “success will require U.S. political, economic, and security engagement that extends beyond my presidency.” No, it’s time to come home.

—Gene Mirabelli

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