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
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.