THE TESTIMONY DELIVERED YESTERDAY by General David Petraeus and Ambassador
Ryan Crocker provides an opportunity to assess progress in Iraq since last
September (the last time the two men were in Washington, D.C.), and evaluate
what is needed moving forward. Last fall's testimonies noted the initial
improvements that resulted from the U.S. troop "surge," which reached
its full deployment only three months prior to the September testimony. Seven
months have now passed (ten months since the surge troops were fully deployed),
and General Petraeus testified yesterday that Iraq's security situation has
continued to improve: "Security in Iraq is better than it was when
Ambassador Crocker and I reported to you last September, and it is
significantly better than it was 15 months ago when Iraq was on the brink of
A combination of factors has produced the improved situation. In addition to
the increase in U.S. forces
through the surge, the change in U.S. counterinsurgency strategy has
been significant. Related to that shift in strategy, the Awakening movement and
the Sons of Iraq have had a cognizable impact by helping Iraqis take the
security situation into their own hands. The Mahdi Army's ceasefire has reduced
levels of violence, as has the fact that al Qaeda in Iraq's barbarous activities
alienated it from the Iraqi population. And the much-maligned Iraqi security
forces have increased in number and capability. But the picture painted
yesterday was not entirely positive: as General Petraeus emphasized, progress
has been "significant but uneven."
One topic of celebration in the testimony delivered last September was the
success of the Anbar Awakening movement. General Petraeus noted at the time that "today, [Anbar Province]
is a model of what happens when local leaders and citizens decide to oppose
al-Qaeda and reject its Taliban-like ideology." Just days after that
testimony, the Awakening was dealt a significant blow when its founder, Abdul
Sattar al-Rishawi, was assassinated. While this could have been devastating for
the group, Abdul Sattar's brother Ahmed Abu Risha has managed to salvage the
movement; today there are branches of the Awakening movement throughout Iraq.
Since September, the Awakening movement has continued to root out al Qaeda
and establish local security. General Petraeus said in yesterday's testimony:
"Awakenings have prompted tens of thousands of Iraqis--some, former
insurgents--to contribute to local security as so-called 'Sons of Iraq.'"
Currently, more than 91,000 Sons of Iraq (both Sunni and Shia) are actively
working to build security at a local level. While there are significant
question marks about some U.S.
allies who fall under the Sons of Iraq program, such as Hajji Abu Abed, the program has on the whole bolstered
stability and helped Coalition forces attain valuable intelligence on weapons
caches and terrorist activity. "We have already found more caches in 2008
than we found in all of 2006," General Petraeus said yesterday, placing
the number of caches found and cleared at 2,837 countrywide.
General Petraeus also noted improvements in the Iraqi security forces,
stating that "Iraq
has also conducted a surge, adding well over 100,000 additional soldiers
and police to the ranks of its security forces in 2007." Today over 100
Iraqi combat battalions are "capable of taking the lead in operations."
Though the U.S.’s
local allies continue to gain in strength, Iran's influence has plagued
Coalition and Iraqi forces. The U.S.
military only began seriously addressing this influence in early 2007. Since
then, the military has captured several key Iranian operatives working in Iraq,
including a Hezbollah commander assigned to build "Special Groups"
(the name for the Iranian-supported cells largely culled from Muqtada al-Sadr's
Mahdi Army), a senior Qods Force officer, and the leader and tactical commander
of the Qazali network. Despite these captures, Ambassador Crocker stated that
continues to undermine the efforts of the Iraqi government to establish a
stable, secure state through the authority and training of criminal militia
elements engaged in violence against Iraqi security forces, coalition forces
and Iraqi civilians."
The latest example of the struggle against Iranian influence was the battle
between Iraqi security forces and rogue factions of Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi
Army, which we wrote about late last week. General Petraeus highlighted
the dichotomous lessons learned from this recent fighting. "Recent
operations in Basra
highlight improvements in the ability of the Iraqi Security Forces to deploy
substantial numbers of units, supplies, and replacements on very short
notice," he said. "On the other hand, the recent operations also
underscored the considerable work still to be done in the areas of logistics,
force enablers, staff development, and command and control." On the positive
side of the ledger, Ambassador Crocker has pointed out one additional lesson to
be drawn from the Basra
fighting: the fact that the "Shi'a
majority government . . . has demonstrated its commitment to taking on
criminals and extremists regardless of sectarian identity."
Given the security improvements in Iraq, the crux of the current
debate is the status of political reconciliation in the country. Ambassador
Crocker said yesterday that "despite a slow start they [the Iraqis] have
gained significant momentum" toward local, provincial, and national
reconciliation. On a national level, the clearest evidence is seen in the Iraqi
government's recent legislative accomplishments. As Fred Kagan has noted, between January 2007 and March 2008 Iraq's
government "met 12 of the original 18 benchmarks set for it, including
four out of the six key legislative benchmarks. It has made substantial
progress on five more, and only one remains truly stalled." The
legislative situation is dramatically improved compared to 2007.
The key benchmark issues that have been accomplished include the Provincial
Powers Law (which included setting elections for October 1, 2008), the
Accountability and Justice Law (de-Baathification reform), an amnesty law, and
approval of the 2008 budget. To achieve this, Iraq's government adopted "a creative and unprecedented accord in Iraqi
politics" in which all three laws were voted on simultaneously on February
13, 2008. This method ensured that all voting blocs were present for each vote,
thus neutralizing some sectarian groups' tactic of failing to appear or walking
out prior to particular votes.
To be sure, Iraq's
parliament will face many further challenges. General Petraeus explained that
"[i]n the coming months, Iraq's leaders must strengthen governmental
capacity, execute budgets, pass additional legislation, conduct provincial
elections, carry out a census, determine the status of disputed territories,
and resettle internally displaced persons and refugees. These tasks would
challenge any government, much less a still developing government tested by
Indeed, General Petraeus emphasized numerous times in his testimony the
challenges that lay ahead. One critical factor in ensuring sustained progress
is the Iraqi security forces' continued development. As we have already noted,
the Iraqi troops have improved qualitatively and quantitatively. But as General
Petraeus said yesterday, the "Iraqi Security Forces are not yet ready to
or maintain security throughout the country on their own." The United States cannot maintain a significant
presence in Iraq forever,
forces must shoulder greater responsibility without being rushed to perform
tasks they cannot manage.
The issue of militias will also be paramount over the course of the year. If
government is to be a legitimate, viable entity, it must establish and maintain
a monopoly of force. This means that private militias must be disbanded. The
steps taken to marginalize the Mahdi Army have been positive, but they must
also be applied to the remaining Peshmerga units and Badr forces not integrated
into the state apparatus.
The integration of the Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi security forces should
also be a priority. The Sunni and Shia fighters who have turned their weapons
on al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army need to be rewarded for their efforts, and
should be invited to participate in providing for Iraq's security. General Petraeus
noted that progress has been made on this score, as "over 21,000 [Sons of
Iraq] have already been accepted into the Police or Army or other government
Legislatively, much remains to be done. As the hearings clearly indicated,
political reconciliation efforts are incomplete. As General Petraeus noted, the
security progress--however important--does not represent "a turning of a
corner." Among other things, Iraq's parliament needs to enact an
oil law that ensures an equitable revenue sharing program that will mitigate
and not aggravate sectarian fighting.
There are additional challenges--including Iran's
role, the PKK's activities, and porous borders that allow a flow of foreign
fighters into Iraq--that
must also be addressed. One primary message coming out of yesterday's hearings
was that the Iraqis must do more to secure their own future. But equally clear
is the fact that they still require American assistance.
Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus were adamant yesterday that the
has experienced since January 2007 is "fragile and reversible."
Ambassador Crocker noted that he "cannot guarantee success in Iraq"--but
it is certainly possible. We should encourage--even pressure--the Iraqis to
take important steps in building their state, but we must also keep in mind
that a dramatic change of course on our own part would likely disrupt the
combination of factors that have helped turn Iraq from a disaster to a
salvageable situation. As Ambassador Crocker said yesterday, a stable Iraq is not simply in the interest of "the
27 million citizens of Iraq;
it is also vitally important to those in the Gulf region, to the citizens of the
and to the global community."