75% of Baghdad Secure, Up from 8%

75% of Baghdad Secure, Up from 8% The good guys “own the streets” in Baghdad.

About 75% of Baghdad’s neighborhoods are now secure, a dramatic increase from 8% a year ago when President Bush ordered more troops to the capital, U.S. military figures show. The military classifies 356 of Baghdad’s 474 neighborhoods in the “control” or “retain” category of its four-tier security rating system, meaning enemy activity in those areas has been mostly eliminated and normal economic activity is resuming.

The data given by the military to USA TODAY provide one of the clearest snapshots yet of how security has improved in Baghdad since roughly 30,000 additional American troops arrived in Iraq last year. U.S. commanders caution that the gains are still fragile, but at the moment U.S. and Iraqi forces “basically own the streets,” said Col. Ricky Gibbs, a brigade commander in southern Baghdad.

The fight to control Baghdad is the centerpiece of the counterinsurgency strategy launched a year ago by Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. The plan, popularly known as the “surge,” seeks to reduce sectarian and other violence by moving troops off large bases and into dangerous neighborhoods to protect civilians.

Obviously, this is very good news. It goes too far, though, to say that this demonstrates that the Surge worked. The goal was to alleviate the worst of the violence — which has happened — so as to provide breathing room for political reconciliation. That has not been achieved.

When President Bush announced the policy last January, he said,

A successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations. Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities. So America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.

There were five benchmarks. Here’s how they’re going:

  • To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq’s provinces by November [2007].

Not even close. The deadline has “slipped” numerous times, with July 2008 being the most recent target.

  • To give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.

The government actually agreed on a plan within a few weeks of the speech but implementation remains “stalled.”

  • To show that it is committed to delivering a better life, the Iraqi government will spend 10 billion dollars of its own money on reconstruction and infrastructure projects that will create new jobs.

Hasn’t happened. Indeed, they’re not even spending the billions we’re giving them for reconstruction.

  • To empower local leaders, Iraqis plan to hold provincial elections later this year.

Nope. Local leaders are “empowering” themselves, though, in many cases, stepping in to fill the vacuum left by an ineffective central government.

  • And to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation’s political life, the government will reform de-Baathification laws and establish a fair process for considering amendments to Iraq’s constitution.

They passed the first step in the de-Baathification reform earlier this week. As CFR notes, this was merely “the first of eighteen political benchmarks set by Washington in early 2007 to be met.” Still, some think this may signal a breakthrough in the overall logjam.

On the heels of passage of the de-Baathification measure, several Shiite, Sunni, and secular political groups announced formation of a common front to press for action on oil revenue-sharing legislation and on the prickly issue of control over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. The new political alliance may be a sign that determination is growing among nationalist forces to blunt the regionalist tendencies of some Kurdish and Shiite blocs.

Let us hope. We’re not nearly as close a year into the Surge as hoped — much less after nearly five years of war — but there is measurable progress. Then again, we’ve had false hope at several points in this process and been disappointed.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. yetanotherjohn says:

    Of course the next question is “so what”. If the Iraqis take the lead in November 2008 vs November 2007, what real impact is that going to have 10 years from now. Or to put it another way, just because the political side isn’t happening as fast as predicted or wished for does that mean we would be better off running away?

    Unless you can predict a reasonable strategy change (like the surge was for violence reduction), then you have to keep going. Saying if we run away it will force them to move faster on the political than they are now is at best a debatable point (it could also force them into making a deal with AQ or Iran) and is one of those things that is pretty hard to return to the status quo if it doesn’t work out (we could always reduce back to pre-surge numbers of troops is a good example of why the surge was not a “destructive test” option).

    And remember, the left was complaining last year that the surge wouldn’t help reduce the violence (e.g. Obama “I did not see anything in the speech or anything in the run- up to the speech that provides evidence that an additional 15,000 to 20,000 more U.S. troops is going to make a significant dent in the sectarian violence that’s taking place there.” ), so now that they are predicting that no political progress is possible with the surge, I am skeptical.

    I think the Obama quote is a good example of why someone who is so inexperienced in military affairs/thinking is not necessarily the best guy for being the commander in chief.

  2. Tano says:

    Amazing what a little ethnic cleansing can do for the stability of neighborhoods.

  3. yetanotherjohn says:


    Do you have any evidence to go with that or did it come out of the same orifice that Obama got his position on why Anabar has gotten so much safer.

  4. Michael says:

    We’re not nearly as close a year the Surge this as hoped


  5. Bandit says:

    The Dems can’t stand the agony of victory. American victory anyhow.