Iraq Benchmark Report – Security

Several news stories have come out this morning (WaPo, NYT, AFP, Blogs) about a report to be issued this morning by the White House providing its preliminary assessment of progress toward 18 benchmarks announced by the president himself to measure our progress in Iraq.

That report, under the title Initial Benchmark Assessment Report, is now out. I’ll likely have more on it later as I have time to digest it but this section of the executive summary is interesting enough to comment on now:

Security: The security situation in Iraq remains complex and extremely challenging. Iraqi and Coalition Forces continue to emphasize population security operations in Baghdad, its environs, and Anbar province to combat extremist networks, and create the space for political reconciliation and economic growth. As a result of increased offensive operations, Coalition and Iraqi Forces have sustained increased attacks in Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, Diyala, and Salah ad Din. Tough fighting should be expected through the summer as Coalition and Iraqi Forces seek to seize the initiative from early gains and shape conditions for longer-term stabilization. These combined operations — named Operation Phantom Thunder — were launched on June 15, 2007, after the total complement of surge forces arrived in Iraq. The full surge in this respect has only just begun.

These new operations are targeting primarily al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) havens in Baghdad, Babil, Diyala, and Anbar provinces. While AQI may not account for most of the violence in Iraq, it is the organization responsible for the highest profile attacks, which serve as a primary accelerant to the underlying sectarian conflict. We presently assess that degrading AQI networks in these critical areas — together with efforts to degrade Iranian-backed Shi’a extremist networks — is a core U.S. national security interest and essential for Iraq’s longer-term stability. Since January of this year, AQI has proven its resiliency and ability to conduct high-profile, mass-casualty attacks, mostly targeting Shi’a population centers through suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIEDs) attacks. The number of suicide and SVBIED attacks in March and April approached all-time highs, further exacerbating sectarian tension and making political deals more difficult to close. These incidents have shown a decrease in May and June, which may be the result of aggressive Coalition and Iraqi operations into former AQI havens. The surge of additional U.S. forces into these areas allows us to better combat AQI and other terrorists. We should expect, however, that AQI will attempt to increase its tempo of attacks as September approaches — in an effort to influence U.S. domestic opinion about sustained U.S. engagement in Iraq.

In Baghdad, an overall decrease in sectarian violence is due in part to intensified Iraqi and Coalition operations focused on population security. An apparent decision earlier this year by the Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) militia to largely stand down its operations appeared to have a temporary effect, but a breakdown in Muqtada al Sadr’s ability to control JAM — or elements thereof — coinciding with the return of JAM fighters from Iran after receiving training in combat and explosives has spawned a recent increase in attacks on Coalition and Iraqi forces. Iran continues to train, fund, and equip extremist groups, both Shi’a and Sunni, that attack Iraqi and Coalition forces in and around Baghdad and the provinces in southern Iraq. JAM “secret cells” are a major recipient of that assistance — and are responsible for some of the most sophisticated attacks on Iraqi and Coalition Forces. As stated in the President’s January 10, 2007, speech announcing the New Way Forward: “We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.” Operations against these networks are ongoing and will continue.

In Anbar province, the local population is turning against AQI and seeking support from the Coalition. At the same time, U.S. military operations and cooperation with local tribal leaders have created openings for local political compromise and more effective civilian assistance. To reinforce these early signs of success, the President ordered additional U.S. military and civilian resources to Anbar. The trends have remained positive. The provincial government — for the first time in a year — is now able to meet in the province and recently approved a comprehensive provincial budget that appropriates virtually all of its $107 million allocation for capital expenditures. Attack levels have reached a 2-year low and some families that had fled Anbar are beginning to return. These developments have been noted in other primarily Sunni areas of Iraq, such as Salah ad-Din province, and areas around Baquba, in Diyala province, where efforts are underway to build on the Anbar experience.

The ISF continues to show slow progress. ISF capability is increasing, but further ISF proficiency, improved logistics, and expanded forces are needed in order to assume more responsibility from Coalition Forces. Comprehensive data and statistics on the ISF — including its projected growth — can be found in the report Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq, submitted quarterly to Congress by the Department of Defense, pursuant to Section 9010 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2007 (Public Law 109-289). It should be noted that Iraqi Security Forces bear the brunt of attacks from insurgents and terrorists. Despite casualty rates two to three times that of Coalition Forces, Iraqi Security Forces continue to fight bravely for their country.

So, essentially, despite AQI comprising something like five percent of the insurgency, we have diverted most of our resources to combating it. And we’re failing. Not only is AQI stronger but, as another report being released today suggests, al Qaeda in general is enjoying a resurgence.

Meanwhile, the ISF continues to be an undependable, lackluster fighting force four years into the game. That, despite their training having been headed up by the counterinsurgency guru who’s now in charge of the whole shebang.

To be fair, the full complement of troops that made up the Surge are just now coming into place. When this was announced, President Bush warned that we would not see immediate results:

This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks. Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering. Yet over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad’s residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas. Most of Iraq’s Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace — and reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible.


Let me be clear: The terrorists and insurgents in Iraq are without conscience, and they will make the year ahead bloody and violent. Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue — and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties. The question is whether our new strategy will bring us closer to success. I believe that it will.

Victory will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship. But victory in Iraq will bring something new in the Arab world — a functioning democracy that polices its territory, upholds the rule of law, respects fundamental human liberties, and answers to its people. A democratic Iraq will not be perfect. But it will be a country that fights terrorists instead of harboring them — and it will help bring a future of peace and security for our children and our grandchildren.

At the same time, the Iraqi government is, by the White House’s own admission, making essentially no progress on any of the meaningful milestones. It has long been an article of faith among both supporters and critics of the war that it would not be won militarily but politically. There’s not much sign that either are happening.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Congress, Democracy, Iraq War, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jim Henley says:

    As usual, lots of forward-looking language. The report authors are to be commended for saying that the apparent May-June drops in sectarian violence “may” stem at least partly from the Dribble, though they lose points for not mentioning possible calendar effects and the possibility that – hey, at some point the Shia just have less ethnic cleansing left to do because most of it has been accomplished.

    Big demerits for the usual “We expect an uptick aimed at influencing the American political calendar” dodge that appears in pretty much every official report ever. Based on longstanding annual trends, I expect an “uptick” in the August-November period because there’s always an increase in insurgent opstempo in August-November.

  2. DC Loser says:

    James – this is about the most pessimistic a tone I’ve heard from you about the war thus far.

  3. James Joyner says:

    James – this is about the most pessimistic a tone I’ve heard from you about the war thus far.

    I’ve been pessimistic for quite a while. The few positive signs we’ve seen since the last election — the last truly significant positive milestone — have been tactical, not strategic. Further, I think John Robb’s likely about right on the nature of the enemy we face.

    The only question in my mind the last few months has been whether the least bad option is to continue to slog forward to give the Iraqi government a chance to get its act together or to pull out with the horrific consequences that would inevitably bring. There’s less room than ever, I’m afraid, for hope.

    At this point, it’s about damage control more than victory. How best to achieve that, I’m afraid, I’m still trying to figure out.

  4. legion says:

    To be fair, the full complement of troops that made up the Surge are just now coming into place. When this was announced, President Bush warned that we would not see immediate results:

    Bull. Despite historical revisions, the surge began in January, and Bush’s touchy-feely criteria that Iraq kinda-sorta is progressing towards in some half-assed kinda way stands in stark contrast to the the imminent report showing that Iraq has met NONE of the benchmarks it was aiming for, even while fully 75% of the surge’s full complement was functioning in-country. If you still think Bush has any grasp on reality left, explain how he can, this very day, state that the people who attacked us on 9-11 are the same people we’re fighting in Iraq now. That’s not merely a bald-faced lie, it’s a clinical derangement.

    ACCEPT THIS: Regardless of how you want to assess blame for getting us to this point, Iraq is irredeemably broken. A new, stable government will eventually form, but not until after the entire country crashes and burns. Hell, his own CIA chief said basically that much last November. Nothing the US does – NOTHING – can prevent this. Keeping our troop sthere accomplishes no worthwhile purpose anymore – all it does is push back the date of conflagration, and that’s clearly all Bush is interested in – keeping the horrific tragedy to come at bay until someone else gets elected. Because of that – the idea of protecting his own page in the history books – Bush will NEVER agree to withdraw out troops. Never. To believe, or even hope, otherwise is to ignore every single shred of evidence of Bush’s personality ever displayed.

  5. Andy says:

    Relax, legion. We just need to give things in Iraq six more months to see how this new strategy pans out. You people are always so quick to jump the gun and never think things through rationally.

  6. Derrick says:


    I breathlessly await you and everyone else telling us six months from now that we need another “Freidman” (Freidman=6 months) to assess whatever the hell new name for the strategy that they are implementing them. Apologists for this President have been asking for “Friedman’s” for nearly 2 years now yet we haven’t made a bit of progress towards whatever notion of victory you supporters have. The notion that we aren’t rationale because most of us see a situation that is getting worse is the sort of name-calling that many would rather use instead of an actual argument for your position.

  7. PunditGuy says:

    You people are always so quick to jump the gun and never think things through rationally.

    Completely unlike, say, the people who invaded and took over a country without a clue as to how to run it afterward.

  8. ken says:

    The only question in my mind the last few months has been whether the least bad option is to continue to slog forward to give the Iraqi government a chance to get its act together or to pull out with the horrific consequences that would inevitably bring.

    Baloney. You have no clue as what the consequences of our ceasing the war on Iraq would entail.

    Horrific? Ha! How much more horrific can it be?

    The only people in Iraq who have done anything to secure their own future and safety are the Kurds. Good for them. They will continue to do well no matter.

    As to the rest of them. Let them figure it out for themselves. We can’t do it for them. We should stop making war on Iraqis and just get the hell out of there. Killing Iraqis or standing between two Iraqis who want to kill each other is a fools game. Absolutely nothing good can come out of it.

    As to the consequences of leaving? We can deal with them. We can always deal with the consequences of doing the right thing.

  9. legion says:

    The only people in Iraq who have done anything to secure their own future and safety are the Kurds. Good for them. They will continue to do well no matter.

    I wouldn’t give any guarantees, ken. The various Sunni-Shia factions will continue to snipe at each other for generations, but I figure if the Kurds reach some certain level of independence, the Turkish Army will roll over the border and slaughter every last man, woman, and child – I have a very bad feeling it’ll make the Serbs’ ethnic cleansing look like a minor spat.

  10. Andy says:

    Dang nabbit, my Broderisms worked. Mission accomplished.

  11. zak822 says:

    I have never supported the conquest of Iraq, but doesn’t it count as good news that the provincial government can actually meet in the province and that families are returning?

    Granted this may be happening because we’ve started arming the Sunni militias and therefore providing a measure of safety that we hadn’t been able to provide before, but still…

    Or am I just so starved for news that isn’t dismal that I’m willing take anything?

  12. gil says:

    The question should be how many sits in Congress do the Republicans want to loose in 2008 by continuing to support Bush’s policies.

    My guess is they want to loose as few as possible. Following that logic, then in September, or at the very latest by the end of 2007, Republicans behind closed doors, will make Bush an offer he can’t refuse.

    “Change your policies, or change your Party affiliation, because we will dump you and live you behind as road kill if you don’t”.

    The war in Iraq as pursued for the last few years is essentially about to end. All the posturing in the world can’t mask the reality that politically time ran out for Bush.

    Can anyone honestly imagine having Bush in the Fall of 2008 giving still another press conference, and still saying “we need to stay the course” “it’s haaaaarrdddd , very haaaarddd” or his favorite one “we are making progress” ? OR Does any one believe that by 2008 the Iraqi people will be living together in peace, and have a united Government???

    If we are intellectually honest the answer has to be NO on both counts.

    And that conclusion can then take us to the obvious realisation that Republicans are not interested in following Bush into retirement, and ridicule. The political clock, and the rush for the exits starts in September. Look for a Bigger, Better, and Improved “Republican Plan for Victory” coming to your TV screens this Fall… Bush by then will be on board, and Republicans will be united, and ready for a fight…. At least in paper. The plan will basically be to get out of Dodge, and re-deploy, while keeping some troops on the ground to make pretend, and at least have Bush keep his underwear on the deal.

    Iraq will still be a mess. But Hey, with a hundred million budget for PR, and an Army of spinners that can turn Mother Teresa into Hitler at the drop of a hat, I am sure Bush will get a 2% jump at the polls out of his miraculous “conversion”, while the Republican get to keep maybe a sit or two in Congress. Hey Republicans!! Count your blessings, with your unconditional support for Bush, at this point you are lucky the GOP Elephant has not turned into a clown.

    So for now, let’s get real. Bush is down to his last farce. His mess is no longermilitarly, or politically sustainable.
    It’s over, the “decider” decided himself into a mess, and he lost. He is finished. He no longer even has a National agenda. He is not a “lame” Duck…. He is a dead duck. His only task from here on out is to play defense in trying desperately to justify his debacle, and get a good face saving deal from Republican Party elders…. Like his Dad.

    In fact, It’s time for him to “decide” where to hide for the rest of his life……You see he is not the only one with a long memory, and a vindictive personality. I would take an educated guess and say he is not very popular in the Middle East, not to mention the world (except Albania). But Since the guy can’t ever decide anything correctly, I am afraid that the U.S Government better start making arrangements to triple his protection detail as an Ex. There’s a lot of pissed off bad character out there that will like to turn him into Swiss Cheese.

    As for the VP …. He is already living in an undisclosed location in the Twilight Zone. You see,He was always the smart one of the pair.

  13. spoosmith says:

    I read somewhere (sorry can’t supply the reference) that come September, the troops will have to start withdrawing because the forces simply can’t extend tours any longer and with recruitment down, there will be no more troops to fight.

    For the cheerleaders of this doomed expedition, the only thing that can maintain the “surge” is a draft. I can’t think of a single republican who would support this because it would be political suicide.

  14. iaintbacchus says:

    Bull. There is no limit to how long tours of duty can be extended nor how often troops can be sent back. Jim Webb tried to get an amendment into the defense appropriations bill that would have limited tour length and guaranteed a minimum time at home, but it was defeated on Tuesday by a Republican filibuster. As of right now, Bush can leave every troop that goes over there in country until he gets out of office if he feels he needs to.
    This is how the warmongers in the Republican party “support the troops”.

  15. masaccio says:

    The worst part of the report is the word twisting. Here is the definition of “satisfactory progress”:

    As measured from a January 2007 baseline, do we assess that present trend data demonstrates a positive trajectory, which is tracking toward satisfactory accomplishment in the near term? If the answer is yes, we have provided a “Satisfactory” assessment; if the answer is no, the assessment is “Unsatisfactory.”

    Even with that low standard, and it is very low, they could not show anything that would count as “satisfactory” progress.