Pentagon: Iraq Surge Not Working
The Pentagon reported to Congress yesterday on the early results of the Iraq “Surge.” It was not encouraging.
AP’s Robert Burns:
Violence in Iraq, as measured by casualties among troops and civilians, has edged higher despite the U.S.-led security push in Baghdad, the Pentagon told Congress on Wednesday. In its required quarterly report on security, political and economic developments in Iraq, covering the February-May period, the Pentagon also raised questions about Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ability to fulfill a pledge made in January to prohibit political interference in security operations and to allow no safe havens for sectarian militias.
Wednesday’s broader report, the eighth in a series, said that while violence fell in the capital and in Anbar province west of Baghdad during the February-May period, it increased in other areas, particularly in the outlying areas of Baghdad province and in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad and in the northern province of Nineva.
WaPo’s Ann Scott Tyson adds:
Iraq’s government, for its part, has proven “uneven” in delivering on its commitments under the strategy, the report said, stating that public pledges by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have in many cases produced no concrete results. Iraqi leaders have made “little progress” on the overarching political goals that the stepped-up security operations are intended to help advance, the report said, calling reconciliation between Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni factions “a serious unfulfilled objective.” Indeed, “some analysts see a growing fragmentation of Iraq,” it said, noting that 36 percent of Iraqis believe “the Iraqi people would be better off if the country were divided into three or more separate countries.”
Shiite militias, which have engaged in the widespread killing and sectarian removal of Sunni residents in Baghdad, now enjoy wide support in the capital, the report said. “In Baghdad, a majority of residents report that militias act in the best interests of the Iraqi people,” it said, while only 20 percent of respondents polled nationwide shared that view.
The piece links to this chart, produced by the DoD, showing the trend in Iraqi Violence:
Counterinsurgency is a slow process and expecting miracles from a small troop surge that has only been underway two months and is not yet fully in place is a bit much. Indeed, the surge is having the desired effects in Baghdad and Anbar, the places where we’re actually surging.
Still, as I noted yesterday in my discussion with the MNF-I political director, it doesn’t do much good to quell violence in a few spots if all that results in is a shift to softer targets. We simply lack the wherewithal to put a large concentration of troops everywhere and the training of a self-sufficient Iraqi security force has been disappointingly slow.
UPDATE: Matt Yglesias isn’t surprised.
All of Petraeus’ work on the subject of counterinsurgency, however, along with the things he himself was saying somewhat subtly, all pointed toward the conclusion that peace in Iraq required not a “surge” but political reconciliation between a sufficiently large set of Iraqi factions as to represent the overwhelming majority of Iraqis. The “surge” was, in some vague way, supposed to facilitate that, which it hasn’t, it was never a realistic method of securing the country on its own, which is why it hasn’t worked.
The “surge” was always part of the puzzle; it wasn’t supposed to solve everything by itself. War remains, as it has always been, a means of forcing people to make political concessions that they would not otherwise make voluntarily. Classic counterinsurgency doctrine requires securing large population centers, killing insurgents, and applying political pressure. All those things, and more, are happening.
Insurgents have the advantage in that they can kill indiscriminately and have the luxury of time. Beating them is incredibly difficult, especially for a foreign force, which is why it’s such a popular tactic. Further, John Robb may well be right that we are facing a new breed of guerrillas who are even harder to beat than traditional insurgents because they don’t seek to wield political power but merely to maintain a state of chaos.
UPDATE: Steve Benen points to pronouncements made by SECDEF Bob Gates at the start of the Surge that we’d see results “fairly quickly” and that “the effectiveness of the plan should be apparent within ‘a couple of months’ because by then it will be clear if new military operations will be carried out without Iraqi political interference.” Gates said the clock would start ticking in February and, even taking “couple” loosely, that deadline has surely passed.
Now, if the measure of “effectiveness” is “military operations [being] carried out without Iraqi political interference,” I’d say it has been quite successful. Al-Maliki has finally started to show that he’s serious about establishing security and seems to have taken the gloves off against even Shiite militias. Much progress, therefore, has been made by that measure.
In terms of actually weakening the insurgency, however, it’s hard to point to much evidence that it’s happening. There are signs that Al Qaeda in Iraq is losing allies but AQI has always been a very small part of the loose confederation of Anti-Coalition Forces.
UPDATE: The White House “Iraq Update” office has sent me a long email under the title, “The Rest Of The Story: Defense Department ‘9010’ Report: ‘Too Early To Assess’ Impact Of New Security Strategy, Includes Reasons For Optimism.” There’s not much in it that wasn’t included in the detailed news accounts out there, including those linked above.
Three charts that accompanied the message, though, are worth passing on:
This is an interesting set of data, although it would be useful to know what counts as “sectarian murders” and why this trend is so different from “civilian deaths.” The latter would seemingly be the key metric.
I’m not sure this is particularly helpful to their cause. In addition to evoking the Vietnam-era “body counts,” it’s not clear what this indicates. Does it mean that terrorists are abandoning their weapons in fear? That there are so many caches out there that we can’t help but stumble on them? And wouldn’t we prefer to see these numbers going down? After four years, why so many caches?
This would certainly seem to be an indication that political cooperation and trust in Coalition forces is on the uptick. If so, that’s 2/3 of the battle. But it could also simply be an indication that there are more incidents to be reported.