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.”

Worse:

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:

Iraq Violence Chart June 2007

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:

Iraq Sectarian Murders Chart

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.

Iraq Weapons Caches Found Chart

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?

Iraq Hotline Tips Chart

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.

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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.

Comments

  1. cian says:

    At the time of its announcement, it was widely accepted by those no longer under the toxic influence of the Bush admin, that the surge was nothing more than a way to keep the war going until Bush leaves office.

    The sad spectacle of a great army man like Petraeus being reduced to a compromised mouth piece will continue through September when he reports that, while slow, the surge is making progress, allowing the wars architects and apologists to ignore all calls to reason.

    And should a republican be elected president in 2009, the madness will continue.

  2. Steve Plunk says:

    Apparently I’m under the toxic influence since my question is, if we increase aggressive activities toward an enemy shouldn’t we expect higher casualties? Also, are casualties an accurate measure of success and failure? Was D-day a success or failure? There were an awful lot of casualties there.

  3. Triumph says:

    Now, if the measure of “effectiveness” is “military operations [being] carried out without Iraqi political interference,” I’d say it has been quite successful.

    James, once again you are letting your ideological blinders get the better of you.

    The report indicated: “To date, operations in Bagdad indicate that the Iraqi government delivery on these commitments has been uneven..For example, there have been reports of political involvement by some leaders in tactical and operation decisions that bypass the standard chain of military command.”

    Even the Pentagon spin-masters are less optimistic than your assessment.

  4. Michael says:

    Apparently I’m under the toxic influence since my question is, if we increase aggressive activities toward an enemy shouldn’t we expect higher casualties?

    Yes, only that wasn’t what the “surge” was for. The “surge” was meant to increase defenses and security, it didn’t contain any meaningful increase in our offensive activities.

    If you added more armor to a tank, and found that under the same conditions, the same number of occupants in the tank were killed or injured, the armor isn’t working.

  5. cian says:

    Steve,

    I can see that you most definitely are still under the influence. The Bush line, and yours it seems, is that the more successful the surge the more casualties there will be, and as there is no clear mission here (in a D-Day sense- to move from the beaches of Normandy to the heart of Germany to crush the Nazi armies to come home) there can be no clear end, and with no end in sight the continuing deaths can be spun as continuing success and so see the Bush admin safely out of office without having to declare failure.

    Thinking this screwy has got to be heady stuff, I understand, but it will rot your mind. Give it up Steve.

  6. Andy says:

    “Indeed, the surge is having the desired effects in Baghdad and Anbar, the places where we’re actually surging.”

    Is the desired effect less violence or political reconciliation?

    Because no matter what is happening with respect to localized violence in Baghdad, there appears to be ZERO progress on the political front.

  7. Michael says:

    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.

    Indeed, I would like to know what qualifies as “sectarian” for this graph. It’s entirely possible that Sunni attacks are classified as “terrorist” or “insurgent” rather than “sectarian” attacks by Shiites militia, or some other mechanism to make it sound like things are getting better, while really deaths are just moving from one category to another just like the violence is moving from one location to another.

  8. spencer says:

    Isn’t the Sectarian Murders the data set where they suddenly quit including car bomb victims at the start of the year?

    I’m not sure. Can someone confirm or disprove this?

  9. Steve Plunk says:

    A few of you seem to misunderstand the point.

    Casualties are not desired in a “surge” but can be expected. I understood the surge to be designed to rid certain problem areas of Al Qaeda and insurgent influences so rule of law could be established. Those types of offensive actions could and have resulted in higher casualties so why would we measure success by casualties?

    If using logic and reason is evidence of being under the influence of the Bush Administration then I guess I am. Contrary opinions can be reasonable like it or not.

  10. Hmmm…, it it’s not a true Scotsman, it’s crap.

  11. Michael says:

    Casualties are not desired in a “surge” but can be expected. I understood the surge to be designed to rid certain problem areas of Al Qaeda and insurgent influences so rule of law could be established.

    Really? Because central Baghdad wasn’t exactly Al Qaeda central you know. The “surge” was meant to keep Shiite militias (specifically Sadr’s) from operating in the open so that the Malaki government could put on some show of authority, it was never an offensive against Al Qaeda. That is the main reason “sectarian” violence is down, but the overall violence has not.

  12. markg8 says:

    On the plus side the Iraqi parliament has passed a binding resolution claiming for itself the say in whether the government asks the UN to renew the mandate under which coalition troops remain in Iraq when it comes up for renewal in December. Unless Maliki vetoes the bill – which would lead to even more violence – they essentially are going to ask the UN to lift it’s stamp of legitimacy for the occupation.

    They claim they had the votes to do this last year when Maliki undercut them by going to the UN 10 days before they were scheduled to vote.

    Sure they haven’t met any of our benchmarks, but at least they are grasping the reins of democracy and passing one of the few bills they can all agree on.

    And democracy is what this was all about in the first place right?

  13. Stormy70 says:

    The full surge hasn’t even been implemented yet. They haven’t moved all the troops into place, and won’t have it done for two to three weeks.

    I guess we judge surges based on speculation, not full implementation now.

  14. Andy says:

    Surely thing will improve drastically as soon as the final few thousand troops show up. Because that’s what’re preventing the Iraqi government from reaching a political reconciliation between sects.

  15. Zifnab says:

    OMG STORMY! COME BACK TO BALLOON JUICE WE LUV YOU!