The August Report on Iraq from the Pentagon
The first section of the report directly addresses stability and security in Iraq and is based on the administration’s “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.” This addresses political, economic, and security considerations and notes – correctly – that the three are interdependent. But each is under pressure to meet deadlines or “conditions.”
Politically, the cabinet was approved June 8. The government has a four-month window during which the constitution is more easily amended, a concession to Sunni parliamentarians made during the campaign for the referendum on the constitution. But not all of the 24 committees of the Council of Representatives that are to look at issues have formed or met, and the four-month window expires October 8.
Economically, the Strategy for Victory, calls for “a sound market economy with the capacity to deliver essential services.” Given the demonstrated failure of the imported U.S. private sector to delivery consistent supplies of electricity and fresh water and remove sewage waste and garbage, the Iraqi government might want to try again to provide those services. Most communities in the U.S. receive these services from government or quasi-government entities; why does the “strategy” insist on “market economy” – a.k.a. private enterprise?
The security dimension captured most press coverage, especially the statement that “Conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq. Nevertheless, the current violence is not a civil war, and movement toward civil war can be prevented.” The report then acknowledges that in the last quarter, weekly attacks increased by 15% and Iraqi casualties rose 51% over the previous quarter, with most of the increase in Baghdad and its suburbs.
To back up its conclusion that Iraq is not in a civil war, the Pentagon’s Friday press conference featured via teleconferencing Colonel Thomas Vail, commanding officer of the 4th Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division whose current area of responsibility is east Baghdad. When asked to characterize the opposition he faced, Vail called it a “communal insurgency, “ which he then described as one that “depends on that particular area and that particular threat and who's violating the rule of law and what's the level of extortion and illicit operations.” Put another way, it’s like interest groups or “factions” in politics that form and reform as issues change – only in Baghdad the groups are armed and the shifts can be deadly.
Vail also noted that the current emphasis on trying to cut the violence levels in Baghdad – “34 battalions, 8,000 police, 42 police stations, and transition teams with every battalion – has concentrated military power in the capitol without severely draining other parts of the country. That works as long as the troop levels remain elevated.
However, the closer we come to the November U.S. elections, the greater the pressure from the White House on the generals to draw down U.S. forces to show “progress.”
Measured that way, progress is easily reversed; political and economic progress are better measures. The U.S. public needs to keep its eyes on the real ball.