Evaluating the “Surge” in Iraq/ Advice to Tony Blair

Jun 29, 2007 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

June 29, 2007
Number 06/07 #10

Today’s Update features two pieces evaluating where the “surge”, the troop escalation and change of strategy in Iraq, currently is.

First up is some testimony by military historian Frederick Kagan putting the surge in historical context, and he makes some preliminary comments about how it is going so far. He also has some important analysis of the relationship between progress on the security front and political progress toward stable governance in Iraq. For this knowledgeable and wide-ranging evaluation, CLICK HERE.

Next, analyst Mario Loyola argues that recent reports make it clear that the Iraqis are generally doing more on their own – politically, economically and in terms of security. He provides many facts and statistics about all three areas and an overall cautiously positive outlook based on the progress he perceives. For his evaluation, CLICK HERE.

Finally, conflict resolution specialist Dr. Gerald Steinberg offers some advice to the “Quartet’s” new Middle East envoy, outgoing British PM Tony Blair. His key point is that Blair must avoid patronising the Palestinians by assuming that they are helpless to reform – aid must be based on real benchmarks and have the goal of creating self-sufficiency. For his full argument, CLICK HERE.

Iraq: Is the Escalation Working?

By Frederick W. Kagan

House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Publication Date: June 27, 2007

American military forces in Iraq are now entering the second phase of their kinetic operations even as political efforts continue on a separate but linked track. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus are in the midst of a multi-faceted program that will not proceed in a linear way and will not generate clear and consistent metrics in all of its phases. The early signs are positive in a number of respects, although difficulties and challenges clearly remain. But it is too soon to evaluate the outcome of an operation that is just moving into the first of several phases intended to produce significant positive change in the situation overall.

It is now beyond question that the Bush Administration pursued a flawed approach to the war in Iraq from 2003 to 2007. That approach relied on keeping the American troop presence in Iraq as small as possible, pushing unprepared Iraqi Security Forces into the lead too rapidly, and using political progress as the principal means of bringing the violence under control. In other words, it is an approach similar to the one proposed by the ISG and by some who are now pushing for political benchmarks and the rapid drawdown of American forces as the keys to success in the war. It is no more likely to work now than it was then. Political progress is something that follows the establishment of security, not something that causes it. The sorts of political compromises that Iraq’s parties must make are extraordinarily difficult–one might even say impossible–in the context of uncontrolled terrorism and sectarian violence. And the Iraqi Security Forces, although significantly better than they were this time last year, are still too small and insufficiently capable to establish security on their own or even to maintain it in difficult and contested areas without significant continuing coalition support.

For all of these reasons, the president changed his strategy profoundly in January 2007, and appointed a new commander in General Petraeus and a new Ambassador in Ryan Crocker to oversee the new approach. This new approach focuses on establishing security in Baghdad and its immediate environs as the prerequisite for political progress. It recognizes that American forces must be in the lead in many (but not all) areas, and that they will have to remain in areas that have been cleared for some time in order to ensure that security becomes permanent. The aim of the security strategy is to buy space and time for the political process in Iraq to work, and for the Iraqi Security Forces to mature and grow to the point where they can maintain the dramatically improved security situation our forces will have helped them to establish.

The scale of the problem required an increase in American forces in Iraq, which the president ordered in January, of around 40% (from the equivalent of 15 brigade combat teams to more than 21). It also required a multi-phased approach on both the military and the political side of the equation, which has been begun.

The first phase began on January 10th with the announcement of the new strategy and the beginning of the movement of the 5 additional Army brigades and Marine elements into the theater. That deployment process was only completed at the beginning of this month–in fact, critical enablers for those combat forces are still arriving in theater. As the new units entered Iraq, the U.S. military commanders began pushing those that were already in the theater forward from their operating bases into Joint Security Stations and Combat Outposts in key neighborhoods in Baghdad and elsewhere. The purpose of these movements was not to clear-and-hold–the units present in theater were not sufficient in numbers to conduct such operations. The purpose was instead to establish positions within those key areas and to develop both intelligence about the enemy and trust relationships with the local communities that would make possible decisive clear-and-hold operations subsequently. During this phase of the operation, additional Iraqi Security Forces deployed to Baghdad in accord with a plan developed jointly by the U.S. and Iraqi military commands. All of the requested units appeared in the first Iraqi Army rotation, and the Iraqi military has just completed its second rotation of units into Baghdad–again, all designated units arrived, and their fill levels were generally higher than in the first rotation.

Generals Petraeus and Odierno did not allocate the majority of the new combat power they received to Baghdad. Only 2 of the additional Army brigades went into the city. The other 3 Army brigades and the equivalent of a Marine regiment were deployed into the areas around Baghdad that our generals call the “Baghdad belts,” including Baqubah in Diyala province. The purpose of this deployment was not to clear-and-hold those areas, but to make possible the second phase of the operation that began on June 15. The purpose of this operation–Phantom Thunder–is to disrupt terrorist and militia networks and bases outside of Baghdad that have been feeding the violence within the city. Most of the car bomb and suicide bomb networks that have been supporting the al Qaeda surge since January are based in these belt areas, and American commanders have rightly recognized that they cannot establish stable security in the capital without disrupting these networks and their bases.

But even this operation–the largest coordinated combat operation the U.S. has undertaken since the invasion in 2003–is not the decisive phase of the current strategy. It is an operation designed to set the preconditions for a successful clear-and-hold operation that will probably begin in late July or early August within Baghdad itself. That is the operation that is designed to bring security to Iraq’s capital in a lasting way that will create the space for political progress that we all desire.

The U.S. has not undertaken a multi-phased operation on such a large scale since 2003, and it is not surprising therefore that many commentators have become confused about how to evaluate what is going on and how to report it. Sectarian deaths in Baghdad dropped significantly as soon as the new strategy was announced in January, and remain at less than half their former levels. Spectacular attacks rose as al Qaeda conducted a counter-surge of its own, but have recently begun falling again. Violence is down tremendously in Anbar province, where the Sunni tribes have turned against al Qaeda and are actively cooperating with U.S. forces for the first time. This process has spread from Anbar into Babil, Salah-ad-Din, and even Diyala provinces, and echoes of it have even spread into one of the worst neighborhoods in Baghdad–Ameriyah, formerly an al Qaeda stronghold. Violence has risen naturally in areas that the enemy had long controlled but in which U.S. forces are now actively fighting for the first time in many years, and the downward spiral in Diyala that began in mid-2006 continued (which is not surprising, since the Baghdad Security Plan does not aim to establish security in Diyala).

All of these trends are positive. The growing skill and determination of the Iraqi Army units fighting alongside Americans is also positive. Some Iraqi Police units have also fought well. Others have displayed sectarian tendencies and participated in sectarian actions. Political progress has been very slow–something that has clearly disappointed many who hoped for an immediate turnaround, but that is not surprising for those who always believed that it would follow, not precede or accompany, the establishment of security at least in Baghdad. And negative sectarian actors within the Iraqi Government continue to resist making necessary compromises with former foes. Overall, the basic trends are rather better than could have been expected of the operation so far, primarily because of the unanticipated stunning success in Anbar and its spread. But it remains far too early to offer any meaningful evaluation of the progress of an operation whose decisive phases are only just beginning.

To say that the current plan has failed is simply incorrect. It might fail, of course, as any military/political plan might fail. Indications on the military side strongly suggest that success–in the form of dramatically reduced violence by the end of this year–is quite likely. Indications on the political side are more mixed, but are also less meaningful at this early stage before security has been established.

Great commanders in history have understood two critical truths: the situation in war is constantly changing, and decisions must take that change into account–and, therefore, that it is best to delay decisions until the last possible moment to ensure that they are made on the basis of the most recent and accurate understanding of the situation, rather than on preconceptions formed in different circumstances. The situation in Iraq is very different today from what it was in January 2007, to say nothing of November 2006. It will be very different in September, and still more different in December of this year. It would be a great error to attempt to decide now upon the strategy to pursue when the current plan has actually been implemented, because we cannot now predict what the situation will be then with any confidence or accuracy. And it would be a very grave error indeed to rush now to abandon the first strategy that offers some real prospect for success in favor of a return to an approach that has already failed repeatedly.

Frederick W. Kagan is a military historian and a resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute.


Light at the End of the Tunnel

Democracy in Iraq will win if it keeps not losing.

By Mario Loyola

National Review, June 27, 2007 8:15 AM

If what goes up must come down, every surge must eventually recede. According to recent reports, the current one in Iraq may give way to large-scale withdrawals of U.S. forces as early as spring 2008. At that point, the war’s opponents will continue claiming defeat and supporters will begin to claim victory. And the fact is that in both cases, the claims will be faith-based, because we won’t know for many years whether we are leaving behind an Iraq that can govern itself, defend itself, sustain itself, and be ally in the war on terror. In other words, we won’t know for a long time whether we won.

The struggle against terrorism and insurgency will continue long after the U.S. presence is reduced to a token force, and that is the bad news. But Iraqis will be shouldering the burden of that struggle in their own country, and that is the good news. And the trends described in the most recent Pentagon quarterly report on stability and security in Iraq, which was released earlier this month, suggest that Iraqis are much closer to standing on their own than most people think.

The contrast with the reports of a year ago is striking. Back then, Iraqis were starting to do some important things on their own, but still relied on the U.S. — led Coalition for nearly everything. Now, the Iraqis are doing most things on their own, and rely on the Coalition only where particular gaps create limiting factors that only the Coalition can remediate.

This can be seen in each of the areas covered by the report: politics, economics — and most important, security.

Because the most essential condition of victory in Iraq is the survival of the central government, national reconciliation must win out over the centrifugal tensions threatening to tear Iraq apart. Luckily, the central government has a powerful ally in that fight. By overwhelming majorities, the Iraqi people continue to believe that Iraq should remain a unified state. Beyond that, the question is simply one of governance at the federal, regional, and local levels; and here, it’s been a story of slow progress — sometimes excruciatingly slow — but the important thing is that there has been progress across the board, with few signs of retreat or collapse.

Challenges remain, but it is increasingly easy to isolate and target them. Sunnis continue to feel marginalized, and often have more reason to fear the Shiite-dominated police forces than to trust them. The Shiites are split, and there is an increasingly open (and often violent) conflict between the mainstream Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and the Mahdi Army led by the firebrand cleric Moqtada Sadr, who recently returned from several months in Iran. Seven of the 18 benchmarks set forth in the recent supplemental funding legislation (which must show substantial achievement by September) have to do with legislative targets — laws governing energy resources, de-Baathification, implementation of constitutional rights, and provincial elections — none of which have been met thus far.

But Iraqis have increasingly led the effort to overcome these challenges. After the recent destruction of two minarets at the main Shiite mosque in Sunni-dominated Samarra (the destruction of which in February 2006 triggered the slide towards civil war) Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki immediately traveled to the town to reassure the Sunnis of his government’s support and protection. Iraqi security forces were surged to protect Sunni mosques from reprisals, while security operations continued to target the Shiite death squads. Meanwhile, the government has made progress on all the benchmark legislative initiatives, and the parliament is expected to take up and finalize several of the most crucial ones before its current session ends at the end of July. U.S. efforts have focused on capacity-building. In the field, provincial reconstruction teams (a concept born in Afghanistan, and which came late to Iraq) are now embedded in every brigade headquarters, giving commanders in every sector of Iraq the flexibility to target assistance where it is most crucially needed. And advisers from all over the U.S. government are now embedded all over the Iraqi government, helping prepare for “transition” — a term that basically means “get ready, because soon you’re on your own.”

On the economic front, the news is equally mixed — good news and not-so good news, but not much really bad news. The economy grew by ten percent in the last year — seven percent in the non-oil sector. Electricity, the major focus of U.S. reconstruction spending, still trails demand by a wide margin, but remains higher than it was before the invasion (although Baghdad no longer receives preferential treatment, so its electricity consumption is actually lower than it was under Saddam). Most other indicators — from oil production to food distribution — are stable and pretty close to prewar levels, except when they are much improved.

The strategy of tying debt forgiveness to Iraq’s success in maintaining sound fiscal, monetary, and financial policies, and implementing crucial liberalizing economic reforms, has delivered real results, and promises more. Just in the last year, for example, the Iraqi government eliminated a $2.6 billion program to import refined fuel products for distribution to the population at subsidized prices. Here, Iraq is in much better shape than Iran, which still spends a crippling amount of the state budget on imports of refined gasoline.

As in the political realm, the effort here is to make ourselves obsolete. Of the final $10 billion in U.S. reconstruction aid, 90 percent has been committed and 80 percent has been disbursed. The reconstruction assistance phase of America’s effort in Iraq is coming to an end. But Iraqis are already making up the shortfall. The current Iraqi budget contains $10 billion earmarked to keep funding the projects for which the American taxpayer was previously footing the bill.

It is on the crucial security front that most of the recent good news may be found. The last of the five brigades of the “surge” arrived in Baghdad just days ago, and went straight into combat as Operation Phantom Thunder launched across the country, from Anbar to Baghdad to Baqubah, targeting chiefly al Qaeda in Iraq and affiliated terrorist cells. The ground for this highly intelligence-gathering-intensive effort has been laid by months of putting Iraqis in the lead in security operations throughout the country, which has helped tap into the wealth of intelligence that Iraqi citizens have been increasingly willing to provide. The most spectacular success has come in Anbar, where Sunni tribes formerly allied to the insurgents have been working alongside local security forces to destroy al Qaeda nests in the part of Iraq that not long ago was safest for them. Al Qaeda is taking a fearsome onslaught against its leadership and rank-and-file in Iraq. We know who they are; we’ve already captured 80 percent of their senior leaders in a matter of months; and hardly a day goes by without the announcement that another senior al Qaeda figure has been killed or captured.

In Baghdad, “joint security stations,” composed of Iraqi police, Iraqi army, and Coalition soldiers, have been set up all over the city. The highly increased visibility of these local stations have increased confidence; tips from the local population have increased dramatically. Last week saw only 33 murders in Baghdad, which on a per capita basis is about the same as many of my favorite cities in the world, including San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The security situation in particular is a fast-moving target. As one senior leader recently explained, we are now going from a surge in forces to a surge in operations. In other words, the “kinetic phase” of the surge has just begun. And while it’s too early to tell, it certainly seems that morale is high among the troops — both Coalition and Iraqi.

In Iraq, bad news is about spectacular events, which are easy to report, while good news is about incremental progress, which is difficult to report. Naturally, the bad news gets reported a lot, while the good news hardly gets reported at all. The resulting distortion in news-reporting results in predictably distorted public perceptions about the course of the war, and has fueled a great deal of irrational pessimism.

But look at the facts, and the direction in which they are moving. We are clobbering the enemy while at the same time making ourselves increasingly obsolete to the efforts of Iraq’s own government. The administration is shifting so as to accommodate Iraq as a long-term foreign policy issue to be managed, while attention focuses on more pressing crises. We removed Saddam, arrested or killed most of his murderous henchmen; we eliminated a terror sponsor and an apparent weapons-of-mass-destruction threat; our casualties are about what most of us expected; and Iraqis are now organized to fight terror. We’ve already accomplished much of what we went to do.

The possibility of defeat appears to be receding with the surge, and that means that when the surge itself recedes, we may well be staring victory in the face — even if we don’t know it.

— Mario Loyola is a fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies .


Advice for Mr. Blair: Stop Patronizing the Palestinians

Gerald M. Steinberg

Jerusalem Issue Brief (Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

Vol. 7, No. 6   June 28, 2007

  • In taking the position of “international peace envoy” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Blair will need to change the basic political parameters in order to avoid another catastrophic failure.
  • Most importantly, this will require abandoning the widely held images of Palestinian victimization and demonization of Israel. Palestinians must be shown that massive corruption, as well as terror and incitement have unacceptable costs, and that they must take control over their destiny.
  • British and European leaders, academics, NGO officials, journalists, clergy, and others who have fostered the patronizing image of Palestinian helplessness and who have turned a blind eye to corruption and terror must also change frameworks. Continued aid must be tied to performance in these key dimensions.
  • On this basis, it may be possible for Mr. Blair to encourage the transformation in Palestinian society that will one day create the basis for pragmatic compromise and a stable peace with Israel.

Given the dismal record of many would-be peacemakers in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Tony Blair must realize that the prospects of success as the latest peace envoy are not good. Having spent a great deal time on and in the region as Prime Minister, he must be aware of the obstacles, and the absence of any magic formula for instant peace in this most protracted of ethno-national and religious conflicts. Mr. Blair has seen enough to know that good intentions and simplistic slogans are not enough, and that real peace requires the type of societal transformations that take many years, once it begins.

The brutality of the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the collapse of the remnants of Fatah and the PLO may provide a small foundation from which to begin this transformation among the Palestinians, particular those in the West Bank. But this process will also require a basic change in international policies and perceptions with respect to Palestinians. In particular, the patronizing and ineffective emphasis on Palestinian suffering and helplessness that has dominated actions since 1948 must end. Palestinians must be given the opportunity and the external push to take control over their own destiny, and stop seeing themselves simply as passive victims.

The rampant corruption and failed leadership in Palestinian society is, to a large degree, a product of the massive welfare system in effect since the Israeli defeat of the 1948 Arab invasion, and the refugees that resulted. At that time, “temporary” camps and housing were created under control of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Rather than work to end their refugee status, as in many similar situations of warfare and displacement, (and following Israel’s example of integrating hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who fled violence in Arab countries), this situation was deliberately and cynically perpetuated. The objective was blatantly political – as long as refugees and camps existed, the goal of reversing the UN partition resolution and the establishment of Israel remained alive. In this central respect, nothing has changed in almost 60 years.

Beyond the massive economic cost of maintaining this situation (UNRWA spends hundreds of millions of dollars per year), more damage is caused by perpetuating the image of Palestinian victimization. The Arab defeat in the 1967 war led to the reinforcement of this image, as well as further increases in welfare funding through other aid and development frameworks through European governments, major churches, and powerful via pro-Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Although the PLO was founded in 1964, and came to be accepted as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”, its leaders limited their activities to the political and military struggle against Israel. Yassir Arafat showed no interest in building civil society or ending the dependence and victimization. On the contrary, for decades, he was a major contributor to this syndrome.

The international community, and particularly European governments, perpetuated and widened this process, handing over additional funds, often in bags of cash handed directly to Arafat and his cronies. Officials in London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Oslo, Bern, Stockholm, Rome and elsewhere, ignored the obvious evidence of massive corruption and the lack of interest in building institutions or providing services (the report written much later by the EU’s watchdog agency OLAF remains a tightly guarded secret, making a mockery of European calls for transparency).

The core reason for allowing huge amounts of European tax revenues to disappear among Palestinian officials was paternalism. European leaders did not expect anything better from Arafat and Fatah, and did not try or condition aid to fundamental changes. After the 1993 Oslo peace framework established the Palestinian Authority and the refugee camps in this territory ceased to exist, the image of victims and helpless refugees continued, and the corruption increased, abetted by the donors.

In parallel, the “Palestinian cause” and the prevalent image of helpless victims was perpetuated among self-proclaimed human rights groups and other NGOs, in the media, in churches, on university campuses, and among politicians. In Britain, powerful groups such as War on Want, Christian Aid, and others held rallies for the Palestinians, collected funds, and demonized Israel through boycott and divestment campaigns. European leaders continued to embrace Arafat until his death, long after his personal corruption and failed leadership was revealed and many Palestinians distanced themselves. By the same token, Palestinians were not expected to behave by the ordinary rules of moral and civilized behavior, or to respect human rights. And no terror attack, including bus bombings and suicide bombers in cafes, was considered repulsive enough by officials in Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch to change in this neo-colonialist image of Palestinian victimhood.

Given this dismal condition, Mr. Blair would be well advised to avoid more of the same – more victimization and sympathy for “Palestinian suffering”. A sharp cut-off of all international aid would worsen the situation, but the terms of this assistance should be radically altered. Palestinians must be told that the aid will decrease annually, and that they will have no alternative but to use this assistance to become self-sufficient and to demand effective leaders. And this aid should no longer be used to perpetuate the political and ideological war against Israel being waged, in large part, through the manipulated images of passive Palestinian victimhood.

This in itself will be a very difficult challenge for Mr. Blair and his staff. They will encounter stiff resistance from both Palestinian and European officials in UNRWA, the powerful development agencies such as DFID, the pro-Palestinians NGOs that receive this funding, and elsewhere and who know no other approach. Most importantly, if this is to succeed, Palestinians must be taught to take responsibility for their own situation, rather than appealing for international assistance, both economic and political, whenever they are in difficulty. In this process, more Palestinians will come to realize that support for terror and suicide bombers, and the preaching of incitement in schools, mosques and the media, has an unacceptable cost. And along with Mr. Blair, they will also understand that the decades of war with Israel must finally end through difficult compromises on the Palestinian side as well. Without leaders and society capable of such compromises, nothing else will succeed.

*     *     *

Prof. Gerald Steinberg heads the Political Studies Department at Bar-Ilan University, and is the Executive Director of www.NGO-Monitor.org.


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