The bruising debate
over U.S. Iraq policy often seems to stray far from the reality on
the ground inside Iraq. Although Iraq's progress on the political,
security, and economic tracks has been uneven and many difficult
problems remain, there is considerable evidence indicating that
there has been gradual progress across many fronts. This paper
seeks to contribute to the public debate over Iraq by refuting
some of the major myths that have distorted the public's
understanding of U.S. policy regarding Iraq.
MYTH: The U.S. is
making no progress in defeating the insurgency in
QUOTE: "I'm absolutely
convinced that we're making no progress at all, and I've been
complaining for two years that there's an overly optimistic-an
illusionary process going on here." - Representative John Murtha
(D-PA), "Meet the Press," NBC, November 20, 2005.
Over the past 18
months, the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi government have made
substantial progress in eliminating insurgent strongholds in
Fallujah, Mosul, Najaf, Samara, and Tal Afar and in many smaller
towns in western Anbar province along the Syrian border. Most of
Iraq is secure from major guerrilla attacks, particularly the
predominantly Shiite south and the predominantly Kurdish
north, which actively support the Iraqi government. Most insurgent
attacks are mounted in the heavily Sunni Arab central and western
portions of Iraq, although small numbers of insurgents continue to
launch terrorist attacks, including suicide bombings at soft
targets, throughout the country. Outside of Iraq's Sunni
heartland, which benefited the most from Saddam Hussein's
Sunni-dominated regime, the insurgents lack popular support. Their
terrorist strategy has failed to intimidate Iraqi Shiites, Kurds,
Turcomans, and Assyrians, who altogether comprise more than 80
percent of Iraq's population.
The Iraqi army and
police forces are growing larger, better trained, and more
effective. The Iraqi army and security forces have grown from just
one operational battalion in July 2004 to more than 120 today. Over
200,000 trained and equipped Iraqis are now playing an increasingly
active role in rooting out insurgents. While only one
battalion is rated at the U.S. Army category "Level One," about 40
are at "Level Two." Level Two battalions are capable of fighting
"with some support"-usually just logistics and air/artillery
support-from American forces. These units patrol their own
areas of operations, relieving U.S. troops to perform other duties.
The cities of Najaf and Mosul are now exclusively patrolled by
Iraqi security forces, as are large portions of Baghdad.
There are now six
police academies in Iraq and one in Jordan, training 3,500 Iraqi
police every 10 weeks. Today the vast majority of Iraqi police and
army recruits are trained by Iraqis, not Americans-the result
of systematic efforts to "train the trainers." Since the January
30, 2005, elections, no Iraqi police stations have been abandoned
under attack, as used to happen frequently, because police have
fiercely resisted attacks even when outnumbered and outgunned,
confident that help would come from 20 provincial SWAT teams and
Unlike during several
military offensives in 2004, Iraqi security forces now are strong
enough to garrison and control the cleared areas, making the
Bush Administration's recent adoption of a "clear, hold, and build"
security strategy possible. Iraqi forces were able to take a
leading role in the successful September 2005 offensive at Tal
Afar, which involved 11 Iraqi and five coalition
effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces has inspired optimism
among the Iraqi people. This is reflected in the growing
number of intelligence tips from Iraqi civilians. In March
2005, Iraqi and coalition forces received 483 intelligence tips
from Iraqi citizens. This figure rose to 3,300 in August and more
than 4,700 in September. According to a poll from early
November, 71 percent of respondents believed that the Iraqi
security forces are winning the war against the insurgents, while
only 9 percent believed they are losing. The data were gathered
from Iraqi callers who were passing intelligence tips to the Iraqi
National Tips Line, which was created to provide Iraqis with a safe
and anonymous means of passing on information about insurgent
activity to their own government.
MYTH: The U.S. is
making little or no political progress in Iraq.
QUOTE: "It is surely a joke of
history that even as the White House sells this weekend's
constitutional referendum as yet another 'victory' for democracy in
Iraq, we still don't know the whole story of how our own democracy
was hijacked on the way to war." - Frank Rich, "It's Bush-Cheney,
not Rove-Libby," The New York Times, October 16,
Iraq has made
remarkably rapid progress in establishing the foundations of a
democratic political system after more than three decades of
dictatorship. Pessimistic critics of U.S. policy have been
repeatedly wrong in predicting that Iraqis would not be ready for
the June 2004 transfer of sovereignty, the January 2005
transitional government elections, the writing and approval of
a constitution by October 2005, and the December 15 elections
that will create a government that will lead Iraq for the next four
inability to block the January elections, combined with a simmering
resentment of their indiscriminate violence, has led many Sunni
Arabs to reconsider their boycott of the political process.
Even the Association of Muslim Scholars, an anti-American
group, has called for Sunni Arabs to join the Iraqi security
services. The insurgents' political base is weakening as it
becomes clear that they are opposed not just to the American
presence, but also to the elected government.
attacks and threats of intimidation, 8.5 million Iraqis voted
in the January elections; almost 10 million voted in the
October referendum on the new constitution; and turnout for the
December 15 elections is expected to be even greater. Many Sunni
Arabs realize they erred in boycotting the January elections and
are likely to vote in far larger numbers on December 15. More than
300 parties and coalitions have registered for the elections.
Iraq's political process is messy and slow, as in other newly
democratic political systems, but a new class of political
leadership is emerging that over time can build a national
consensus and drain away support for the insurgency, which is
dominated by Islamic radicals and diehard adherents of Saddam's
Americans appear to be growing more pessimistic about Iraq's
future, Iraqis are growing more optimistic. According to a
poll conducted by Iraqis affiliated with the country's
universities, two-thirds of Iraqis believe they are better off now
than they were under Saddam's dictatorship, and 82 percent are
confident that they will be better off a year from now than they
are today. An October survey conducted by the International
Republican Institute found that 47 percent of Iraqis believed that
their country is headed in the right direction, while 37 percent
believed that it was going in the wrong direction. And 56 percent
believed the situation would get better in six months, while only
16 percent believed the situation would get worse.
MYTH: The Bush
Administration exaggerated the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass
destruction (WMD) to justify the war.
QUOTE: "In his march to war,
President Bush exaggerated the threat to the American people." -
Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), quoted in U.S. Fed News,
November 10, 2005.
Administration acted on the basis of intelligence conclusions that
were widely shared by previous Administrations and foreign
governments. President Bush was not the first American President to
emphasize the long-term threat posed by Iraq. President Bill
Clinton justified Operation Desert Fox, a three-day U.S. air
offensive against Iraq, by invoking the threat posed by Iraqi WMD
on December 16, 1998:
Heavy as they are, the
costs of action must be weighed against the price of inaction. If
Saddam defies the world and we fail to respond, we will face a far
greater threat in the future. Saddam will strike again at his
neighbors; he will make war on his own people. And mark my words he
will develop weapons of mass destruction. He will deploy them, and
he will use them.
Security Council adviser Sandy Berger warned of Saddam's threat in
1998, "He will use those weapons of mass destruction again, as he
has ten times since 1983." Former Vice President Al Gore said in
2002, "We know that [Saddam] has stored secret supplies of
biological and chemical weapons throughout his country." CIA
Director George Tenet, a holdover from the Clinton Administration,
declared that the presence of Iraqi WMD was a "slam dunk."
services of Britain, France, Russia, Germany, and Israel,
among many others, held the same opinion. French Foreign Minister
Dominique de Villepin told the U.N. Security Council on
February 5, 2003:
Right now, our
attention has to be focused as a priority on the biological and
chemical domains. It is there that our presumptions about Iraq are
the most significant. Regarding the chemical domain, we have
evidence of its capacity to produce VX and Yperite. In the
biological domain, the evidence suggests the possible possession of
significant stocks of anthrax and botulism toxin, and possibly a
The German Ambassador
to the United States, Wolfgang Ischinger, said on NBC's "Today" on
February 26, 2003, "I think all of our governments believe
that Iraq has produced weapons of mass destruction and that we have
to assume that they still have-that they continue to have weapons
of mass destruction."
The Bush Administration
may have been wrong about Iraqi WMD, but so were many other
governments, few of which have been accused of lying.
Moreover, three independent commissions have found that there is no
evidence that the Bush Administration exaggerated the intelligence
about Iraqi WMD.
In July 2004, the
bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report with
the following conclusions:
Conclusion 83. The
Committee did not find any evidence that Administration officials
attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their
judgments related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
Conclusion 84. The
Committee found no evidence that the Vice President's visits to the
Central Intelligence Agency were attempts to pressure analysts,
were perceived as intended to pressure analysts by those who
participated in the briefings on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction
programs, or did pressure analysts to change their assessments.
In March 2005, the
bipartisan Robb-Silverman commission reached the same
Commission found no evidence of political pressure to influence the
Intelligence Community's pre-war assessments of Iraq's weapons
programs. As we discuss in detail in the body of our report,
analysts universally asserted that in no instance did political
pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical
judgments. We conclude that it was the paucity of intelligence and
poor analytical tradecraft, rather than political pressure, that
produced the inaccurate pre-war intelligence assessments.
2004 Butler Report, issued by a special panel set up by the British
Parliament, found that the famous "16 words" in President Bush's
January 28, 2003, State of the Union address were based on fact,
contrary to the claims of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who has
alleged that Bush's assertion was a lie. Bush said, "The
British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought
significant quantities of uranium from Africa." The Butler Report
called Bush's 16 words "well founded." The report also made clear
that some forged Italian documents, exposed as fakes after Bush
spoke, were not the basis for the British intelligence that
Bush cited or the CIA's conclusion that Iraq was seeking to obtain
war in Iraq has set back the war on terrorism.
wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." - Senator John
Kerry (D-MA), September 6, 2004.
critics contend that Iraq is a detour in the war on terrorism and a
distraction from the hunt for Osama bin Laden, but this
criticism is greatly overstated. The war in Iraq was a
different type of struggle from the war against al-Qaeda. It
required different kinds of resources. Strategically, the U.S. is
certainly capable of engaging in multiple operations on a
some intelligence assets were diverted from the search for bin
Laden to Iraq, but bin Laden had already gone underground,
hunkering down on the Afghan-Pakistan border 18 months before the
Iraq war. And there is no evidence that bin Laden would have been
caught if there had been no war in Iraq.
the U.S. has made substantial progress in the war against al-Qaeda.
More than three-quarters of al-Qaeda's known leaders have been
detained or killed. These include:
Atef, al-Qaeda's senior field commander, killed in a bombing
raid in Afghanistan;
Zubaida, Osama bin Laden's field commander after the killing
of Atef, captured in Pakistan;
Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the September 11 attacks, captured
Binalshibh, a coordinator of the September 11 attacks,
captured in Pakistan;
top strategist for al-Qaeda's associate group Jemaah Islamiah in
Southeast Asia, captured in Thailand;
al-Rahim al-Nashiri, al-Qaeda's chief of operations in the Persian
Gulf, captured in the United Arab Emirates;
Khalfan Ghailani, a suspect in the 1998 bombings of the U.S.
embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, captured in Pakistan;
al-Hindi, an operations planner, captured in Britain;
al-Libbi, another major field commander, captured in
addition to the leaders, more than 4,000 suspected al-Qaeda
members have been arrested worldwide since September 11, 2001.
Al-Qaeda cells have been uncovered, dismantled, and disrupted
in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. More than $140
million of its assets have been blocked in over 1,400 bank accounts
overlooked benefit of the war is that Iraq is no longer a state
sponsor of terrorism. This is important because the United States
cannot win the war on terrorism unless it eliminates or at least
greatly reduces state support for terrorism. Al-Qaeda, often held
up as the premier example of "stateless terrorism," actually was
helped tremendously by the support of states. The Taliban
regime in Afghanistan and the radical Islamic regime in Sudan
provided the sanctuary and cooperation that allowed al-Qaeda to
develop into the global threat that it is today.
bin Laden has lost a potential ally, if not an actual ally, in
Saddam's regime, which had a long and bloody history of supporting
terrorists and many reported contacts with al-Qaeda. Moreover,
free Iraqis increasingly are joining the fight against terrorism.
Osama bin Laden's associates in Iraq clearly are worried about the
expansion of the Iraqi security forces. A 2004 message from Abu
Musab al-Zarqawi, who later was named al-Qaeda's leader in Iraq,
lamented Iraq's progress: "Our enemy is growing stronger day after
day and its intelligence information increases. By God, this is
to liberate Iraq, coming after the successful war to liberate
Afghanistan from the Taliban, has disabused terrorists of the
notion that the United States is a paper tiger. This perception was
created by American withdrawals, following terrorist attacks,
from peacekeeping operations in Lebanon and Somalia that did
not involve vital American national interests.
gain from the war is the effect that it has had on other rogue
regimes. Libya was induced to disarm because of the Iraq war. In
fact, Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi told Italian Prime
Minister Silvio Berlusconi that he did so after seeing what
happened to Saddam's regime. Iran, also pushed by international
pressure, decided to open up its nuclear program to more
inspections. Syria, caught red-handed in the assassination of
Lebanon's former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, now is isolated and
on the defensive.
is true that some Islamic extremists are going to Iraq to join the
fighting, many of them would have ventured elsewhere to slaughter
civilians had the Iraq war never occurred. As well, the
indiscriminate murder of innocent Iraqis by Zarqawi's
terrorists has undermined al-Qaeda's appeal throughout the Muslim
world. Zarqawi's November 9, 2005, bombing of three hotels in
Jordan outraged Jordanians and other Muslims, even those who
previously had been sympathetic to al-Qaeda. While the war in Iraq
has helped al-Qaeda's recruitment efforts, on balance it has
helped the war on terrorism by preventing Osama bin Laden and other
terrorists from receiving any future support from Saddam's
Iraq has become, by al-Qaeda's own reckoning, a crucial front in
the global war against terrorism, the United States and its allies
cannot allow Zarqawi's thugs to establish a permanent base in Iraq.
From there, al-Qaeda would be in a better position to penetrate the
heart of the Arab world, threaten moderate Arab regimes, and
disrupt Persian Gulf oil exports than it enjoyed under the
protection of Afghanistan's Taliban regime from 1996 to 2001.
Finally, any "exit strategy" for withdrawal from Iraq that is
perceived by Muslims as a victory for al-Qaeda would boost the
group's ability to recruit new members far beyond the current
war in Iraq is another Vietnam.
George Bush's Vietnam." - Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), April 5,
Iraq. Most Iraqis share American goals of building a
pluralistic, democratic, and prosperous Iraq. Even many Sunni Arabs
who boycotted the January elections due to terrorist
intimidation now are participating in politics. The Iraqi
insurgents do not have the military strength, popular support,
political unity, ideological cohesiveness, major power
support, charismatic leadership, or alternative political program
that the Vietnamese communists possessed. Nor are the Iraqi
insurgents likely to develop these advantages in the future. The
insurgents are divided by ideology, religious affiliation, and
factional rivalries into separate groups, including remnants of
Saddam's Baathist regime, Sunni Islamic radicals, Shiite Islamic
radicals, tribal forces, and foreign Islamic radicals such as
Abu Musab Zarqawi's al-Qaeda faction.
appear to be growing between some of the insurgent
groups-particularly animosity toward Zarqawi's group, which has
killed hundreds of civilians in indiscriminate suicide bombings and
provoked a backlash that other groups fear will undermine the
insurgency. While many insurgent factions have been hurt by the
improved flow of intelligence to government forces since the
January elections, Zarqawi's group has suffered
disproportionately heavy losses. More than 20 of his
lieutenants have been captured or killed since the beginning
of the year, and Zarqawi himself reportedly was almost
captured twice. His predominantly non-Iraqi forces are so concerned
about being betrayed by Iraqi informants that they reportedly
confiscate cell phones in the areas that they control.
the insurgency in Vietnam, which had a relatively broad base of
support, the Iraqi insurgents are actively supported by only a
minority of the Sunni Arab population, which makes up at most 20
percent of the Iraqi population. The Iraqi insurgents cannot defeat
the Iraqi people, but can only play a spoiler role.
veterans who have served in Iraq see little comparison between
the two wars. A USA Today reporter who interviewed many
Vietnam War veterans now serving in Iraq wrote, "They see a
clearer mission than in Vietnam, a more supportive public back home
and an Iraqi population that seems to be growing friendlier toward
U.S. has little allied support in the war in Iraq.
exception of British troops in Basra, we are essentially going it
alone across the rest of Iraq." - Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ),
quoted in U.S. Fed News, October 25, 2005.
argue that the U.S. fights "alone" in Iraq ignore the contributions
of the Iraqis themselves, who have committed 212,000
soldiers and police to fighting the insurgency and suffer the
largest number of casualties. In addition, the U.S. has the strong
cooperation of the 26 other nations that have deployed troops in
Iraq. In addition to 155,000 Americans, there are 8,000
Britons, 3,200 South Koreans, 3,000 Italians, 1,400 Poles, 900
Ukrainians, 450 Australians, 400 Bulgarians, and smaller
contingents from Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and
Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia,
Georgia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mongolia,
the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, and Slovakia.
Iraqi women were better off under Saddam's regime than they are
under the new constitution.
looks like today-and this could change-as of today, it looks like
women will be worse off in Iraq than they were when Saddam Hussein
was president of Iraq." - Howard Dean, "Face the Nation," CBS,
August 14, 2005.
new constitution mandates that women hold one-quarter of the seats
in Iraq's parliament and protects them against gender
discrimination, unlike Saddam's capricious legal system. In
1990, women held 11 percent of the seats in Saddam's
rubber-stamp parliament. Today, they hold 31.6 percent of the
seats, according to the 2005 United Nations Human Development
Report. Iraqi women now enjoy more political power
than they did under Saddam's dictatorship, which was run
exclusively by men. There were no high-ranking women at the top of
1980 invasion of Iraq and 1990 invasion of Kuwait resulted in
the deaths of so many men that many women were brought into Iraq's
labor force to replace them. But this economic advancement came at
a terrible price in repression. Entire Iraqi families were jailed
as collective punishment for alleged crimes against the state.
Saddam's goons tortured, killed, and raped women to punish
their husbands or male relatives for political opposition. Those
who argue that Iraqi women were better off under Saddam ignore the
terrible crimes against women that were carried out by his
Iraq's economy is getting worse.
services such as electricity have never been worse and the economy
of Arab Iraq is in ruins." - Andrew Gilligan, The Evening
Standard (London), February 14, 2005.
and economic progress have come relatively quickly, compared to the
reconstruction efforts in postwar Germany and Japan, and this is
despite continued insurgent attacks on Iraq's infrastructure and
economic targets. Unemployment remains high, estimated by the
government at 28 percent, but U.S. policy did not create that
is beginning to thrive. Real GDP is expected to grow 3.7 percent in
2005 and 16 percent in 2006. Iraqi per-capita income has
doubled since 2003, according to the World Bank. Private
investment, bolstered with capital remitted from family members
abroad, has fueled rapid growth in the private sector. More than
30,000 new businesses have registered with the authorities
since the war, and thousands of other businesses are believed to
have been established without registering.
oil production has not recovered as fast as many projected, due to
sabotage of pipelines and other facilities and the
greater-than-expected damage done to Iraq's oil infrastructure
by many years of neglect, poor maintenance, and lack of
investment under Saddam's regime. Oil production, which was
approximately 2 million barrels per day in 2002, is approximately
1.9 million barrels per day today. But the slow recovery of oil
production is partially offset by high world oil prices. Iraq is
expected to earn about $17 billion in revenues from oil exports
infrastructure, neglected by Saddam's regime for many years and
damaged in three wars triggered by Saddam, has been strained to its
capacity, but the situation is gradually improving. Since the
war, U.S. efforts have added 1,400 megawatts of power to the Iraqi
power grid, expanding access to 4.2 million Iraqis throughout the
country. While some Baghdad residents had more electrical power
under Saddam's regime-because it diverted power from other parts of
Iraq-many Iraqis now have much greater access to electricity than
they had before the war. While Iraqis outside of Baghdad only had
three to six hours of access to electricity in 2002, today they
average almost 14 hours a day.
Phillips is Research Fellow in Middle Eastern
Studies in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy
Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage
For more on the
political campaign to paint intelligence mistakes as deliberate
lies, see Norman Podhoretz, "Who Is Lying About Iraq?"
Commentary, December 2005.
Report on the U.S. Intelligence
Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, Select Committee on Intelligence, U.S.
Senate, July 7, 2004, pp. 284-285.
Charles S. Robb and Laurence H.
Silberman, "The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the
United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction," March
31, 2005, p. 50.
Steven Komorow, "Vietnam Vets in Iraq
See 'Entirely Different War'," USA Today, June 21 2005.
United Nations, Human Development