Now that General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker have
made their long-awaited statements to Congress, what should
policymakers and the public take away from the hearings? And what
should guide the debate on Iraq going forward? Naturally, there was
a great deal of discussion from both men on the varying facets of
the surge, but there are four issues that warrant close attention:
the success of the surge, political progress at the national and
local levels, the devastating consequences of premature withdrawal,
and Iran's efforts to destabilize Iraq.
Since the surge began, many key population security metrics have
improved. General Petraeus opened his testimony by noting recent
gains in security since the surge came to full strength early this
summer. "Though the improvements have been uneven across Iraq, the
overall number of security incidents in Iraq has declined in 8 of
the past 12 weeks, with the number of incidents in the last two
weeks at the lowest levels seen since June 2006," he noted. He
then recited a litany of security statistics that show reductions
in civilian deaths, improvised explosive device (IEDs, also
known as roadside bombs) attacks, and high profile attacks. These
measures unambiguously show that the security situation is
Perhaps the metric that is most compelling is the number of
weapons caches found. As of September 7, 2007, more than 4,400
weapons caches have been found and cleared by Coalition Forces (CF)
so far this year. This is some 60 percent more than was found in
all of 2006. These caches have contained mortars, rockets, rifles,
and the particularly deadly explosively formed projectiles (EFPs).
If this trend continues through the end of the year, CF will
interdict more than twice the number of weapons caches in 2007 than
it did in 2006. Much of this success is directly attributable to
local Iraqis feeling comfortable to provide CF with tips about the
locations of insurgents and insurgents' weapons.
Although political progress on a national level has been less
than what was hoped for, local engagements have brought tangible
results. When questioned about the stalled Iraqi legislative agenda
during the first day of hearings, Ambassador Crocker responded, "I
am frustrated every day I spend in Iraq on the lack of progress on
legislative initiatives. Iraqis themselves are frustrated."
Ambassador Crocker noted, however, that while progress may be slow,
it has not stopped. On August 26, five of Iraq's key leaders issued
a communiqué that noted agreement on important provincial
powers and de-Ba'athification legislation. While a
communiqué is not legislation, Ambassador Crocker did note
that such "commitment...to work together on hard issues is
Even more encouraging are successes at the local provincial
level. The time, effort, and energy of military units and
provincial reconstruction teams in engaging local leaders have
facilitated improvements in security, especially in Anbar province.
The "tribal awakening" taking place there has allied many tribal
leaders with CF in rooting out al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups,
making these areas much safer than they were even six months ago.
This bottom-up political progress can complement the top-down
efforts at the national level by showing that political
accommodations can take place in Iraq, even among opposing factions
not accustomed to working together.
The Consequences of Withdrawal
Policymakers should bear in mind that the consequences of
withdrawal could be catastrophic for the Iraqis. The purpose of the
surge was to provide a level of security sufficient to give the
political process "breathing room" to develop. If American forces
leave too soon--before the Iraqi Security Forces can adequately
assume full security responsibilities--there will be unacceptable
costs for the Iraqis.
Ambassador Crocker put it best:
I am certain that abandoning or drastically curtailing our
efforts will bring failure, and the consequences of such a failure
must be clearly understood. An Iraq that falls into chaos or civil
war will mean massive human suffering--well beyond what has already
occurred within Iraq's borders....[T]he gains made against al-Qaeda
and other extremist groups could easily evaporate and they could
establish strongholds to be used as safe havens for regional and
international operations. The current course is hard. The
alternatives are far worse.
More specifically, it is likely that recent security gains would
be fully reversed if U.S. forces leave too soon, and casualties
could quickly reach, and surpass, levels seen during the most
violent months last December and January. There would be
displacements and ethnic cleansing within neighborhoods, leading to
a substantial refugee crisis. This is also the consensus view of
the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq and, as General
Petraeus noted near the end of his testimony, an August 16, 2007,
assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Iran remains a destabilizing force in Iraq, providing weapons
and training to insurgents. Both General Petraeus and Ambassador
Crocker noted the destabilizing influence of Iran in Iraq. Iran is
determined to undermine U.S. and CF efforts by providing arms and
training to insurgents to attack CF and civilians. The military has
reported in recent months that Iranian-manufactured rockets,
mortars, and EFPs have been smuggled into Iraq via Iran. According
to Major-General Rick Lynch, commander of the Multi-National
Division-Central (located south of Baghdad), operatives of the
elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have provided
training to (mostly Shia) insurgents on how to deploy these weapons
against targets. He believes that there are at least 50 such
operatives providing training and facilitating the transport of
weapons into Iraq. General Petraeus noted in his opening
statement that it is the aim of the Quds Force to train "a
Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war
against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq."
Iran's aim is to weaken American resolve and force a premature
withdrawal. According to Ambassador Crocker, the Iranians would be
the obvious beneficiaries of such an occurrence: "Undoubtedly, Iran
would be a winner in this scenario, consolidating its influence
over Iraqi resources and possibly territory. The Iranian President
has already announced that Iran will fill any vacuum in Iraq."
Naturally, both General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker want to
build on recent gains in security and local engagements, while
continuing to strive toward the goal of national reconciliation.
They both admit that this is the work of years, not months; a quick
exit would have dire consequences for Iraqis and possibly the
larger Middle East region. America should not leave Iraq before the
job is done.
--Kirk A. Johnson,
Ph.D., is a Visiting Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and
served as Deputy Director for Assessments in the Joint Strategic
Planning and Assessment office at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in
General David H. Petraeus, "Report to Congress
on the Situation in Iraq," September 10, 2007, p. 1.
has been noted elsewhere that the military's data collection
efforts may miss certain smaller incidents that do appear in Iraqi
casualty data, but the two tend to move together. See Kirk A.
Johnson, Ph.D., "Understanding Violence and Civilian Casualty Rates
in Iraq: An Insider's View" Heritage Foundation WebMemo No.
1605, September 10, 2007, at www.heritage.org/Research/MiddleEast/wm1605.cfm.
Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, United States
Ambassador to the Republic of Iraq, "Statement to the Committee on
Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Armed Services of the U.S.
House of Representatives," September 10, 2007, p. 4.
National Intelligence Council, "Prospects for
Iraq's Stability: Some Security Progress but Political
Reconciliation Elusive--Update to NIE, Prospects for Iraq's
Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead," August 16, 2007.
General David H. Petraeus, "Report to
Congress," p. 4.
Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, "Statement to
Congress," p. 8.