On September 10, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan
Crocker will report to Congress on the status of U.S. and Coalition
efforts in Iraq. While many Members of Congress will use the
opportunity to assail U.S. efforts there, these two men will have a
number of important points to make. Though no one knows with
certainty what will be said in the hearings, recent reports from
Iraq provide great insight into some of the major issues and
conclusions likely to be raised by General Petraeus and Ambassador
Crocker. In general, they are likely to report strong progress on
several fronts-particularly the success of the military "surge"-and
ask Congress for more time to capitalize on recent successes.
- The "surge" has been effective at reducing civilian casualty
rates, especially in Baghdad. Spring and summer increases in
the number of brigade combat teams have reduced civilian casualty
rates, especially in Baghdad, from the highs seen last December and
January. General Petraeus especially may stress that sectarian
violence, generally defined as violence perpetrated for reasons of
religion or ethnicity (usually Shia-on-Sunni or Sunni-on-Shia
violence), has dropped substantially over the past six to eight
months. While this is important, the fact that overall violence
rates have subsided is the more noteworthy trend.
- Engaging local tribal leaders and provincial leaders has
been effective not only in aiding security but also in improving
local governance. The time, effort, and energies 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 Coalition forces in rooting out al-Qaeda and
other insurgent groups, making these areas much safer than even six
months ago. This is an important sign of progress that has not
adequately been reflected in the congressional benchmark
assessments because no benchmark measures the number of former
insurgents who have switched sides.
Because of the improving security in many areas, local provincial
councils have been able to meet regularly and allocate their
budgets on capital projects, infrastructure improvements, and
needed public services. Ambassador Crocker or General Petraeus may
note that the provinces are likely to spend most of their capital
budgets in 2007-a great improvement over their dismal performance
in 2006. While, to be sure, merely spending money does not mean
that the spending will be on the projects most needed by the
Iraqis, the ability to spend capital funds is a necessary condition
to rebuilding infrastructure.
In some areas, however, it continues to be very dangerous for
provincial leaders to meet. In recent months, two provincial
governors in southern Iraq were assassinated, and other provincial
leaders work under threats against themselves and their families.
Nevertheless, there has been a qualitative improvement in local
governance over the past few months.
- Iran continues to train and equip insurgents in
Iraq. Iran is determined to undermine U.S. efforts in Iraq by
providing arms and training to insurgents to attack Coalition
forces. The military has reported in recent months that
Iranian-manufactured rockets, mortars, and explosively formed
penetrators (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.
- A withdrawal of U.S. troops at this time would spark a
humanitarian disaster. 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-insurgents and sectarian militias will
fill the ensuing power vacuum. Without question, this would
increase violence, yielding more displacement or even ethnic
cleansing of the population.
Generally speaking, next week's hearings will report mixed
results. There will be some continued frustration with the slow
pace of the Iraqi government-particular on needed legislation on
elections, oil revenue sharing, and amnesty-but General Petraeus
and Ambassador Crocker will also report some positive signs of
progress in the country in relation to the surge and local
Both men will likely ask Congress and the American people for
more time-time to capitalize on the successes of the surge and the
breathing room it is providing to the Iraqi political process.
Congress should carefully consider this request during the
continuing debate on Iraq.
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 2006-2007.
an aside, sectarian violence occurs in mixed areas, such as
Baghdad. Sectarian violence thus does not occur everywhere. In
historically dangerous places, such as Anbar province in the
western part of Iraq, communities are almost entirely (i.e., 95
percent or more) Sunni. Almost no sectarian violence has
occurred in such areas at any point during the conflict.
point was also made in a recent Government Accountability Office
report on the 18 congressional benchmarks. See GAO, "Securing,
Stabilizing, and Rebuilding Iraq: Iraqi Government Has Not Met Most
Legislative, Security, and Economic Benchmarks," GAO-07-1195,
September 2007, pp. 64-67.