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A Mixed Picture from Iraq

Prepared by: Lionel Beehner
Updated: July 13, 2007

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The purpose of the U.S. military surge in Iraq was to provide breathing room for Iraqi leaders to forge compromises on essential political benchmarks. A July 12 progress report from the White House offers what one Bush administration describes as “a mixed bag” (NYT). At least half of the benchmarks have not been reached (US News). For example, the Iraqis have yet to pass an oil law, reverse de-Baathification legislation, or establish an electoral commission to hold provincial elections. One-third of Iraq’s parliament remains in absentia as part of a boycott orchestrated by Sunni Arabs and Kurds to protest the draft oil bill. As Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaidaie tells NPR, political progress requires more time than those in Washington, namely Congress, are willing to provide. President Bush again urged patience, saying the mission in Iraq can be accomplished. The House responded by passing a bill that would begin a U.S. withdrawal in April (WashPost).

On the security side of the ledger, arguably more progress has been made. With the surge up to its full strength of 28,500 additional troops, sectarian killings in the capital dropped to three-hundred in June (there were 650 nationally, down from 2,100 in January). High-profile bombings such as multiple-fatality suicide attacks fell below ninety last month, compared to 180 such bombings in March. “Iraq is a different place from what it was six months ago,” Kimberly Kagan of the Institute for the Study of War writes in the Wall Street Journal.

Yet despite some positive indicators, which are based on a few months of data, U.S. officials say it is too soon to assess the surge from a security standpoint. Military officials note that it took nearly nine months to pacify Ramadi, an ethnically homogenous (LAT) city that is much smaller than Baghdad. Even gains made in the insurgent stronghold of Anbar province—provincial attacks dropped to 225 in June from 1,300 last October—were “unrelated” to the surge, as Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies writes in a new report. Rather, they were a result of a pact made by Iraqi tribal Sunni leader.

U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus have already begun to ratchet down expectations ahead of their much-anticipated September 15 report before Congress. Washington is expected to readjust its war strategy around that time and look for a compromise between a phased withdrawal and the surge. A new amendment to a pending defense spending bill put forth by Sens. Richard Lugar (R-IN) and John Warner (R-VA) is expected to call for a major recalibration (WSJ) of U.S. policy toward Iraq.

Yet as CFR’s Stephen Biddle tells Bernard Gwertzman that any Plan B solution that advocates withdrawing combat forces (ostensibly by about half, as a plan by the Center for a New American Security advocates) but leaves U.S. trainers behind, may be doomed to fail. “The politics of the war in the United States is driving lots of lawmakers to want something in the middle,” he writes, but “it's very hard to find something for troops that are half of today's levels to do that is simultaneously safe and useful.” CFR’s Max Boot urges Congress to wait until spring before reducing troop levels. He writes: “To do so now, when the security situation remains so unsettled, risks catastrophe” (LAT).

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