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Surge Faltering, Iraq’s Future Again at Issue

Prepared by: Lionel Beehner
Updated: June 27, 2007

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U.S. military analysts say the purpose of the Iraq “surge” is to buy time to allow the country’s political process to go forward. But signs are emerging that the surge, which reached its peak of 150,000 forces earlier this month, has failed to pacify parts of Baghdad and its surrounding “belts.” Gen. David Petraeus urges more time for the strategy, possibly until next spring (CSMonitor). He has a date with Congress in September to present a progress report.

The surge, which added seventy thousand U.S and Iraqi forces across the capital, has failed to prevent an upturn in suicide bombings, including the most recent which struck the heavily fortified Mansour Hotel. Nationwide around two thousand Iraqi civilians and troops were killed in May alone, the highest monthly death toll this year. Increasingly, Iraqi police forces have been revealed to be incompetent and corrupt (TIME). A fake government identification card and official-looking papers are all that is needed to sail past a security checkpoint. Meanwhile, top insurgent leaders apparently slipped away (NYT) ahead of the U.S. military’s latest offensive into Baquba. Indeed, the failure to secure Baghdad and other tumultuous cities prompted Iraq’s Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi to threaten to resign (WashPost), and rumors of a potential coup (Newsweek Int’l) are growing more frequent.  

Some U.S. pundits wonder what Iraq will resemble after the bulk of U.S. combat forces withdraw. This new Backgrounder outlines a number of scenarios tabled by U.S. officials and foreign policy experts, from the Bosnia model of a decentralized state to the South Korean model of maintaining an over-the-horizon U.S. military presence. The Vietnam War has also drawn its fair share of parallels to the Iraqi conflict. For instance, Shawn Brimley and Kurt Campbell of the Washington-based Center for a New American Security, writing in Foreign Policy, take a forty-year-old CIA memo and replace the word “Vietnam” with “Iraq” and the “result is a set of conclusions that are just as true today.” But as former Assistant Secretary of State James P. Rubin writes in the International Herald Tribune, “Vietnam analogies won’t help us with the hard decisions needed in Iraq,” adding that “the only thing the two wars have in common is the incompetence and hubris of the U.S. decision-makers concerned.”

Like Vietnam, however, failure in Iraq has important political consequences back in Washington. With the president’s approval ratings reaching new lows (Bloomberg), and with many of the 2008 presidential candidates also eyeing the exit, the White House is keen to avoid battles over Iraq war policy in the coming months. Even Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-IN), previously an ardent supporter of the war, says the surge is not working. Indeed, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pressing for a change of course come September, once Petraeus submits his assessment, while Democrats intend to use deliberations on a coming defense authorization bill to debate timelines for troop withdrawals and shifting the U.S. military presence in Iraq from a combat role to largely a supportive one (LAT).

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