Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

This blog is devoted to a variety of topics including politics, current events, legal issues, and we even take the time to have some occasional fun. After all, blogging is about having a little fun, right?

Location: Mesa, Arizona, United States

Who are we? We're a married couple who has a passion for politics and current events. That's what this site is about. If you read us, you know what we stand for.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

New NIE on Iraq to be released today

I always take these things with a grain of salt. Not so much for what the present, but more for the analysts who compile this stuff. Let's face facts here, folks, our intel agencies don't exactly have the greatest track record on things in the Middle East. Like a broken watch, these guys can be right twice a day, but couldn't run a train scedule if their lives depended on it. (Don't worry, it's just our lives that depend on them to be accurate.)

The WaPo gives a fairly decent overview of the report, but I prefer Rich Lowry's quick take on the key points:

There have been measurable but uneven improvements in Iraq’s security situation since our last National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in January 2007. The steep escalation of rates of violence has been checked for now, and overall attack levels across Iraq have fallen during seven of the last nine weeks. Coalition forces, working with Iraqi forces, tribal elements, and some Sunni insurgents, have reduced al-Qa’ida in Iraq’s (AQI) capabilities, restricted its freedom of movement, and denied it grassroots support in some areas. However, the level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high; Iraq’s sectarian groups remain unreconciled; AQI retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks; and to date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively. There have been modest improvements in economic output, budget execution, and government finances but fundamental structural problems continue to prevent sustained progress in economic growth and living conditions.

We assess, to the extent that Coalition forces continue to conduct robust counterinsurgency operations and mentor and support the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), that Iraq’s security will continue to improve modestly during the next six to 12 months but that levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high and the Iraqi Government will continue to struggle to achieve national-level political reconciliation and improved governance. Broadly accepted political compromises required for sustained security, long-term political progress, and economic development are unlikely to emerge unless there is a fundamental shift in the factors driving Iraqi political and security developments.

Let's start with this: The surge has been up and fully operational for just a little over a month-and-a-half. The improvements have been modest, but extremely successful thus far. We only need to look at areas of Baghdad (a good majority of the capital city), Diyala, Baquaba, and al-Anbar province to see this success on the military side. Furthermore, there is more than one person who has been there to witness aspects of the surge that have reported that many of the political successes are at the "grass-roots," i.e. local, levels. With the surge in its infancy, so to speak, it's expected that AQI and the other insurgencies will fight harder. And despite their successful campaigns aginst coalition forces, those elements have turned to attacking the civilian population rather than directly engaging coalition and Iraqi forces. The fact that civilians are more actively helping US and Iraqi forces tends to be the motivating factor behind the AQI/insurgency's targeting of civilians; a move that is neither smart, on their part, nor brave. The more they attack civilians, the more those people turn to our forces and Iraqi forces.

As for the shift the NIE speaks of with regard to the political benchmarks, that may be slow in coming, but it is gaining ground. Recessed Parliamaent members are speaking with one another, and working to provide solutions once they reconvene. Prime Minister al-Malik8i has al-Douri -- the leader of the Ba'athists insurgency -- willing to come on board, and end attacks against US and Iraqi forces. This, as I said earlier today, is a coup and a boon for al-Maliki because he no longer has to deal with al-Sadr. Additionally, al-Douri's forces severed ties with AQI months ago, though they do tend to keep an eye on them. The information he can bring to us and the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) could prove to be a gold mine in terms of intelligence. This reconciliation between al-Maliki and al-Douri should and likely will prove to have a stabilizing effect on Iraq, especially for a group that was originally outlawed in Iraq after the fall of Saddam.

Political and security trajectories in Iraq continue to be driven primarily by Shia insecurity about retaining political dominance, widespread Sunni unwillingness to accept a diminished political status, factional rivalries within the sectarian communities resulting in armed conflict, and the actions of extremists such as AQI and elements of the Sadrist Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) militia that try to fuel sectarian violence. Two new drivers have emerged since the January Estimate: expanded Sunni opposition to AQI and Iraqi expectation of a Coalition draw down. Perceptions that the Coalition is withdrawing probably will encourage factions anticipating a power vacuum to seek local security solutions that could intensify sectarian violence and intra-sectarian competition. At the same time, fearing a Coalition withdrawal, some tribal elements and Sunni groups probably will continue to seek accommodation with the Coalition to strengthen themselves for a post- Coalition security environment.

The Sunnis and Shias have been locked in a bitter struggle since the day the al-Askari mosque was targeted by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. When the destruction of the mosque itself didn't fuel the internecine violence he had hoped, he used his Sunni followers to target Shias; this prompted Shias to respond in like kind. Since then, the level of their violence has had it's ups and downs. The spike in violence at the beginning of this year seems to have leveled off in the face of the surge as US and ISF soldiers root out AQI's presence in cities, and take the fight to the insurgents specifically targeting civilians to continue to fuel this violence. The rumors and fears that the Coalition would remove itself from Iraq would force Sunnis and shias to turn to their own militias to provide security, which isn't what we want. JAM (Mahdi Army) can't provide the adequate and unbiased security that Iraq needs. They would onyl escalate the violence involved in Iraq right now on the heels of such a withdrawal.

• Sunni Arab resistance to AQI has expanded in the last six to nine months but has not yet translated into broad Sunni Arab support for the Iraqi Government or widespread willingness to work with the Shia. The Iraqi Government’s Shia leaders fear these groups will ultimately side with armed opponents of the government, but the Iraqi Government has supported some initiatives to incorporate those rejecting AQI into Interior Ministry and Defense Ministry elements.

•Intra-Shia conflict involving factions competing for power and resources probably will intensify as Iraqis assume control of provincial security. In Basrah, violence has escalated with the draw down of Coalition forces there. Local militias show few signs of reducing their competition for control of valuable oil resources and territory.

• The Sunni Arab community remains politically fragmented, and we see no prospective leaders that might engage in meaningful dialogue and deliver on national agreements.

• Kurdish leaders remain focused on protecting the autonomy of the Kurdish region and reluctant to compromise on key issues.

The Kurds have their own problems to deal with -- turkey to the North threatening to cross the border, and Iranian forces infiltrating their region to kill local leaders. They are getting help from US forces, but they do the majority of their security autonomously. Again, Sunnis and Shias are going to have to work through things if the government is to work, and al-Maliki is doing his best in reaching out to them. He has, for the most part, gainsed the support of Sunni sheikhs, and he is working at getting the shi'ites on board, as well. But this can't be done by him unless he gets solid leaders on both sides to agree to set their differences aside for the common good of a unified, independent Iraq. Many contend, and wrongly so, that a partition plan could soothe frayed nerves, and put a cork in centuries-old rivalries. I contend that it won't work because if Iraq is ever attacked from without, the factions wouldn't be able to set their differences aside quick enough to repel such a threat. A unified Iraq is the only solution, and it's not one that's going to emerge overnight. They will be working at this for the next months, and possibly yeard, to come.

The IC assesses that the emergence of “bottom-up” security initiatives, principally among Sunni Arabs and focused on combating AQI, represent the best prospect for improved security over the next six to 12 months, but we judge these initiatives will only translate into widespread political accommodation and enduring stability if the Iraqi Government accepts and supports them. A multi-stage process involving the Iraqi Government providing support and legitimacy for such initiatives could foster over the longer term political reconciliation between the participating Sunni Arabs and the national government. We also assess that under some conditions “bottom-up initiatives” could pose risks to the Iraqi Government.

The Iraqi government already supports these efforts, otherwise they wouldn't be accepted by al-Maliki. He is reaching out to them to bring them on board, and encouraging them to work hand-in-hand with ISF and US forces in securing towns, and keeping AQI out. Furthermore, he has prompted them to report any "rogue" militias (such as the respective insurgent groups in the area) so they can be dealt with either by force, or through negotiation. As to the risks of the government, as long as promises are maintained (such as the promise to al-Douri to allow some Ba'athists into the government, and a possible pardon for him), then the "bottom-up" security initiatives should be no threat at all to the government. Additionally, they provide an extra level of "on the ground" intelligence that might not normally make it's way to ISF or US forces. Since the start of the "bottom-up" initiatives, civilians and former insurgents-turned-security militias have been most forthcoming with information to those threatenting to continue the violence and killing.

• We judge such initiatives are most likely to succeed in predominantly Sunni Arab areas,where the presence of AQI elements has been significant, tribal networks and identitiesare strong, the local government is weak, sectarian conflict is low, and the ISF tolerateSunni initiatives, as illustrated by Al Anbar Province.

• Sunni Arab resistance to AQI has expanded, and neighborhood security groups,occasionally consisting of mixed Shia-Sunni units, have proliferated in the past several months. These trends, combined with increased Coalition operations, have eroded AQI’s operational presence and capabilities in some areas.

• Such initiatives, if not fully exploited by the Iraqi Government, could over time also shift greater power to the regions, undermine efforts to impose central authority, and reinvigorate armed opposition to the Baghdad government.

• Coalition military operations focused on improving population security, both in and outside of Baghdad, will remain critical to the success of local and regional efforts until sectarian fears are diminished enough to enable the Shia-led Iraqi Government to fully support the efforts of local Sunni groups.

Let's be clear here: If Iraq is to stand on it's own, it must do so in a united fashion. That doesn't mean that local officials, and groups can't still have some control over their areas. Sunni, Shia, and Kurd must work together, and if allowed to maintain their security postures -- provided they have their respresentation int he central government handled fairly -- this should be no problem for Iraq. The armed opposition to the government will only come if the Parliament and al-Maliki impose authoritarian controls in Iraq. Above all, we must remember that al-Maliki, while he is a Shi'ite, is trying to preside over a secular government where such things are set by the wayside in favor of a stable nation. Centuries of violence between the sects won't disappear overnight. It takes time, and provided that when they return a siolid effort is led to end the political deadlock, all sides can benefit from this.

Iraqi Security Forces involved in combined operations with Coalition forces haveperformed adequately, and some units have demonstrated increasing professionalcompetence. However, we judge that the ISF have not improved enough to conductmajor operations independent of the Coalition on a sustained basis in multiple locations and that the ISF remain reliant on the Coalition for important aspects of logistics and combat support.

Even General Petreus admits that some elements of the ISF aren't performing adequately, while a good majority is performing above expectations. These units are primarily spec-ops in nature, and have worked well side-by-side with their US counterparts. In many cases, as he reported on 18 July, 2007 the ISF has taken the lead in more than a few operations, and he was quite impressed with how far they have come. Can they do better? Absolutely they can, and they will with experience and continued training. What the NIE doesn't acknowledge is that in the run-up to the surge's full operational status, many int he ISF had to be reexamined to make sure that they held no ties to the insurgency or AQI. That meant that a fair amount of the ISF had to be purged of those that had infiltrated their ranks for the sole purpose of undermining the ISF's efforts to stabilize areas in and around Baghdad, especially, and across the country's hot-spots, generally.

• The deployment of ISF units from throughout Iraq to Baghdad in support of security operations known as Operation Fardh al-Qanun marks significant progress since last year when large groups of soldiers deserted rather than depart their home areas, but Coalition and Iraqi Government support remains critical.

• Recently, the Iraqi military planned and conducted two joint Army and police large-scale security operations in Baghdad, demonstrating an improving capacity for operational command and control.

• Militia and insurgent influences continue to undermine the reliability of some ISF units,and political interference in security operations continues to undermine Coalition and ISF efforts.

• The Maliki government is implementing plans to expand the Iraqi Army and to increaseits overall personnel strength to address critical gaps, but we judge that significant security gains from those programs will take at least six to 12 months, and probably longer, to materialize.

The former two points present a side that's rarely addressed by media outlets, and that is there are improvements from years past with the ISF. The latter two points always manage to confound supporters of the surge. Yes, sectarian influences still have their role to play in some units. However, should a day come where AQI or insurgents hostile to the Iraqi government come under fire, I sincerely doubt those influences units will be involved in the crackdown. That is not to say they're unreliable; it simply recognizes they may be influenced to not put out 100% to root out the problems, such as with the Mahdi Army in areas like Basra. But for the most part, Shia and Sunni have fought alongside one another regardless of the targets they are going after, and have yet to desert or to hold back. Those that have performed well together, in concert with US forces, understand that their efforts are going to create a better Iraq. The expanasion by al-Maliki is a virtual no-brainer. He knows that the ISF isn't up to full capacity, and while it may take another six months to a year to get up to full compliments, it is worth it to ensure that the ISF is fully prepared to take over security, or at the very least, take the lead in 99% of the operations needed to finish the security stabilization of Iraq.

The IC assesses that the Iraqi Government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months because of criticism by other members of the major Shia coalition (the Unified Iraqi Alliance, UIA), Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and other Sunni and Kurdish parties. Divisions between Maliki and the Sadrists have increased, and Shia factions have explored alternative coalitions aimed at constraining Maliki.

Al-Maliki is doing his best ot make inroads with the Shi'ites. This should be fairly easy given that he's a Shi'ite himself. What Shias might be upset with is the fact that he's reaching out to the Sunni factions first. This makes a great deal of sense as AQI is predominantly Sunni in origin, and he wants Sunnis in Iraq to end any and all active participation and assistance of the terror group. AQI represents the single, most difficult aspect of security in Iraq as they tend to utilize brutal methods of quelling a population, and utilizes devastating terror attacks on the civilians to keep them out of ISF/US "hands;" that being, that they don't join with the side trying to bring stability in Iraq. As noted above, civilians are trying to work more with US and ISF forces in rooting out AQI and other violent insurgents. While many have turned against those two elements, many more still fear reprisal. Al-Maliki will deal with the Shi'ites in due time, but he needs the sunnis on board, and he needs to instill faith in them as the minority sect in the government. He must make them understand that they will be treated as equally and fairly as either of the other two sects will be.

• The strains of the security situation and absence of key leaders have stalled internal political debates, slowed national decision making, and increased Maliki’s vulnerability to alternative coalitions.

• We judge that Maliki will continue to benefit from recognition among Shia leaders that searching for a replacement could paralyze the government.

A change in prime minister right now is not the solution to the problem. Likely, such a change will escalate the problems as a potential successor may not have the best of intentions in mind for Iraq, and could ignite an increase in sectarian violence. Furthermore, given the shifting loyalties among a few in the government, the last thing needed is a return of Moqtada al-Sadr. He has been marginalized, thanks to the recent deal struck between al-Maliki and al-Douri -- a prospect that most thought could never happen. The latter point hits the nail on the head about a possible paralysis of the government if an alternative is sought out to replace al-Maliki. While many lack the patience with al-Maliki, preferring to paint his as a dawdling political opportunist wasting our time in Iraq, I contend many don't comprehend the gravity of the situation. He is trying to hold a fragile government together, and the constant boycotts and walk-outs of other sect members don't help his cause. This is one of the reasons why he has reached out to Sunnis first, who felt increasingly alienated int he government, especially given al-Maliki's protection of al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army.

Population displacement resulting from sectarian violence continues, imposing burdens on provincial governments and some neighboring states and increasing the danger of destabilizing influences spreading across Iraq’s borders over the next six to 12 months. The polarization of communities is most evident in Baghdad, where the Shia are a clear majority in more than half of all neighborhoods and Sunni areas have become surrounded by predominately Shia districts. Where population displacements have led to significant sectarian separation, conflict levels have diminished to some extent because warring communities find it more difficult to penetrate communal enclaves.

This isn't a problem. right now it's a boon to the situation in Iraq. While the displacement is regrettable, ISF and US forces can help both sides when sectarian violence threatens the communities. The point the NIE fails to note is the predominant reason why many end up displaced. With basic services such as water, sewage, and electricity in scarce, regular supply, many move onto areas where it is more stable. Part of this lies at the feet of the Iraqis and their efforts to maintain such services, and it also falls to our feet, as well, at least partially. It is our efforts, and those of the contracted companies working on Iraq's infrastructure that must rebuild this, secure it, and maintain it. This interview by Michael Totten with an Iraqi interpreter contains a key point and one I just highlighted above. The interpreter states that if the US would just keep the water and electricty going, they would sway a good deal of people over to the idea of a stabilized, safer, and secure Iraq. Yes, political solutions are needed, but so are basic services that these people do not have on a regular, daily basis.

The IC assesses that Iraq’s neighbors will continue to focus on improving their leverage in Iraq in anticipation of a Coalition drawdown. Assistance to armed groups, especially from Iran, exacerbates the violence inside Iraq, and the reluctance of the Sunni states that are generally supportive of US regional goals to offer support to the Iraqi Government probably bolsters Iraqi Sunni Arabs’ rejection of the government’s legitimacy.

The neighbors that Iraq has in Iran and Syria, and to a point even Saudi Arabia (while not a direct neighbor), have shown a reluctance to truly help the government stand on it's own, preferring to send fighters, weapons, and munitions into Iraq in an effort to destabilize the government, and plunge the nation into a civil war. The NIE makes an incorrect statement regarding the Sunni Arabs. Their rejection of the government came earlier this year (shortly before summer, if memory serves me correctly), and with al-Maliki's recent overtures to Sunnis, this should end much of the problems they had with the government, and the US backing of it. Again, I reiterate the fact that the sects in Iraq haven't been pleasant to one another for some time, and it will take time. But for this to work, ISF and US forces need to do their best to stem the tide of foreign involvement in Iraq, and the nations involved in such interference need to be told to stay out. If this means that a direct engagement is needed, then so be it, but this fact can't be ignored any longer by us, the ISF or the government. It is understandable that al-Maliki is speaking with Syria and Iran, being direct neighbors, but I doubt he has only kind things to say to his respective equals. Neither nation is invested in success in Iraq.

• Over the next year Tehran, concerned about a Sunni reemergence in Iraq and US efforts to limit Iranian influence, will continue to provide funding, weaponry, and training to Iraqi Shia militants. Iran has been intensifying aspects of its lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants, particularly the JAM, since at least the beginning of 2006. Explosively formed penetrator (EFP) attacks have risen dramatically.

• Syria has cracked down on some Sunni extremist groups attempting to infiltrate fighters into Iraq through Syria because of threats they pose to Syrian stability, but the IC now assesses that Damascus is providing support to non-AQI groups inside Iraq in a bid to increase Syrian influence.

• Turkey probably would use a range of measures to protect what it perceives as its interests in Iraq. The risk of cross-border operations against the People’s Congress of Kurdistan (KG) terrorist group based in northern Iraq remains.

As stated above, neither Syria or Iran have any serious interest in seeing a stable Iraq. It is a threat to both regimes as their people see a free-standing, secular democracy in Iraq. Syrian influence in Iraq is literally no different from it's interference in Lebanon. As for Iran, being a virtual blood enemy of the Saddam-era Iraq, there is a level of revenge that could be involved with their interference. While probable, it's highly unlikely that this is the driving goal behind Iran's interference. This goes more towards the desire to attack US forces in Iraq, and an attempt to bring down the government in an effort to create an Afghanistan-like regime similar to that prior to the 2002 invasion; a Taliban-like state that can serve as a safe haven and training ground for terrorists. Turkey represents the biggest wild card in the bunch due to it's dislike of the northern Kurdish state, and the rise of the Kurdish militants that have made cross-border raids. If these aren't stopped, Turkey may take matters into it's own hands and lead an incursion in the north, which ould further exacerbate the problems across the nation. It is imperative that al-Maliki make inroads to the Kurds, and persuade them to end such activities, or at the very least, turn such radical elements over to the ISF.

We assess that changing the mission of Coalition forces from a primarily counterinsurgency and stabilization role to a primary combat support role for Iraqi forces and counterterrorist operations to prevent AQI from establishing a safehaven would erode security gains achieved thus far. The impact of a change in mission on Iraq’s political and security environment and throughout the region probably would vary in intensity and suddenness of onset in relation to the rate and scale of a Coalition redeployment. Developments within the Iraqi communities themselves will be decisive indetermining political and security trajectories.

As yet, no one is saying that General Petreus has any need or desire to switch from counterinsurgency to combat support roles. While this has been done, in limited capacity up to this point, it hasn't been the norm. General Petreus has assured both the Iraqi government, and members of Congress, that his primary duty is to crush AQI and root out insurgents that threaten Iraq's stability ans security. Combat support will come when there has been enough, significant gains that the ISF may take over security operations on their own, with our troops in support. At such a time, the surge troops would no longer be needed, but this is still approximately a year away from such a move, with an initial drawdown of surge troops likely in March or April; that draw down should be done slowly and steadily, but not to the detriment of Iraqi security.

• Recent security improvements in Iraq, including success against AQI, have depended significantly on the close synchronization of conventional counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations. A change of mission that interrupts that synchronization would place security improvements at risk.

Yes it would, and this is a point that Congress should pay close attention to. The surge has been up and running for just a little under two months, and it's success, while impressive up to this point, can be shattered with a change in plan. AQI is on the run in Iraq. General Petreus has said this. So have a number of other experts, like General Jack Keane, Victor Davis Hanson, Michael Yon, Max Boot, etc. They all agree that the surge's success right now lies int he fact that the troops are doing a mission they absolutely believe in (mostly due to the fact they agree this should have been carried out from the start), and it's giving confidence to the populace that we are taking threats to their safety and security seriously. We are going after the enemy on our terms, and on their ground. They're slowly realizing that they're ont he losing end of a very bitter fight right now, and we're not going anywhere until the job is done.

The NIE isn't bad in it's assessment. These are just the key points of the report. As of this writing it hasn't been released. But the fact remains that we can't play around any longer. No more political games at home or in Iraq. Moves are being made to capitalize on the gains made in the military sense, which will translate to the political sense soon enough. That is, after all, what the point of the surge was: To give the politicians the security they needed to move forward on the government's necessary steps to ensure overall stability and independence.

But I feel the need to remind readers (if you make it through this piece, and I apologize for it's length) that in the end the pundits will be jumping all over this report. So will Congress,a nd so will the press. They will hype this up as "bad news" which it's not. It's a sobering look at Iraq right now. It's purpose may be to undermine General Petreus's report in September (given that it does come from our intel community, which is thoroughly divided ont he issue, and suffering a nasty blow with the relase of the in-house assessment of CIA operations against OBL and AQ in the 1990s). I can't really determine that because they don't paint as bleak a picture as some claim. It paints a sobering picture and that's one in which we still have much to do, and it will take longer than the three to six months some prognositcators claimed the surge would take.

Publius II

ADDENDUM: While Mr. Lowry didn't post a link to the pdf of the NIE report The Politico did in it's report on the NIE. (The bloody thing wouldn't load up for me, maybe you guys will have better luck.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You've done an outstanding job. As I read, I thought of the negative and even insulting comments by various member of Congress and the media. They are part of the problem over there. I'm going to read your blog once again. Rawriter

August 23, 2007 at 9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Second Reading. Your analysis is factual and pointing our errors in the report. "But the fact remains that we can't play around any longer. No more political games at home or in Iraq. Moves are being made to capitalize on the gains made in the military sense, which will translate to the political sense soon enough. That is, after all, what the point of the surge was: To give the politicians the security they needed to move forward on the government's necessary steps to ensure overall stability and independence." Our showing in Iraq has a direct affect on our country in the world standing. Iraq is one battle in this war we cannot lose. Rawroter

August 24, 2007 at 12:03 AM  

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