Progress and the Still-Uncertain Future of Iraq


125px-Flag_of_Iraq.svg.pngFor anyone who has not looked at the Washington Post this morning, they should flip to Karen DeYoung’s piece about a Baghdad Embassy report on progress in Iraq. According to the report, leaked to the Washington Post yesterday, Iraq has satisfactorily met 15 of the 18 benchmarks established by Congress. As the article points out, this optimistic estimate contrasts sharply with more negative recent assessments, including one by the General Accounting Office released last week.
I want to focus on a few things that stand out from the article.
For instance, the three benchmarks that have not been met are rather important; DeYoung cites:

…the Baghdad government’s failure to enact and implement laws governing the oil industry and the disarmament of militia and insurgent groups, and continuing problems with the professionalism of the Iraqi police.

It would be an understatement to say that these three benchmarks are important to the future of a stable Iraq. Oil distribution among Sunnis, Shi’a and Kurds has been hotly debated since 2003, and the struggle for resources could very well determine whether or not Sunnis eventually have a reason to support the Shi’ite central government. The police force remains by all indications a corrupt, sectarian force whose reorganization is necessary to ensure internal security.

This leaves the disarmament of militia groups. The two issues to be dealt with here are the eventual disarmament and demobilization of legal groups (like the so-called Sahwa, or “awakening” movements) and the illegal groups, like the Mahdi army in the south.
The Sahwa are credited with having helped diminish the Al Qaeda in Iraq threat and being a major factor in the massive decrease in violence in Iraq since the start of the American “surge” last year. Yet problems loom with the mostly Sunni Sahwa; many were formerly insurgents, and the United States pays roughly $16 million a month to keep them fighting for us. Further, plans to integrate them into the national Iraqi security services are progressing slowly; of the 91,000 Sahwa members armed in part by American forces, only 8,200 have been integrated, while 13,000 have been placed into other jobs in the government. Without integration, it is likely that these forces will simply turn on the United States and the nascent Iraqi government.
As for the illegal groups, progress has been made against them, as shown by recent Iraqi-led actions against Al Qaeda in Mosul and against the Mahdi army in Basra. But sustaining this effort requires an effective Iraqi security force. While the embassy report claims that 70% of Iraqi forces can operate without US support, the GAO puts the number at 10%. And in his recent testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, even General David Petraeus said that Iraqi security forces, “are not yet ready to defend Iraq or maintain security throughout the country on their own.” Iraqi forces secure only 9 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, according to the GAO, including the three Kurdish provinces that have always been under the control of seasoned Kurdish forces.
There has clearly been progress in Iraq. But honest assessments are needed to evaluate our policies in Iraq and their cost, in terms of lives, treasure, and the sustainability of our continued presence in the country.
–Andrew Lebovich


12 comments on “Progress and the Still-Uncertain Future of Iraq

  1. arthurdecco says:

    Carroll said: “Maybe the Iraqis can have it done in oils and hang it as the portrait of their new State’s founding fathers.”
    LMAO! (because its better to laugh than to cry.)


  2. Carroll says:

    I was going to make a comment about the Kurds and their new lobby in DC and their oil dealings independent of Iraq.
    But in honor of Independence Day I am just going to say that every time I look at the pig picture in the Animal Action ad in the left column of TWN’s home page I see poppa pig Uncle Sam and baby pig Israel.
    Maybe the Iraqis can have it done in oils and hang it as the portrait of their new State’s founding fathers.


  3. David says:

    Through heavily tinted rose-colored glasses your view works, kotzabasis.


  4. Dirk says:

    What a coincidence; three different titles yet all the same information:
    Obama Softens on Iraq Withdrawal Timeline
    Obama Strives to Retain Some Flexibility on His Iraq Policy
    Obama restates plan to exit Iraq in 16 months,0,7214812.story
    oops: the last one has now been retitled:
    Republicans seize on Obama’s comments on Iraq
    “Let me be as clear as I can be. I intend to end this war. My first day in office I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war — responsibly, deliberately, but decisively. And I have seen no information that contradicts the notion that we can bring our troops out safely at a pace of one to two brigades a month, and again, that pace translates into having our combat troops out in 16 months’ time.”
    So who got the headline right?
    Meanwhile the Naz…er GOP Swift Boaters are back just in time for the General Election with a new 527 and plenty of big bucks:
    As far as how things are going in Iraq; we’ll see, but the GAO claims the exact opposite:,8599,1817699,00.html


  5. kotzabasis says:

    As I had predicted 18 months ago the new strategy of the Surge would make 2007 the annus mirabilis for President Bush. If it’s true that the Iraq government has “satisfactorily met” 15 out of the 18 benchmarks set up by Congress then Iraq seems to be taking the first strong strides toward democracy. And it will be ironic after the buckets of bile the liberal intelligentsia emptied upon the heads of the neocons, history will be placing the crown of victory on their heads.


  6. David says:

    First, read the text of the speech Obama delivered regarding his take on faith-based initiatives. Second, while I don’t like the telecoms getting a free ride, they were under pressure from POTUS, and were being told they had to do it if they wanted to help prevent another terrorist attack. Obama’s statement was logical regarding FISA. And third, while I think we should never have invaded Iraq, and that the sooner we leave, the better for the Iraqis and for our own troops, Obama is speaking realistically about the fact that you cannot simply remove the troops tomorrow. Obama will not be taken seriously as a presidential candidate if he does not offer a logical, rational, doable strategy. This is one time purpose matters very much, and we will have to wait and see what his actual purposes as president are. But he has set the principles that guide his thinking, as has John “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” McCain, who also favors continued occupation of Iraq forever, so long as American troops aren’t being killed. Pretty narrow perspective, and one written by the petrogiants.
    Flip-flop, my ass. The flip-flopper, if that is an issue, is John McCain 2000 v. John McCain 2008. They are hardly recognizable as the same person, at least the personas we have been allowed to see.
    Oh, and Obama’s definition of a stable Iraq will also be key. But unlike McCain, who has all the answers, as does Bush, Obama, like our better presidents, is constantly trying to discover what the best course of action is. And he’s doing it using smart, knowledgeable advisors, plus his own knowledge base, intelligence, and reasoning skills. I see him as akin to FDR in his principles, his notion of leadership, and his desire to call on the best minds from the gamut, not just those who see the world exactly as he does. Remember, this was Cheney/Bush’s greatest failing, and the consequences are dire, and will be exponentially more so if Bush, at Cheney’s urging, attacks Iran.


  7. WigWag says:

    Barack Obama’s biggest flip flop yet. Now he says pulling out of Iraq in 16 months? Maybe not so much.
    First he flip flops on campaingn expenditure reform; then he flip flops on FISA; then he endorse and promises to expand the Bush faith based initiative and now he reconsiders leaving Iraq. This proves it. It is not unreasonable to assume that McCain will get us out of Iraq faster thaan Obama. Exactly how much evidence do you Obama supporters need? The man you have supported in a liar. Yes, a bigger liar than Clinton and a bigger liar than McCain. Clinton and McCain lie like all politicians do, Obama takes lying to a new level. Why can he get away with it? Could it be that too many of his supporters are merely acolytes?
    For his next flip flop he’ll need something really, really big. My guess is that he will announce that he favors partially privatizing social security. I can’t wait to hear how Obama apologists explain this one away. That is, if they have the guts to try. This from today’s NY Times:
    July 3, 2008, 2:28 pm
    Obama Might ‘Refine’ Iraq Timeline
    By Jeff Zeleny
    FARGO, N.D. – Senator Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot sustain a long-term military presence in Iraq, but added that he would be open to “refine my policies” about a timeline for withdrawing troops after meeting with American military commanders during a trip to Iraq later this month.
    Mr. Obama, whose popularity in the Democratic primary was built upon a sharp opposition to the war and an often-touted 16-month gradual timetable for removing combat troops, dismissed suggestions that he was changing positions in the wake of reductions in violence in Iraq and a general election fight with Senator John McCain.
    “I’ve always said that the pace of withdrawal would be dictated by the safety and security of our troops and the need to maintain stability. That assessment has not changed,” he said. “And when I go to Iraq and have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground, I’m sure I’ll have more information and will continue to refine my policies.”
    As he arrived for a campaign stop in North Dakota, Mr. Obama told reporters on Thursday that he intended to conduct “a thorough assessment” of his Iraq policy during a forthcoming trip to the country. He stressed that he has long called for a careful and responsible withdrawal of American forces, but he declined to offer a fresh endorsement of his plan to remove one to two combat brigades a month.
    “My 16-month timeline, if you examine everything that I’ve said, was always premised on making sure that our troops were safe,” he said. “I said that based on the information that we had received from our commanders that one to two brigades a month could be pulled out safely, from a logistical perspective. My guiding approach continues to be that we’ve got to make sure that our troops are safe and that Iraq is stable.”
    He added, “I’m going to continue to gather information to find out whether those conditions still hold.”


  8. Kjetting says:

    As strange as it may sound, a passing of the current oil law draft would probabaly be more disruptive then calming. An oil law that would be passed now would greatly favour the two remaining factions arguing for radical desentralisation of Iraq – ISCI and the Kurds. Such an oil law would most likely become a rallying cry for the rest of the nationalist political forces in Iraq in the future, rather then something that was seen as en equitable sharing of the resources. It would also be seen as a US construct.


  9. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    The growing degree of political and social inceritude regarding the affairs in Iraq can only be improved once there is control of the UN agencies over there.


  10. David says:

    Invade and destroy a country, resulting in the death of over 1 million Iraqis, the maiming of countless more, the displacement of something like one-fifth of the population, either internally or to other countries, create a monstrous gated community out of the capital of the cradle of western civilization, and then have the gall to talk about “progress.” Progress toward what, and for whom? And even NPR is playing the game of putting the best face on this horrendous invasion and occupation, a crime the nobility of so many of our people in uniform cannot exonerate.
    Yeah, the oil companies are back, companies who got thrown out when Saddam Hussein nationalized the oil reserves. But as P.J. O’Rourke quipped, “Wouldn’t it have been cheaper just to by the oil from Iraq?” And I would add, wouldn’t it also have been a hell of a lot better for the Iraqis, and for the people who wear the uniform of the United States of America?


  11. Mr.Murder says:

    We had to blow up a country to build new schools in it. Why isn’t the media telling you about the cost plus schools?


  12. JamesL says:

    Artful deceit? An article in the San Francisco Chronicle points to an important distinction:
    “Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., who requested the administration’s updated assessment, scoffed at the May report, which he says uses the false standard of determining whether progress on a goal is “satisfactory” versus whether the benchmark has been met. He estimates that only a few of the 18 benchmarks have been fully achieved.”
    So which is it? Benchmarks met? Or “satisfactory progress” being made on benchmarks? (benchmarks not met) This sounds like a fuzzing of the benchmarks to make good news out of bad, benchmarks which were supposed to indicate BY THEIR COMPLETION whether satisfactory progress was being made. I also recall that the time frame that the original benchmarks were to be judged in has long since passed.
    The complete answer would be a review of the original benchmarks and the time frame in which they were supposed to occur, all relative to the “surge” which was supposed to make them happen. The benchmarks were supposed to be proof that the surge was working as advertised. The surge that was supposed to last two or three months, fifteen or so months ago. How artfully this relationship has been utterly lost by news media.


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