For 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.