The U.S. military buildup that was supposed to calm Baghdad and other trouble spots has failed to usher in national reconciliation, as the capital's neighborhoods rupture even further along sectarian lines, violence shifts elsewhere and Iraq's government remains mired in political infighting.
Is it "shifting elsewhere"? Somewhat, yes. But then it isn't really having the effect on the work of reconstruction or security that some would believe. Again, talking with three separate Provincial Reconstruction Team members last week, that was my specific question. Jason Hyland [pdf] in Nineveh province:
Q: Yeah, Mr. Hyland, Bruce McQuain QandO. I guess I'm going to ask you for a couple assessments. What is your assessment of security in Mosul since the surge — better, worse, about the same? And what is your assessment with your ability in the province to hook up and get things done with the central government? MR.
HYLAND: Well, the — as I was saying, the — we're getting out every day and going all over the province and conducting business and meeting people, and our outreach to people is expanding all the time so that the — if you look at the security situation in that sense, I think it's improving.
The other thing here which is an important factor is the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police are quite capable in this province, and they work together very well. They work together very well with the provincial government as well as with coalition forces, and that's a very big factor.
And, you know, obviously their capabilities are always going up, but this is — these are people that are definitely taking the fight to the enemy, and I think that — you know, because it's a dangerous situation, bad things happen, but the Iraqi army and Iraqi police are definitely very aggressive in trying to, you know, to maintain security and to go after the bad guys when they come out.
So I think in that sense, it's definitely an improving situation. And again, we're not — it's not keeping us from getting out to all the corners of the province.
The last sentence is pretty key as far as I'm concerned.
Q Yes, Mr. Buckler. Bruce McQuain with QandO.net. A couple questions, actually. One, we just talked with Mr. Keegan up in — who's up in Kirkuk, and he said that he's seeing a little security deterioration since the surge in Baghdad has begun in earnest. And it appears in his opinion to be displacement.
I was wondering if you're seeing any of that? And secondly, you guys have obviously been hard at work hooking — standing up and hooking up the local governments and the provincial governments, but can you give us an idea of how well the hook-up from province to central government is going?
MR. BUCKLER: First on the security, yeah, Howard got it right. The tracing from September '06 until about now, we've seen a steady increase in the number of incidents of violence. Generally, you know, I can't make a broad — too much of a broad sweeping statement because we just had a police station blown up in Bayji, but by and large the nature of the violence here has not been the mass casualty tragedies like we've seen down in Baghdad. But the number of bombs, mortar attacks, rocket attacks, shooting, gun fights and whatnot has continued to climb slowly. There is just no two ways about it.
So far as its impact on our ability to work here in Tikrit, hasn't really affected us. You know, we travel with a great deal of security. The army here provides us great protection. The violence has not really hit Tikrit with the same impact that it has farther south, because of course, I mean, all we need do is look at the map and we have Anbar to the west and Diyala to the east of the southern parts of Salah ad Din. So naturally enough, the roads and the nature of the insurgency being what it is, if you squeeze toothpaste tubes in Al Anbar and in Diyala, the toothpaste squeezes out here in Salah ad Din.
So I agree with Howard on that.
But we're able to pretty much move along without that impacting the frequency of our contact with the local officials. We try to get out a lot to the cities of Bayji, Balad, Samarra and — we fly for that. And the military are wonderfully courageous. It's great. They take us right along and — so we work pretty well unimpeded.
Again, an indication that while there has been some displacement, it hasn't been significant enough to impact their work and certainly doesn't seem to be considered 'significant' by Buckler.
BTW, I'm highlighting civilian members of the State department because they're a) very sensitive to security because of what their jobs entail and would b) security deterioration of any significance is likely to be more evident with them.
Q Yeah, I would like to — my name's Bruce McQuain, Mr. Keegan, with QandO. I would like to address the security environment you have there. You said that it's gotten a little worse over the last few months. I was wondering what you would attribute that to and what steps are being taken that you know of to make that a little better.
MR. KEEGAN: Well — (audio break) — and I'll leave this one as my opinion — the surge — we've had two difference surges, one on the military side, one on the civilian side. The military surge was predominantly directed at the real bad spots, the hotspots, the Diyalas and that sort of thing.
And we've been very successful in that surge effort, and they've made great strides. But the bad guys basically have to find a new place to go to when they're forced to leave where they're at. I think it's kind of a trickle-down effect. We've had more of them coming up north looking to either relocate here or just to create additional problems for everyone.
Recently there's been quite a few bombings up in the northern areas. We've had several in Kirkuk city themselves and very devastating bombings, and that's a fairly new development to the security situation here. Unfortunately, they are — it's — the bombings up in Kirkuk city are politically based. They mainly targeted political offices and that sort of thing with the, you know, local citizens paying the price on it.
So as far as addressing it, I know that the brigade here in Kirkuk, as well as the IA, the Iraqi army, they are picking up the pace. I've heard that some of the battalions with the brigade here are probably busier now than at any time they've been during their deployment to help quell this, and I believe that it's working in that they're actually forcing the guys to not set up camp but just to continue to move on out of this province. I know it's passing on the problem to someone else, but they're going to go until they can find safe harbor somewhere.
So while there certainly have been "violence shifts", it appears that for the most part they were anticipated and are being handled. Back to the LA Times:
Despite the plan, which has brought an additional 28,500 U.S. troops to Iraq since February, none of the major legislation that Washington had expected the Iraqi parliament to pass into law has been approved.
Note the reliance on the February date, when Phase I of the Surge began instead of Phase II, June, when the actual military operations of the Surge began. You remember this don't you?
Iraq's top Shi'ite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish political leaders announced on Sunday they had reached consensus on some key measures seen as vital to fostering national reconciliation.
The agreement by the five leaders was one of the most significant political developments in Iraq for months and was quickly welcomed by the United States, which hopes such moves will ease sectarian violence that has killed tens of thousands.
It is nicely underplayed in the LA Times piece:
President Bush and Crocker also lauded an announcement by Maliki that Shiite, Kurdish and Sunni leaders had resolved differences over some of the legislation sought by Washington. But Sunni leaders say this is not enough to make them end their boycott of parliament, which reconvenes today after a summer break.
The lack of Sunni participation would undermine the credibility of any bill passed into law.
Well we'll see about that won't we? But such a resolution of differences would argue strongly that perhaps those issues which prompted the walkout might have been discussed and resolved as well.
Anyway the interim conclusion, based on that analysis is:
"The military offensive has temporarily suppressed, or in many cases dislocated, armed groups," said Joost Hiltermann of the International Crisis Group. "Once the military surge peters out, which it will if there is no progress on the political front, these groups will pop right back up and start going at each other's, and civilians', throats again."
Not exactly. This isn't a "military offensive" in the traditional sense of the word. This is a "clear and hold" operation (which is classified as an "offensive" operation but is clearly a counter-insurgency mission) which means if successful, and that includes turning it over to the ISF who then successfully continues the mission, these groups aren't going to "pop right back up". In fact, that's the whole point of the COIN strategy - to deny them that ability.
There are activities that naturally have to follow such operations, such as governance, reconstruction, economic development and rule of law. That is what the PRTs I've discussed are engaged in and they are making significant headway (be sure to read the interviews noted to understand that point).
And Anbar, phaa, it really has no significance:
Anbar's situation is far from solid, though. A bomber attacked a mosque in one of its main cities, Fallouja, on Aug. 27, killing at least 10 people, and scores of civilians and Iraqi security forces have died in bombings elsewhere in the province in recent months.
Anbar also represents just one particularly homogenous Sunni Arab slice. There is no indication that progress made there can be replicated on a grand enough scale to have a nationwide effect.
It might be possible to demonstrate in principle that the Anbar Awakening movement could spread outside of the province, but it is not necessary, because it has already done so. Although some media outlets continue to portray this spread as speculative or potential, it is, in fact, well documented. Australian counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen recently described it in detail in a post on the Small Wars Journal website; Michael Gordon described it in even greater detail in The New York Times Magazine this weekend, and U.S. military and political officials have been briefing on it for many weeks. Local Sunni Arabs all throughout Central Iraq have come forward to volunteer for service in the Iraqi Security Forces in order to fight al Qaeda in Iraq and bring peace to their war-torn lands. This movement has gained great traction in Diyala Province — another area that was so heavily infested with AQI and Shia militias that many had given it up for lost — where it helped secure the gains of recent U.S.-ISF operations that cleared its capital, Baqubah. It is growing rapidly in the areas south of Baghdad (which Michael Gordon wrote about), including in the area formerly known as the “triangle of death” and serious al Qaeda safe havens in the Arab Jabour area. It has spread into Abu Ghraib, where more than 2,400 Sunni young men volunteered to join the ISF, and over 1,700 have been accepted by the Iraqi government. And it has even spread into Baghdad itself, where “concerned citizens groups” are helping U.S. forces track down and eliminate AQI fighters and leaders and to secure their neighborhoods. Movements are starting to grow even in Salah-ad-Din Province, site of Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit and Samarra, and also a major base for Sunni rejectionists and AQI fighters. The evidence of the spread of these movements is absolutely irrefutable. Anbar may be unique — and many of the local movements outside the province have ostentatiously refused to call themselves “awakenings” or to model themselves after the Anbar movement — but the Iraqis themselves are aggressively adopting the Anbar model to suit local circumstances in order to work with the Coalition and the Iraqi government against terrorists and militias to secure their homes.
How much better is it in Anbar? Here's COL Richard Simcox [pdf] of the Marine's 6th Regimental Combat Team in Anbar:
But I think what I told you last time was there's nothing out on the battlefield that a Marine rifle squad couldn't easily deal with. That is still true and probably more so.
And the main reason, again, for that is not really that, you know, my forces have changed. I've got the same forces here in RCT 6 that I've always had from a combat power standpoint. What has changed is the Iraqi equation to it. They continue to grow, Iraqi security forces, in the form of the Army, the Iraqi police, the provincial security forces, neighborhood watches. That has been the key element that has been able to allow me to do my mission and work with them so that we're both trying to accomplish the same thing.
And of course, that sort of ability (and desire) can't be grown anywhere else in Iraq, can it?
How about Baghdad proper:
The shakiness of Iraq's capacity for reconciliation under current conditions is especially evident in Baghdad, the focus of the buildup. The sprawling capital is a patchwork quilt of neighborhoods split along sectarian lines that appears to have become more balkanized, not less, in the last six months.
"The surge now is isolating areas from each other . . . and putting up permanent checkpoints. That is what I call a failure," said Yousif Kinany, an engineer in Hurriya, a northwestern area that has become primarily Shiite.
People who describe their neighborhoods as calm often attribute this to the sectarian "cleansing" of Sunnis or Shiites. Many say that better security is attributable to a heavy U.S. presence in their neighborhoods and that whenever those troops scale down operations, trouble returns.
Again, let's consider two things. The way you stop a fight is to separate the fighters first. Then after you've done that and calmed them down to the point that they're ready to listen (and not, instead, perpetuate the cycle of revenge and violence), you can begin to reconcile the differences. Perhaps after that is accomplished, reintegration will take care of itself.
Secondly, the entire point of the Surge is to set those conditions and then turn the work over to the ISF. Obviously if these neighborhoods remain hot spots, the troops there are less likely to be scaled back while troops in places which seem peaceful will be scaled back. Scaling back isn't an "all or nothing" business.
And I absolutely loved this sentence:
But no matter how much of a letdown Iraqis say the troop buildup has been, many here say withdrawing U.S. forces would make things worse. In areas where they are present, at least, violence is at bay, most Iraqis said.
Letdown? An operation that is a little over 90 days old and scheduled to run until April is now assessed as a 'letdown'? I guess that's better than a 'failure'.