The National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq and strategic redeployment

NIE.JPGAs Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker prepare to give testimony to Congress on September 11 on the state of the security situation in Iraq, the Director of National Intelligence has released the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq titled, “Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: Some Security Progress but Political Reconciliation Elusive.” The Long War Journal has obtained a copy of the declassified version, which is reproduced in full below, and is available for download in PDF format. The NIE sees uneven progress on the security front and a stall of progress on the political front at the national level, and states that switching from a counterinsurgency mission to a counterterrorism mission would damage the past year’s gains.

Most significantly, the NIE states that shift from a counterinsurgency role to a counterterrorism and support role, or the “strategic redeployment” of US forces, would squander the progress of the past year and lead to further instability in Iraq. “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 NIE concluded. “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.”

The summer 2007 NIE largely matches the findings in the July Initial Benchmark Assessment Report to Congress report. The NIE states the security situation in Iraq is improving, as there have been “measurable but uneven improvements” since the last NIE on Iraq in January 2007. “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 Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI) capabilities, restricted its freedom of movement, and denied it grassroots support in some areas.” Violence against civilians remains high, and the political process at the national level is unsatisfactory as “Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively.”

The NIE predicts the security situation will improve as Coalition forces mentor Iraqi Security Forces and the ground-up reconciliation process of dealing with local tribes continues. But “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.”

Iran and Syria are singled out as interfering in Iraq’s security problems. “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,” the NIE stated. “Explosively formed penetrator (EFP) attacks have risen dramatically.”

The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead:

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.

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 drawdown. 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.

• 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 drawdown 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 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.

• 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 identities are strong, the local government is weak, sectarian conflict is low, and the ISF tolerate Sunni 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.

Iraqi Security Forces involved in combined operations with Coalition forces have performed adequately, and some units have demonstrated increasing professional competence. However, we judge that the ISF have not improved enough to conduct major 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.

• 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 increase its 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 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.

• The strains of the security situation and absence of key leaders have stalled internal political debates, slowed national decisionmaking, 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.

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.

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.

• 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.

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 in determining political and security trajectories.

• 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.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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11 Comments

  • BAS says:

    It’s interesting that some posters on other blogs are convinced that General Patraeus will be reporting what the White House wants him to say. Which means that no matter what the General says, it won’t be believed. The state of mind of some individuals is truly amazing.

  • Tom W. says:

    Those who put all their eggs in the surrender basket are panicking.
    Brace yourselves for more utterly despicable personal attacks on General Petraeus (or General “Betray-us,” as some enlightened souls are calling him).
    However, I predict that Congress will continue funding the current strategy in Iraq, despite nonsensical statements by certain presidential candidates that the surge is working but we need to honor the troops by retreating.
    This latest NIE estimate is the final nail in the defeatists’ coffin.

  • Dave says:

    Bill:
    First of all, thanks for making a copy available for download. That is a huge service to the community.
    What I found interesting in an AP item released today is that neither the assessment of the “bottom-up” approach, nor the assessment regarding redeployment from COIN to Counterterrorism, were published. They had an interesting set of excerpts in their story…
    I wrote about this in my blog today. In fact, I’ve been writing about the prospects of the bottom-up approach for weeks.
    Liberals expect government to work from the top-down. We’ve see how the top-down approach is working.

  • Dave,
    That AP version was bothersome also for its lack of anything positive from the report. The cherry picking for negatives from these reports has become modus operendi at these “news” outlets and it seems that once the real reports come out they aren’t as bad as the first “leaks.” Most times their errors aren’t even corrected.

  • Neo says:

    From the report: “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.”

  • anand says:

    Neo, you are a genius. I can’t believe how often we agree (over more than a year).
    Everyone, what additional “new” information does this document contain?

  • Neo says:

    In the above that was “domestic Iraqi Sunni insurgents”

  • “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…”
    This was the most enlightening portion of the NIE to me. Why don’t they just sit down, work out their differences, and get on with their lives? Because they are all still chained to their past and unable to move forward. Maliki has come in for a lot of criticism lately but he is not in a position to make anyone do anything.
    The present Iraqi political process is strangled by the demons of their history. The Shia are like beaten dogs, staring at the open gate to freedom, but are too afraid to seize the opportunity. The Sunnis are like the Fuehrer in his bunker, shouting orders, with the Russian army outside. They are still deluded in the belief that they should still be in charge. And the Kurds? The status quo is perfect for them. Why should they do anything but resist change?
    Something must be done to break this logjam.

  • Dave says:

    Maybe it’s time to “BRAC” US Foreign Policy. Or at least that part of policy dealing with the Middle East. Prior to the law that established the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, base realignments and closures were highly politicized affairs that did little to address national defense needs. It didn’t matter what good policy called for–whoever held sway in key House and Senate committees got their way.
    We have a similarly politicized process of developing foreign policy today. It meets any and all objectives that can be accomplished before the next primary season begins.

  • Neo says:

    Micheal said:
    “Maliki has come in for a lot of criticism lately but he is not in a position to make anyone do anything.”

  • David M says:

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 08/24/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis