Why the violence has declined in Iraq

Bill Ardolino looks at the factors in the reduction in violence in Iraq. Bill recently embedded with US and Iraqi security forces in Fallujah and writes at INDC Journal.

As violence in Iraq has decreased significantly over the last two months, analysts attempt to identify the forces behind the trend. Some attribute the reduction to a reinvigorated US strategy of counterinsurgency and the “surge” of combat troops which commenced in February, while critics of US strategy cite the exodus of Iraqi refugees and successful sectarian partition and cleansing as primary factors.

The drop began in September, as civilian deaths (884) fell 52 percent from August and 77 percent year-over-year, while military deaths (65) fell 23 percent and 10 percent over the same periods. October’s declines made it a trend: Civilian deaths (758) dropped an additional 12 percent from the previous month and 38 percent year-over-year, while US military deaths (38) dropped 42 percent and 64 percent during the same periods.

“Is it the surge, is it just dumb luck, or are there a series of factors that all contribute towards the lessening violence in Iraq?” asked General Terry Wolff, the Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Iraq and Afghanistan Policy Implementation on the National Security Council, in a conference call last Friday. Wolff and other senior military and intelligence officials offered a list of “complementary” factors theorized to have reduced the violence in interviews with The Long War Journal.

“The Surge” and counterinsurgency tactics

Top US officials are quick to point out the effect of the increase of US personnel on the reduction of violence, citing an acquired ability to target a wider range of al Qaeda and Shiite militia extremists and to project security into new areas with a focus on protecting civilians.

“[There are] two key threats out there. [C]learly al Qaeda is the large near-term threat. They’re the folks doing the car bombings, the mass killings, and you’ve also got the “Special Groups,” also known as the militant Shia splinter groups,” said Air Force Colonel Donald Bacon, Chief of Strategy and Plans, Strategic Communications at Multinational Force Iraq. “Fact is, we’re having some success in both areas and that’s equated to these better trends.”

“The surge … put more combat forces into Iraq and gave Gen. Petraeus and his subordinate commanders the opportunity to go after … both AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] extremists and JAM [Jaish al Mahdi, or Mahdi Army] special groups guys in areas that they hadn’t been gone after in quite a while,” added Wolff. “If you remember back in June, as the fifth brigade of that surge finally arrived and went into combat operations, there was generally a rise in violence as the offensive operations began the 15th. And now, we’re kind of on the back side of that, and so the surge is paying dividends, as they’ve gotten into those areas and pushed a lot of those extremists out.”

The surge added five combat infantry brigades, one combat aviation brigade, and a number of supporting units of about 30,000 troops between February and June 2007. US officials assert that the numbers have also given Multinational Forces-Iraq Commander General David Petraeus the ability to shift towards counterinsurgency tactics that protect the civilian population.

“We’re not operating in these garrisons like we used to,” said Bacon. “With Gen. Petraeus writing the rules on this kind of warfare (counterinsurgency, or “COIN”), he’s got our forces out in the neighborhoods and much more visible. That tactical change has been critical as well.”

Variants of the successful counterinsurgency campaigns initiated in Ramadi and Fallujah are being applied nationwide. First, US and Iraqi security forces project into an area and provide initial security, then locals are recruited into auxiliary security forces, and reconstruction and aid projects quickly follow, which encourage the population to engage with security forces for a new tier of security.

“The surge has given us the number of troops we needed to be doing the stuff we should have been doing all along,” said Colonel Martin M. Stanton, Chief of Reconciliation and Engagement, Multinational Corps-Iraq.

The rise of the Iraqi people and “reconciliation”

US commanders credit a sea change in Iraqi public opinion against extremist groups and the willingness of local political leaders – some former insurgents – to cooperate with the government as perhaps the most important factors in quelling violence.

The formation of “Concerned Local Citizens” groups (CLCs) – Iraqi neighborhood watches that augment the official Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) – as a backlash against al Qaeda and other extremists has been a pivotal grassroots development. The CLCs vary by region, but they are largely composed of tribesmen and former nationalist insurgents. Engaging the traditional tribal structures and coercing insurgent groups to lay down their weapons or turn them on Sunni and Shia extremists have been key counterinsurgency successes that have contributed to the national drop in violence.

“The Sunni Awakening in Anbar is where it started, and now it’s grown to 11 of the [18] provinces   encompass[ing] also Shia and Sunni-Shia mixed villages,” said Bacon. “[There are] over 200 initiatives of   ‘Concerned Local Citizens’   [and] we’re looking at about over 67,000 volunteers now. And what this has enabled us to do is, we go in and liberate an area from al Qaeda and, if we move out of there, they’re holding.”

“It’s making neighborhoods untenable for [insurgents] who used to strike at us. It’s whole communities sensing empowerment,” said Stanton. “[Iraqi civilians think] ‘We can do things now. Our children can play now.’ Normality is returning to the neighborhood. It’s a good deal for them. And it all folds together [with reconciliation] in communities that are mixed [Shia and Sunni], as a lot of people are working together. It’s not complete – there is still a lot of sectarian distrust – but there is a lot of [cooperation] out there in the border regions, which is a hopeful sign.”

Aside from local security efforts, the rise of tribal elites has led to attempts at local and regional political reconciliation with the national government. This new engagement in the political process has moved the traditional Sunni insurgency away from conflict and isolated al Qaeda and other extremists. But while these local alliances and political engagements have bred better security and regional reconstruction progress, they still haven’t translated into significant gains in national reconciliation with a mistrustful federal Iraqi government.

“What haunts me is the prospect of wasting all these opportunities. [Signs are encouraging] at the bottom, at the tactical level, and then you deal with the people in the [federal] Iraqi government who are so paranoid and so reticent, and it’s a real emotional rollercoaster,” said Stanton.

Officials see an eventually finite but not-yet-closing window of opportunity for the Shia-controlled national government to compromise with tribal leaders before local and regional gains can stall or eventually be lost. Reconciliation is considered key to maintaining the drop in violence before groups consider a return to insurgency or other, unknown courses of action.

“[T]here is a lot of distrust. There’s a paranoia [among the Shia-controlled national government] about the return of the Baathists. The Sunni recognize that they’ve lost and are coming to the table, [while] the Shia don’t recognize that they’ve won. The Shia are like an enormous mouse that’s afraid of a tiny lion,” said Stanton. “I’d be lying to you if I said that [Sunni return to insurgency] wasn’t a danger, but the only way we can [deal with it] is to grimly keep working and keep [reconciliation] in the government’s face and keep pushing it.”

Strengthened Iraqi Security Forces

In 2007, the Iraqi Army (IA) has grown from 10 to 12 Divisions for a total of 47,000 additional frontline troops. Of 44 brigades, 3 are independent and 32 are “in-lead,” while the newest nine are still classified in at partnered stage. While Military Transition Team ground commanders complain that most Iraqi units are heavily reliant on US logistical support, Iraqi units have taken primary operational responsibility for eight provinces and lead in all of Iraq except the Rutbah District of Anbar.

In addition, the Iraqi police have grown by 45,000 or 25 percent over the course of the year, though official assessments of their effectiveness remain variable, depending on district, after a concerted militia purge and retraining of the national police which commenced in October 2006. Augmenting the police are the 67,000 concerned local citizens and provincial security forces.

“The ISF has grown more than our surge forces, frankly. This last training cycle, over 20,000 new cops and soldiers graduated. A training cycle is five weeks long, and we’ve had several training cycles now since the surge,” said Bacon. “The Iraqi Security Forces, in a sense, have had their own surge; they’ve grown in numbers, they’ve grown in capability.”

A notable example of ISF capability was the IA’s quick rescue of eight sheiks kidnapped by Shia extremists on the way to a reconciliation meeting in Diyala Province on October 29. In addition to recovering the sheiks unharmed within 48 hours, the IA killed four kidnappers and detained six others. Other recent successes include the kill or capture of 244 insurgents by ISF in Tikrit, Baghdad, Kirkuk, Hillah, and Baqubah in just the last week.

A military intelligence official also cited the coalition’s recent “ability to co-opt large numbers of former Iraqi military and security personnel into the ISF” as a reason for improved capability among the army, police and provincial security forces.

Have sectarian cleansing and refugee flight run their course?

In addition to positive and proactive factors, some intelligence officials and analysts believe that a portion of the reduction in violence can be attributed to the refugee crisis and sectarian segregation of certain neighborhoods in and around Baghdad.

In a recent video conference, Lieutenant General Raymond T. Odierno expressed doubt to the LA Times that completed sectarian cleansing and refugee flight had contributed to the recent reduction in violence.

Odierno spoke of “shifts in the population in Baghdad. That happened, and I would argue that’s happened over the last couple years. But I would tell you I’ve not seen any significant shifts that have changed it from January, when we got here, to now. There might have been some minor shifts, but very little.”

But the Iraqi Red Crescent Society (a regional entity of the Red Cross) claims that 1.8 million Iraqis have relocated to other parts of Iraq since January, bringing the total number of internally displaced refugees to 2.3 million. Further, the report claims that over 60 percent of these displaced Iraqis fled Baghdad. Even if estimates by these organizations are overstated or inaccurate, ground commanders have anecdotally verified a steady stream of Sunni refugees fleeing into Anbar as late as mid-year. Thus, while many critics of US strategy overstate the impact of sectarian killing and flight on the reduction of violence, large civilian displacement has certainly influenced the decline in killings specifically tied to sectarian extremism, especially in the capital.

It’s worth noting that the Iraqi government reported that 3,000 Iraqi families have returned to mixed neighborhoods after having been driven out of Baghdad by sectarian violence, and 46,000 external refugees have returned to Iraq in October. But this reversal is a small portion of the Baghdad residents that have left the capital for other parts of Iraq and 2.4 million Iraqis who have left the country during the war, according to Red Crescent and UN figures, and segregated neighborhoods remain in various sections of the city.

The truce with Muqtada al Sadr and the Mahdi Army

On August 29, Muqtada al Sadr called for a truce between elements of the Mahdi Army and both rival Shia groups and Coalition forces, which significantly contributed to the overall decrease in violence.

“[Sadr’s militia] did initiate a ceasefire back in August, and although that isn’t holding everywhere, it has tended to be a contributing factor to the reduction in the violence,” said Wolff. “And again, that plays out a little differently in Basra, Diyala, Diwaniya. But it does play out.”

Other Shia militants operating outside of the agreement and Sadr’s loss of control over portions of the Mahdi Army after his first flight to Iran in February — a move which diminished his stature as a nationalist Iraqi hero by openly revealing ties with the Iranian government — have mitigated the effectiveness of the truce. Estimates of Sadr’s direct control over the Mahdi Army vary widely among senior US military personnel and intelligence officials interviewed by The Long War Journal. And the command-and-control structure of the militant group is further confused by varying agendas.

“There are all sorts of different flavors of JAM. Some   are truly irreconcilable, almost as bad as AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq), and there are criminal elements. Then there are some that are very reconcilable; you have to treat them differently. We don’t want to fight all of them,” said Stanton. “It’s not perfect, but much more of [the Shia militias] are obeying the ceasefire than not. Quite a few are affected by the [truce], some of them for their own purposes.”

Slowing down the borders

Officials also point to a smaller quantity of foreign fighters and weapons entering Iraq, especially via the western border with Syria and Saudi Arabia. The Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index, which tracks security indicators, notes that the number of foreign fighters has diminished from roughly 85 to 50 per month over several recent months. This inability to replace men and material lost to coalition operations has severely hampered al Qaeda’s ability to conduct attacks, and monthly suicide bombings have halved since January. US officials offer various theories to explain the tightened borders.

“We’re maybe seeing Syria do some things to prevent foreign fighters coming in, were clearly seeing Saudi Arabia doing things to reduce the foreign fighter flow. I don’t have first-hand evidence, but I’m hearing anecdotally from some folks in the embassy here that other countries are doing that as well,” said Bacon.

Officials also believe that security on the Syrian border has become more effective due to an alliance with and increased capability of the Albu Mahal tribe, a key ally that controls traditional smuggling routes in and out of portions of Western Iraq. The backlash against al Qaeda and initial increase in security has freed the tribe up to interdict fighters and weapons flowing through their areas.

“[Border security] varies from place to place, but the short answer is, [it is] a lot tighter than it was now,” said a senior intelligence official speaking on condition of anonymity. “We are never going to be able to interdict all foreign fighters; that’s a fool’s battle. However, we can prevent them from crossing over in large numbers the way they have until recently.”

While a definitive reduction in destabilizing fighters and equipment has been noted on Iraq’s western border, the Iranian border shows mixed signals. The number of attacks using lethal explosively formed penetrator (EFP) roadside bombs sourced to Iran has fallen by half. There were 52 and 53 EFP incidents in September and October, respectively, down from 99 and 78 in July and August. But US officials are hesitant to label it a definitive trend or source it to actions by Iran.

“Just how much has Iran had a hand in the drop? Our position is, we’re not sure yet. We’re seeing some decreases that could indicate positive movement, but the jury is still out,” said Bacon.

Though no US officials would speculate about possible motivations or definitive trends regarding Iran’s incitement of violence in Iraq, any slackening supply of explosives and militants on Iraq’s eastern border raises the possibility of diplomatic exchanges between America and Iran, especially given the impending release of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qods Force agents by the US military.

Caveated success

Officials are cautiously optimistic about the trends of the last two months, but they are quick to caveat the improvement in security. The long-term danger of an al Qaeda resurgence remains a possibility, as al Qaeda in Iraq remains a significant franchise of the broader terrorist network safely based in Pakistan, which it’s believed will attempt to resupply and redouble its efforts to destabilize Iraq. Officials stress that continued momentum is required to solidify gains, specifically maintained targeting of extremist groups, successful border interdiction, the official employment of a portion of CLCs in the Iraqi Security Forces and, most importantly, a mid-term commitment to American brokerage of reconciliation between the national government and tribal and former insurgent groups.

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27 Comments

  • Neo says:

    Excellent article Bill Ardolino,
    I might add a few nuances to the argument. There are a few items that need to be added to the “surge”

  • TBinSTL says:

    How much credit should be given to the argument that this wouldn’t have been possible if the bad times hadn’t been so bad? Would we see the level of cooperation that we do now, if the situation hadn’t been so dire?

  • “How much credit should …”
    I think exhaustion is certainly a factor. In this piece, it’s reflected in displacement and sectarian cleansing playing a role, as well as the Sunnis attempting to reenter the political process from a position of weakness.

  • Mike says:

    . There is plenty of evidence of reconciliation between the Sunni and Shia. The Sunni have completely rejected Al Quida and their radical brand of Islam. There also seems to be a rejection of radical forms of Shiite. Both groups have had a taste of strict Sharia law in their communities and their lives, and have rejected it. It seems they like having cell phones, television, an alcoholic beverage now and again, etc. Families are returning to their homes, reconciliation marches, like in Remahdi are taking place. American soldiers are well thought of and are considered “honest brokers”

  • pedestrian says:

    I share the same views with Wolff. While the surge may had some effect, Al Sadr’s cease fire played a major role in the decrease of violenece. The drop of casualties came by as Al Sadr announced cease fire and reorganization of its group. One Pentagon official said the Shiite extremists are now the main threat, much more than the Sunni extremists that have been weaken. Pentagon should prepare for the destruction of Mahdi Army and to have Al Sadr dead or captured alive. The last report on Baghdad was more than half of the districts under control. When all portions of Baghdad fall under control, it should be time for the coalition force to shift its freed force to tackle the Mahdi Army.

  • mledeen says:

    Great work. One sentence, towards the end, chilled my blood however: “Though no US officials would speculate about possible motivations or definitive trends regarding Iran’s incitement of violence in Iraq…”
    I can tell them: Iran is at war with us. But they, apparently, are not permitted to say that, even though Petraeus said clearly — in his Congressional tour de force — that we’ll never be able to guarantee good security in Iraq if we only act in Iraq.

  • pedestrian says:

    Folks, 87% of Baghdad is now under control excluding portions under control of the Shiite factions. It’s time for a total was against Al Sadr, and have a Surge by US troops in Karbala, Amara, Basra, and other southern cities under control by Mahdi Army. We cannot have Al Sadr free, his Mahdi Army has killed to many US troops to be allowed free.
    //www.nytimes.com/2007/11/08/world/middleeast/08iraq.html?ex=1352178000&en=f9d310d7895a8fea&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

  • mledeen –
    My passage was unclear: what was meant was, officials would/could not state whether the trends of Iranian proxy war had changed at all (if there is definitively less Iranian meddling, supplied EFPs, etc), and if they are changing, whether it is because of Iranian government involvement in cutting off the supply.
    Many of those interviewed will candidly say that Iran is directly fomenting violence in Iraq. Heck, it seems like every man, woman and child in Iraq tells you that, except those on the take from Iran.

  • Leading Libyan Islamist to Zawahiri: Jihad Failed

    And if recent setbacks on the Iraq front aren’t bleak enough for the Al-Qaeda high command, now comes this: Jihad has failed, former Libyan Islamist tells al-Qaeda.

  • Neo says:

    pedestrian
    “It’s time for a total was against Al Sadr, and have a Surge by US troops in Karbala, Amara, Basra, and other southern cities under control by Mahdi Army.”

  • Publius says:

    IMHO:
    One, it is RIDICULOUS to not think that the Surge provided the KEY component required to allow the extraordinary turnaround that we are witnessing in Iraq.
    Two, absolute rejection of Al Qaeda’s Sharia brand of Islam would not have been possible without the Surge protecting this rejection that started in Anbar but now is en masse in Iraq.
    Three, Sadr’s powerbase comes as much from those Iraqis who have no future in the new Iraq – thugs, criminals, mobsters, outlaws, murderers — as from any particular brand of Shi’a. And the only legitimate demographic Sadr has, ie. the poor, eventually will realize that the new Iraq offers much more to them than Mooky does or can.
    Four, Iraqis have lived a rather shizoid cultural existence: at once, one of the most modern, entrepreneurial Westernistic Islamic people while living under one of the most oppressive Easternistic statist regimes. Their fear of the return of Baathist terror, while perhaps not realistic at this point, is still real. It will take time for them to trust these new concepts called ‘Freedom’ and ‘The Rule of Law’, as they are utterly new to them.
    Five, but the Awakening is much more than meets the eye. Yes, it is the emergence of outright rejection of Al Qaeda & Khomeniism in Iraq; and the growth of self-sovereignty, beginning at the tribal and municipal levels. But it is also the growing Awareness that some form and degree of statism, socialism, or fascism is not necessarily a fact of life for Iraqis. The world does not have to be Stalinist; it can be a Hamiltonian one.
    Six, what we are witnessing is no less than the high watermark of World War IV in Iraq. And the extraordinary freedom-centric turnaround does not bode well for the coercive statist regimes that now hide behind some so-called ‘purist’ version of the Koran.
    Seven, next in line for An Awakening: Afghanistan, North Korea, Pakistan, Iran; and last finally, Berkeley.

  • mledeen says:

    Thanks; I’m always on the lookout for the censors, as you know :=)

  • Alex says:

    Wait until the IqAF gets F/A-18s instead of transports with Hellfire missiles (I love the ingenuity and ghetto engineering, but come on now). Then Iran might reconsider violating Iraq’s sovereignty because Iraq could then bite back.

  • Turner says:

    Publius said:
    “One, it is RIDICULOUS to not think that the Surge provided the KEY component required to allow the extraordinary turnaround that we are witnessing in Iraq.”
    I couldn’t agree more. The discussion of this article is probably triggered mostly by the recent statements by one congressman that the surge hadn’t had any effect. The the death tolls were down because they had run out of people to kill. It was pure political posturing, and I think it’s fruitless to try and answer it. I think most people would agree, if they stop to think about it, that Iraq is a long way from running out of people to kill. What we know about human nature tells us otherwise. For some, the war will always be a failure because they need it to be.
    Even the reductions at the border are likely due to the surge and the engaged COIN strategy. When it gets to hot for foriegn insurgents in Iraq, they go somewhere else … like Pakistan or Afghanistan. We saw a little of that during the earlier work in far west Anbar. Villages were cleared and suddenly the hardcore AQI types started turning up in Afghanistan. It’s not rocket science. They can read too. What worries me is where will these misfits go if Afghanistan and Pakistan settle down too some day? Will we have to invent a country with fake news of Jihad, just to keep drawing them in?
    The awakening councils are simply a response to fear that was finally safe because our troops were “dismounted” and engaged, despite the heat, among the Iraqi people. Until it’s likely to succeed, such courage had no place. With the COIN activities, it became safe enough to risk the awakening movement. Beneath the lense of sectarian labels, these are pretty universal human dynamics that we’ve seen played out many times before.
    If someone wants to make the argument that the surge was more bumbling and didn’t have much effect I say “Go for it.” “Give it your best shot.” There are probably people who say the A-bomb didn’t have anything to do with Japan’s decision to surrender too. Yet, to most of us, whatever you’re argument might be the A-bomb had the desired and predicted outcome, and it was the outcome human nature would tell us to expect.
    No one was predicting or expecting migrations to lower the violence. Probably the opposite. The surge on the other hand, had the predicted result in a way that mades sense. If, in someone’s mind, the surge was still impotent or a failure, I think that’s more a question of attitude than fact.

  • Turner says:

    OK, maybe the A-bomb reference in the post above isn’t the best. Let’s try something else:
    I’ve met people in the black community who think Martin Luther King had little to do with the success of the civil rights movement in the 60’s. I was there, I saw the higher aspirations he inspired in both black and white races and I saw the progress that resulted. The ones who discount King, can’t see it because they’re Malcolm X freaks and weren’t there during the period. Malcolm X was an oddity at best. During that era I would constantly read about Dr. King. Once, maybe twice at best, we heard about this strange, lone, angry man who changed his name to “X.” We weren’t sure why or what he represented. Yet those who would convert you to Malcolm’s faith, have built a whole different reality, and it’s a reality that fits their attitude about humanity and their belief that only fear of an angry man inspires people.
    For some, the surge, won’t be real because it doesn’t fit their view of America’s role in the world. It’s an attitude that precludes competing facts.

  • Neo says:

    “For some, the surge, won’t be real because it doesn’t fit their view of America’s role in the world. It’s an attitude that precludes competing facts.”

  • jay clark says:

    When looking at our efforts towards the Iraqis, I see a distinct parallel betwen their situation and our own history. Upon the conclusion of the American Civil War, many disenfranchised Southerners continued using the policies of the weapon to attempt to retain the power and prestige they had at the beginning of the war.
    Among other things, they formed the Ku Klux Klan and other ‘terrorist’ organizations to cow the Black population into submission and participated in violent attacks on Northern “carpetbaggers and scalawags.”
    However, the American people and government persevered by basically using an alike strategy currently being seen in the Iraqi theater; elimination of rogue elements and reconciliation with those who wanted it.
    Like the Americans (both north and south) who had the vision to understand that the south needed to be a part of the United States, many Iraqis are beginning to ‘bite the bullet’ and comprehend that only when they close ranks with one another, will they have their country back.
    Reconciliation will only work when there is hope. I am beginnning to see that with the Iraqis. And like the American model it takes time, but it can happen.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    impressive. when you have the likes of “mledeen” posting on your comments section, Bill, you are reaching entirely new highs of credibility and influence. bravo.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    “Six, what we are witnessing is no less than the high watermark of World War IV in Iraq. And the extraordinary freedom-centric turnaround does not bode well for the coercive statist regimes that now hide behind some so-called ‘purist’ version of the Koran.
    Seven, next in line for An Awakening: Afghanistan, North Korea, Pakistan, Iran; and last finally, Berkeley.”
    I pray you are right Turner, but I fear the “reality” in the U.S. is not the same reality as in Iraq. In fact, if you survey the MSM in the US, you would hardly think that Iraq is anything but a continuing, unmitigated disaster. What have the most recent headlines been? That 2007 has seen the highest death toll of US forces in Iraq. No perspective given or countervailing good news, just a lede calculated no doubt to encourage despair and surrender in the US population.
    And then there is Iran, a literal ticking time bomb. Whatever astounding progress has or will be achieved in Iraq could be undone once the mullahs have nukes (assuming that they do not already). Not to be too pessimistic, but it is not at all unlikely, if you read the latest from Thomas Smith at NRO’s The Tank, that Lebanon will soon be a Hezbollah controlled country or at least descend into a hellish civil war that will likely draw Israel and Syria into war and possibly Iran, too. Will the U.S. be willing to provide direct, military support to the pro-democracy forces in Lebanon? Syria and Iran have been pumping millons of dollars of weapons and training into Lebanon since Summer of 2006; they are turning Beirut into one large bunker. Unless the U.S. is prepared to commit at least air assets, Lebanon will almost certainly go the way of Gaza.
    And then, let’s not forget the 2008 elections in the U.S. The next President will have everything to do with the high water mark of WW IV.
    If the trends continue and we see Iraq stand on its own, democratic feet, we will have beaten back the first horde of Barbarians, but there are more coming. Will we have the will to face them, too?

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the – Web Reconnaissance for 11/09/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.

  • AMR says:

    For those who complain excessively about the Iraqi government’s stalemate because of the Sunni and Shi’a representatives’ intransigence, I would point out that the US congress is no better. When the Democrats start acting as Americans, who believe in national security rather than political points, I might accept some of their criticism of the Iraqi government.

  • Neo says:

    AMR,
    The comparison between the Iraqi and American political factionalism may be a bit of a stretch at this point in our history. In the US there has definitely been a breakdown in civility and the two sides ideologically no longer recognize the legitimacy of the other. Legally though the parties still recognize the others legitimacy, otherwise we might find ourselves sliding toward a Pakistani situation.
    When we see a systematic legal breakdown in government accompanied by roving bands of Republicans and Democrats fighting over suburban turf than we are in really big trouble. Otherwise I will avoid direct comparison.

  • Soldier's Dad says:

    “I share the same views with Wolff. While the surge may had some effect, Al Sadr’s cease fire played a major role in the decrease of violenece. The drop of casualties came by as Al Sadr announced cease fire and reorganization of its group.”
    I’ve been categorizing the Iraqi Casualty Figures for quite a while. The “Bodies Found” number in Baghdad(the hallmark of the so-called civil war/Shiite Death Squads) was trending downward well before Moqtada’s Ceasfire Announcement. Even the dumbest politicians know when to recognize a parade and get out in front of it.
    To put it another way…the violence was trending down…the peace train was about to leave the station…and Moqtada got on it.
    Just like when the British turned over a base in Basra..Moqtada’s boys ran down there…fired off some mortars…and claimed they had “Driven” the British out.

  • Publius says:

    TS Alfabet,
    Call me overly optimistic, but I don’t share your gloom and doom.
    Not long ago, the MSM spewed the ‘literal ticking time bomb’ known as North Korea. Look at North Korea now.
    Iran is no doubt a meta-nuclear powder keg; Pakistan a non-meta one, at that. But so was East Germany & Poland & the Soviet Union not too long ago (and Cuba before that).
    What no one on any side(s) of the debate is recognizing in Iraq is three-fold:
    First, the sheer magnificence of the completely-ground-up, turned-upside-down, populist, freedom- & sovereignty-centric recreation of Iraqi society, which is being built from the neighborhood/tribe-level up. Like all revolutions, this will not be top-down in any sense.
    Second, that the other Islamic peoples are KEENLY WATCHING every step of this unpredictable success story unfold in the heart of Mesopotamia. The so-called Man In The Street, in the streets of Libya and Egypt and Iran and Lebanon and the West Bank and Pakistan and Morocco and Syria and Chechnya and Gaza et al, is witnessing what Iraqis are doing OUT OF THEIR OWN RECENTLY-DISCOVERED FREE WILL and courage (and NOT from what Americans/Westerners/Occupiers/Crusaders are imposing). The coercive regimes & movements in all of those Islamic nations now have a serious threat of an Awakening Nature on their hands.
    Third, that the hidden revolution going on here is actually the near-conclusion of the Cold War, aka World War III. Saddam was the last of the rule-by-terror Stalinists. And the obliteration of the Soviet-style Baathist control in Iraq marks the near-end of oppressive, statist regimes anywhere in the world. With China & Vietnam becoming more and more Hong Kong-capitalistic, only Iran, North Korea, Burma, and Syria are left.
    So Soviet statism is nearly dead. But Sharia statism is now the new Global Evil Kid on the block. Enter World War IV. And once again, Liberty Peoples worldwide are determined to win this world war, too. Just don’t bother looking for these kinds of folks on the Left.

  • thanos says:

    I’ll vote for all of the above with the surge being the key effector. There are a couple of minor factors overlooked that we can tack on:
    The change to allow Sunni to enter government positions was big, they can’t stay the dispossessed forever if we have hopes of peace there.
    AQ’s change of focus – since June there have been fighters exiting Iraq going to Pakistan, and I suspect Somalia. (no indicators for Somalia besides increased fighting, and better tactics by red) However starting in June you started seeing more infiltration & arrests at Taftan border crossing from Iran to Pakistan, and for every arrest you have to figure several more got through.
    I think AQ called some of their troops back, and you can see some of the results of that now.
    What I’m wondering now is where the weapons surrendered by FC in the frontiers are going to end up.

  • ajacksonian says:

    We can put our historical views to use, so as to help Iraqis avoid much of the post-war problems that could become intractable if allowed to continue. There is upper level resentment of the Sunni Arab population, both amongst the Kurds and Shia Arabs, but that is not representative of the local tribal arrangement that is traditional through the mixed province regions. Indeed, reported by Bill Roggio and others here is the movement of those mixed areas to send representatives out to help bring tribal chiefs, mostly Sunni, who left. Amazingly this is being helped by Shia tribes and tribes of mixed religious background.
    The looking glass of religion breaks down on tribal examination, and those long standing tribal views over-ride religious ones as AQI found out and as the mixed tribes are demonstrating. The very top political leadership is stuck with their inherent biases not having worked up through the tribal system of leadership and are trying to put their own views in via a top-down concept. This did not work well for the US post-Civil War and led to decades of resentment and heartache because the reconciliation and rebuilding was ill conceived and carried out due to political bias.
    On Sadr and JaM, it must be noted that Sadr does not fill his father’s shoes and has been a source of heartache for the Shia, particularly al-Sistani. Sadr is trying to play both sides of the fence with respect to inter-sectarian differences and is slowly having authority from both sides undermining him… that is part of why the Iranians are trying to stand up the ‘secret cells’ separate from Iraqi control. On the Iraqi side, Sadr has seen numerous defections from him and those have led to open fighting between JaM sub-groups. Throw in the every so often bombing and Iranian support for said groups and Sadr is facing a ‘fish or cut bait’ concept. I am quite sure that al-Sistani has let Sadr know that he cannot be loyal to both sides of the river. And as rogue JaM and Sadr JaM and ‘secret cells’ all tend to end up with a Shia body count, the Shia tribes are getting fed up with it. The UIA is desperately trying to get in front of that by the old maxim of leadership: find a movement and get at the head of it.
    Local and provincial elections can come none too soon, so as to start diversifying political parties and breaking up the current political blocks in Baghdad. For federalism to work there must be robust local and provincial government holding the National accountable, and the sooner that happens, the better for all concerned as it will inform those elected while Iraq was in crisis that they are becoming the problem. It is one thing to hear it from Coalition advisers and local Sheiks… it is another to hear it from elected political officials that have their own constituency they can bring to the table. Press for the election laws and then get those elections on schedule as soon as possible. This current government can put off all other legislation, save to keep the place running, until then. You can’t reconcile until you know the lay of the demographic land… that needs to be done, and elections are the way to go for it.

  • AP Spins It’s Negativity in Iraq – Again

    The Associated Press is in the habit of placing it’s own spin into stories, acting more like the New York Times than a newswire. Have a look at this lead on the troop surge withdrawal beginning in Iraq.
    WASHINGTON –  The first big test of s…

Iraq

Islamic state

Syria

Aqap

Al shabaab

Boko Haram

Isis