The last of the five extra brigades sent to Iraq as part of the Surge is finally coming home. The overall Surge strategy remains. That includes operating outside of large forward operating bases in small joint Iraqi operating posts throughout Iraqi cities aimed at policing and protecting the public, providing basic services, mediating conflicts, setting up community councils, training Iraqi forces, carrying out offensives, and supporting local Sons of Iraq units, to name just a few. There are still more troops in Iraq, about 150,000, than before the change in strategy. When some older units switch out with new ones, it’s believed that the total will go down to around 142,000. That’s roughly 10,000 more than before. While the Surge has had dramatic and unpredictable consequences, the challenges ahead are just as complicated.
The results of the Surge have been greater than most expected. Attacks are down 70% and deaths are down 80% to 2004 levels. The sectarian civil war is over due to a combination of factors including the extra U.S. troops that improved security and combat capabilities, blast walls that were built throughout Baghdad to divide battling communities, the Shiite militias winning the battle for the capitol, and the Sunnis largely turning against Al Qaeda in Iraq because of their harsh policies. That change amongst Sunnis started in Anbar province in the west as early as 2005, but the various other ex-insurgents and tribes in central Iraq probably wouldn’t have switched sides if not for the increase of troops that would protect them, and help them in the fight against their former comrades. Finally, the extra troops also allowed the U.S. to put pressure on Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Sadr fled the country to Iran when the Surge started, and by late 2007, the U.S. was starting to focus many of their military operations against his followers. These operations played a role in Sadr’s decision to call a cease-fire and maintain it for several months. The Surge in U.S. troops also coincided with a surge in Iraqi forces. They went from 440,000 in June 2007 to 566,000 by May 2008. U.S. training and assistance also helped improve the professionalism of the Iraqi Army, and the National Police finally started to get cleaned up. These advances helped lead to the offensives that were carried out in 2008 beginning in Basra, and then spreading to Sadr City, Mosul, and Maysan province. The Surge was part good strategy, part luck, and part hard work.
The job is not done yet. The dramatic turn around in Iraq has just presented a brand new set of issues that are just as daunting. Iraq needs to create a government that can actually function, spend its money, and provide basic services to the public, along with building up a business environment that will provide jobs. Outside of paying salaries and using the military, Baghdad is deficient in all these. Corruption is still a huge problem, but there are other intrinsic difficulties like a lack of trained and competent staff, a slow paper based government, vestiges of the top down Saddam era bureaucratic system, and lack of communication between the capitol, the governors, provincial councils, and the towns. Many new small businesses have developed, but most of these are based upon getting U.S. contracts, something that can’t last forever. The larger state-owned industries barely function, and the government is now trying to turn them into joint ventures in an attempt to lure foreign investors. There’s also the question of millions of refugees and how they return. They too will need jobs. Iraq also has 100,000 mostly Sunni Sons of Iraq local security forces that have cut deals with the U.S., but not Baghdad that need to be dealt with. This is another group that will need work. Pressure also needs to be maintained upon Al Qaeda in Iraq, the other insurgents, the Shiite militias, and Iran to maintain security. The disputed city of Kirkuk and other northern regions that the Kurds lay claim to need to be resolved. This is one of the main sticking points holding up passage of the new election law. Claiming victory is premature. There is a lot more hard work to be done that will probably take years, and there’s still no guarantee that Iraq will come out to be the state that the Bush administration envisions. There is a new status quo in Iraq that is based less upon violence, but it is far from the end of the road.
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Hendawi, Hamza and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Shiite militia may be disintegrating,” Associated Press 3/21/07
Baldor, Lolita, “Military surge in Iraq ends; 150,000 troops remain,” Associated Press, 7/16/08
Fairweather, Jack, “Business wanes as Baghdad takes over,” Financial Times, 6/4/08
- “Iraqi state enterprises warily reopen,” Financial Times, 6/16/08
Levinson, Charles, “U.S. troop deaths in May near lowest level of war,” USA Today, 5/29/08
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Defense Analyst Sees ‘Enormous Progress’ In Iraq Security Situation,” 7/1/08
Tharp, Mike, “More Sunnis joining Iraq’s National Police,” McClatchy Newspapers, 5/29/08
Tyson, Ann Scott and Eggen, Dan, “U.S. General: Iraqi Forces to Be Fully Ready in ’09,” Washington Post, 7/10/08
Zavis, Alexandra, “Iraq works to clean up national police,” Los Angeles Times, 2/6/08
- “Iraqi election law still incomplete,” Los Angeles Times, 7/14/08
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