Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Four years in Iraq/ State of the Surge

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Update from AIJAC

March 23, 2007
Number 03/07 #08

This Update contains some reflections on the state of the conflict in Iraq four years in, and some updates on what is going on at the moment as the "surge" of US troops starts to hit Baghdad in a new attempt to restore order.

We open with American journalist and author Christopher Hitchens' answer to those who ask him, given the state of the country, weren't you wrong to support the war in Iraq? He goes through the history of the lead-up to the war, and while he is critical of aspects of American administration efforts, he is in the end, unapologetic. He examines various claims, including WMD, Saddam's terror connections, the idea of inspections solving the Iraq problem, etc., and systematically shows why he believes there was no better alternative to the decision to launch the war. For this important retrospective which cuts through many of the false claims now being promulgated about what really happened in the lead-up to war, CLICK HERE.

Next up is a detailed examination of what Iraqis think according to the latest opinion poll, from American thinktanker Richard Nadler. It focuses on the differences among the various Iraqi ethnic communities - Shiite, Sunni and Kurd - and turns up many surprises. Among these are support for the troop surge strategy and expectations it will succeed, a preference for the violent status quo over the Saddam era, rejection of the idea that the country is in a civil war and optimism for the future. There are also surprises when the data is broken down by communities. To read more, CLICK HERE.

Finally, there is an evaluation of the state of the  "surge" based on  interviews with key commanders, including especially new commanding General David Petraeus, and from Gordon Cucullu, a former US army officer turned writer and author. The article shows there appear to be strong signs of improvement in Baghdad, but also makes it clear US commanders remain cautious and realistic about how much further there is to go. The piece also discusses why Petraeus and other believe the new tactics appear to be having a positive effect. For this evaluation of the "state of the surge," CLICK HERE.


So, Mr. Hitchens, Weren't You Wrong About Iraq?

Hard questions, four years later.

By Christopher Hitchens

Slate.com, Posted Monday, March 19, 2007

Four years after the first coalition soldiers crossed the Iraqi border, one can attract pitying looks (at best) if one does not take the view that the whole engagement could have been and should have been avoided. Those who were opposed to the operation from the beginning now claim vindication, and many of those who supported it say that if they had known then what they know now, they would have spoken or voted differently.

What exactly does it mean to take the latter position? At what point, in other words, ought the putative supporter to have stepped off the train? The question isn't as easy to answer as some people would have you believe. Suppose we run through the actual timeline:

Was the president right or wrong to go to the United Nations in September 2002 and to say that body could no longer tolerate Saddam Hussein's open flouting of its every significant resolution, from weaponry to human rights to terrorism?

A majority of the member states thought he was right and had to admit that the credibility of the United Nations was at stake. It was scandalous that such a regime could for more than a decade have violated the spirit and the letter of the resolutions that had allowed a cease-fire after the liberation of Kuwait. The Security Council, including Syria, voted by nine votes to zero that Iraq must come into full compliance or face serious consequences.

Was it then correct to send military forces to the Gulf, in case Saddam continued his long policy of defiance, concealment, and expulsion or obstruction of U.N. inspectors?

If you understand the history of the inspection process at all, you must concede that Saddam would never have agreed to readmit the inspectors if coalition forces had not made their appearance on his borders and in the waters of the Gulf. It was never a choice between inspection and intervention: It was only the believable threat of an intervention that enabled even limited inspections to resume.

Should it not have been known by Western intelligence that Iraq had no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction?

The entire record of UNSCOM until that date had shown a determination on the part of the Iraqi dictatorship to build dummy facilities to deceive inspectors, to refuse to allow scientists to be interviewed without coercion, to conceal chemical and biological deposits, and to search the black market for materiel that would breach the sanctions. The defection of Saddam Hussein's sons-in-law, the Kamel brothers, had shown that this policy was even more systematic than had even been suspected. Moreover, Iraq did not account for—has in fact never accounted for—a number of the items that it admitted under pressure to possessing after the Kamel defection. We still do not know what happened to this weaponry. This is partly why all Western intelligence agencies, including French and German ones quite uninfluenced by Ahmad Chalabi, believed that Iraq had actual or latent programs for the production of WMD. Would it have been preferable to accept Saddam Hussein's word for it and to allow him the chance to re-equip once more once the sanctions had further decayed?

Could Iraq have been believably "inspected" while the Baath Party remained in power?

No. The word inspector is misleading here. The small number of U.N. personnel were not supposed to comb the countryside. They were supposed to monitor the handover of the items on Iraq's list, to check them, and then to supervise their destruction. (If Iraq disposed of the items in any other way—by burying or destroying or neutralizing them, as now seems possible—that would have been an additional grave breach of the resolutions.) To call for serious and unimpeachable inspections was to call, in effect, for a change of regime in Iraq. Thus, we can now say that Iraq is in compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty. Moreover, the subsequent hasty compliance of Col. Muammar Qaddafi's Libya and the examination of his WMD stockpile (which proved to be much larger and more sophisticated than had been thought) allowed us to trace the origin of much materiel to Pakistan and thus belatedly to shut down the A.Q. Khan secret black market.

Wasn't Colin Powell's performance at the United Nations a bit of a disgrace?

Yes, it was, as was the supporting role played by George Tenet and the CIA (which has been reliably wrong on Iraq since 1963). Some good legal experts—Ruth Wedgwood most notably—have argued that the previous resolutions were self-enforcing and that there was no need for a second resolution or for Powell's dog-and-pony show. Some say that the whole thing was done in order to save Tony Blair's political skin. A few points of interest did emerge from Powell's presentation: The Iraqi authorities were caught on air trying to mislead U.N inspectors (nothing new there), and the presence in Iraq of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a very dangerous al-Qaida refugee from newly liberated Afghanistan, was established. The full significance of this was only to become evident later on.

Was the terror connection not exaggerated?

Not by much. The Bush administration never claimed that Iraq had any hand in the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But it did point out, at different times, that Saddam had acted as a host and patron to every other terrorist gang in the region, most recently including the most militant Islamist ones. And this has never been contested by anybody. The action was undertaken not to punish the last attack—that had been done in Afghanistan—but to forestall the next one.

Was a civil war not predictable?

Only to the extent that there was pre-existing unease and mistrust between the different population groups in Iraq. Since it was the policy of Saddam Hussein to govern by divide-and-rule and precisely to exacerbate these differences, it is unlikely that civil peace would have been the result of prolonging his regime. Indeed, so ghastly was his system in this respect that one-fifth of Iraq's inhabitants—the Kurds—had already left Iraq and were living under Western protection.

So, you seriously mean to say that we would not be living in a better or safer world if the coalition forces had turned around and sailed or flown home in the spring of 2003?

That's exactly what I mean to say.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair. His most recent book is Thomas Jefferson: Author of America.

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Geography of the War

A poll of Iraqis on their views of the war

By Richard Nadler

National Review, March 19, 2007

Supporters of Operation Iraqi Freedom will be buoyed by a new poll of Iraqis showing high levels of support for the Baghdad security plan and the elected government implementing it. War opponents will cite the survey’s report of Iraqi dissatisfaction with foreign occupation. Serious analysts of all persuasions should give this poll, conducted by Opinion Research Business (ORB), a close look. The ORB pollsters have doubled the sample size of the best previous polls, and have compiled statistically significant samples in all 18 of Iraq’s “governates,” or states. The result is something that has been sadly lacking in war reportage: a geography of the conflict.

The New Regime
Iraqis were asked, “Taking everything into account, do you feel that things are better for you now under the present political system, or do you think things were better for you before under the previous regime of Saddam Hussein?”

Fifty-three percent of respondents preferred the current regime; 29 percent that of Saddam, and 18 percent neither. Among Kurds, support for the new order ran 84 percent to 12percent; among Shiites, 72 percent to 7 percent. Sunnis surveyed preferred Saddam’s rule, 56 percent to 32 percent.

Popular opposition to the elected government is concentrated not in Baghdad, where most of the insurgent attacks occur, but in western Iraq (Nineveh and Anbar), in oil-rich Kirkuk, and in the Sunni suburbs north of Baghdad (Salahadin and Diyala). Baghdadis favor the democracy 61percent to 19 percent.

Geographically, 13 governates representing 74 percent of the population support the al Maliki regime; five provinces, representing 26 percent of the population, prefer Baathist rule. The supporters of the new order include the Kurdish regions of the north, the Shiite provinces of the south and mid-Euphrates regions, and Baghdad itself. The ratios of support-to-opposition in these governates average better than 10-to-1.

Death and Exile
The ORB survey paints a grim portrait of the impact of violence on Iraqis. Fifty percent of Iraqis have experienced crime against a family member or colleague in the form of either murder or kidnapping. But the level of violence varies sharply by governate. In Baghdad, home to organized crime and spectacular terror, 79 percent have been affected by such incidents. In Dohuk and Irbil in the Kurdish north, only one percent reported murders or kidnappings among friends and family. In southern provinces like Basra and Muthana, the victimization rates were 37 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

A similar regional pattern dominates displacements. Asked “Do you have any members of your family that have left Iraq over the last four years as a result of the security situation?” 15 percent answer in the affirmative. That rises to 25 percent among respondents with post-secondary education. Yet, from a high of 35 percent in Baghdad governate, displacements range radically downward as one heads both north and south. Respondents in Basra and Muthana reported family members displaced at 2 percent and 1 percent respectively.

The Occupation
The current survey, like previous surveys, reveals Iraqi hostility toward the occupying coalition, identified (in this British-conducted survey) as the Multi-National Force (MNF). Asked whether the security situation “will get better or worse” in the immediate aftermath of the withdrawal of Coalition forces, 53 percent of respondents believe security would improve, 26 percent that it would deteriorate.

However, the MNF fares consistently better than other armed groups in surveys of Iraqi opinion. In the PIPA poll of September 2006, the native militias had only 21 percent support; 77 percent of respondents hoped for an Iraqi government that would disband them. Al Qaeda fared far worse: It was viewed unfavorably by 94 percent of Iraqis. The simple fact is that the “man in the Iraqi street” is sick of armed groups, indigenous or foreign. Asked to vote on their presence, he says “No!”

A closer look at Iraqi attitudes to the MNF paints a more textured tale. Sunnis, long the adamant opponents of the occupation, are now evenly split (42 percent to 42 percent) on the security impact of MNF withdrawal. Kurds continue to regard the coalition as preservers of the peace (63 percent to 15 percent). It is the Shiites who expect security to improve when we depart (62 percent to 14 percent).

The Surge
Yet Shiites are extremely supportive of the surge. Asked whether Noori al Maliki’s “new security plan” will “disarm all Militias,” Shiites respondent believe it will, 61 percent to 7 percent. Kurds agree, although by a lesser margin (56 percent to 9 percent). It is the Sunnis who fear it will not disarm “all” militias, 41 percent to 26 percent. It is obvious that the groups interpret “all” differently.

Baghdadis believe, 49 percent to 9 percent, that the surge will succeed. And they, unlike John Murtha, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi, live where it is being implemented.

The heavily Sunni province of Salahadin, northeast of Baghdad, provides a microcosm of the coalition’s growing role as a peace broker among the factions. Of the Salahadin residents surveyed, 96 percent expressed a preference for the reign of Saddam, and 77 percent expressed skepticism that the security plan would work. But 69 percent feared that the security situation would worsen were the MNF to depart. This hotbed of Sunni radicalism now sees the coalition as the primary force protecting it from Shiite retribution.

To summarize: The majority populations of Iraq (Shia and Kurd) believe that the surge will work. The minority population (Arab Sunni) fears that it may not.

George W. Bush
An interesting window on Iraqi attitudes toward the United States is revealed in the responses to the following question: “President George Bush has announced that he will be sending 20,000 troops to Iraq in the coming months. Why is he doing this?”

No single answer to this open-ended query polled a majority. But a substantial plurality of respondents—33 percent overall—assumed a benign motive: “To bring security and stability back to Iraq” was the answer of 26 percent of Shiites, 40 percent of Sunnis, and 61 percent of Kurds.

The next most common response attributed the U.S. buildup to a plan to attack Iran or Syria—an explanation favored by 20 percent of Shiites, 27 percent of Sunnis, and 14 percent of Kurds.

Responses implying evil or conspiratorial intent toward Iraq itself—to overthrow the elected government or to establish U.S. control—polled substantially lower. As confidence in President Bush has sagged in America, it has risen in Iraq, to the point that the poll numbers have virtually crossed.

Nationalism
Whether the insurgency in Iraq is a civil war, or whether administration officials will so describe it, remains a fixed obsession of American journalists. The ORB pollsters posed this question to Iraqis. Twenty-seven percent of respondents thought it is and 61 percent that it is not, with 14 percent undecided.

As in previous polls, Iraqi nationalism runs strong. Most Iraqis reject any form of partition. Asked to choose between “a single country run by a central government” or a “federal system with independent regional governments,” Iraqis prefer the former, 64 percent to 21 percent.

The ORB poll highlights the legitimacy of the al Maliki regime; the incomplete nature of the war effort; and a growing acceptance of the American and MNF role in establishing security. The Iraqi people clearly hope that the current “surge” will succeed in disarming the terrorists, militias, and criminal gangs that have bled them the past three years.

Can we say as much for the U.S. Congress?

Richard Nadler is the president of Americas Majority Foundation.

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THE IRAQ SURGE: WHY IT'S WORKING ...

By GORDON CUCULLU

New York Post, March 20, 2007

'I WALKED down the streets of Ramadi a few days ago, in a soft cap eating an ice cream with the mayor on one side of me and the police chief on the other, having a conversation." This simple act, Gen. David Petraeus told me, would have been "unthinkable" just a few months ago. "And nobody shot at us," he added.

Petraeus, the new commander managing the "surge" of troops in Iraq, will be the first to caution realism. "Sure we see improvements - major improvements," he said in our interview, "but we still have a long way to go."

What tactics are working? "We got down at the people level and are staying," he said flatly. "Once the people know we are going to be around, then all kinds of things start to happen."

More intelligence, for example. Where once tactical units were "scraping" for intelligence information, they now have "information overload," the general said. "After our guys are in the neighborhood for four or five days, the people realize they're not going to just leave them like we did in the past. Then they begin to come in with so much information on the enemy that we can't process it fast enough."

In intelligence work - the key to fighting irregular wars - commanders love excess.

And the tribal leaders in Sunni al Anbar Province, the general reports, "have had enough." Not only are the al Qaeda fighters causing civil disruption by fomenting sectarian violence and killing civilians, but on a more prosaic but practical side, al Qaeda is bad for business. "All of the sheiks up there are businessmen," Petraeus said. "They are entrepreneurial and involved in scores of different businesses. The presence of the foreign fighters is hitting them hard in the pocketbook and they are tired of it."

A large hospital project - meant to be one of the largest in the Sunni Triangle - had been put on hold by terrorist attacks when al Qaeda had control of the area. Now it's back on track. So are similar infrastructure projects.

The sheiks have seen that the al Qaeda delivers only violence and misery. They are throwing their lot in with the new government - for example, encouraging their young men to join the Iraqi police force and army. (They are responding in droves.)

Petraeus has his troops applying a similar formula in Baghdad's Sadr City: "We're clearing it neighborhood by neighborhood." Troops move in - mainly U.S. soldiers and Marines supported by Iraqi forces, although that ratio is reversed in some areas - and stay. They are not transiting back to large, remote bases but are now living with the people they have come to protect. The results, Petraeus says, have been "dramatic."

"We're using 'soft knock' clearing procedures and bringing the locals in on our side," he notes. By being in the neighborhoods, getting to know the people and winning their trust, the soldiers have allowed the people to turn against the al Qaeda terrorists, whom they fear and loathe. Petraeus says his goal is to pull al Qaeda out "by its roots, wherever it tries to take hold."

Another change: an emphasis on protecting of gathering places like mosques and marketplaces. "We initiated Operation Safe Markets," Petraeus said, "and have placed ordinary concrete highway barriers around the vulnerable targets." Car bombings have dropped precipitately - the limited access thwarts them.

As a result, "The marketplaces, including the book market that was targeted for an especially vicious attack, are rebuilding and doing great business. It is helping the local economy enormously to have this kind of protection in place." With jobs plentiful and demand growing, the appeal of militia armies declines proportionally.

Nor is the Iraqi government simply standing aside and allowing U.S. and Coalition forces to do their work. The Shia prime minister walked the Sunni streets of Ramadi recently, meeting and greeting the people - "acting like a politician," Petraeus said, without malice. "He is making the point with them that he intends to represent all sectors of Iraqi society, not just his sectarian roots."

Rules of engagement (ROE), highly criticized as being too restrictive and sometimes endangering our troops, have been "clarified." "There were unintended consequences with ROE for too long," Petraeus acknowledged. Because of what junior leaders perceived as too harsh punishment meted out to troops acting in the heat of battle, the ROE issued from the top commanders were second-guessed and made more restrictive by some on the ground. The end result was unnecessary - even harmful - restrictions placed on the troops in contact with the enemy.

"I've made two things clear," Petraeus emphasized: "My ROE may not be modified with supplemental guidance lower down. And I've written a letter to all Coalition forces saying 'your chain-of-command will stay with you.' I think that solved the issue."

Are the policies paying off? "King David" as Petraeus is known from his previous tour of duty up near the Syrian border, is cautiously optimistic. "Less than half the al Qaeda leaders who were in Baghdad when this [surge] campaign began are still in the city," he said. "They have fled or are being killed or captured. We are attriting them at a fearsome rate."

Virtually everyone who knows him says that David Petraeus is one of the brightest, most capable officers in today's Army. "He is the perfect person for the job," retired Major Gen. Paul Vallely noted.

Early signs are positive; early indicators say that we're winning. As Petraeus cautiously concluded, "We'll be able to evaluate the situation for sure by late summer." That's his job. Our job? We need to give him the time and space needed to win this war.

Gordon Cucullu is a retired U.S. Army officer and a member of Benador Associates. His book on Guantanamo is due out this fall.