The new effort to establish security in Iraq has begun. At this early stage, the most important positive development is a rise in hostility to al Qaeda in the Sunni community. Al Qaeda has responded with its own "surge" in spectacular attacks, which so far has not revived support for the terrorists or reignited sectarian violence. The Coalition has also made unexpectedly rapid progress in reducing the power of Moktada al-Sadr, including killing or capturing more than 700 members of his Mahdi Army. At the same time, the rhetoric of the Iraqi government has changed dramatically, and there are early indications of an increased willingness to attempt reconciliation among Iraq's Arabs. Meanwhile, some challenges are intensifying. Diyala province in particular poses serious problems that do not admit of easy or rapid solutions. On balance, there is reason for wary optimism.
President Bush announced the new strategy on January 10, and shortly thereafter named General David Petraeus overall commander of Coalition military forces in Iraq. His mission: establishing security for the Iraqi people and only secondarily transitioning to full Iraqi control and responsibility. In January, five new Army brigade combat teams started reaching Iraq at the rate of one a month. An additional division headquarters to assist with command and control and an additional combat aviation brigade are also headed to Iraq, along with logistics, military police, and other enablers. No timeline for the increased American presence has been announced, although public comments suggest it will last at least through the fall and probably into early 2008. Activation warnings to National Guard brigades and the extension of the tours of Army brigades already in Iraq from 12 to 15 months, issued in April, would make such an extension possible.
The new strategy resulted from a combination of Iraqi proposals and discussions within the Bush administration and among American commanders. The collaborative nature of the plan led to the creation of dual chains of command: American forces report to Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, commander of Multi-National Corps-Iraq (MNC-I), and from him to Petraeus. Iraqi forces, both army and police, report through their own commanders to one of two division commanders (one on either side of the Tigris River, which divides Baghdad). Those commanders report to Lieutenant General Abboud Gambar, commander of Operation Fardh al-Qanoon (Enforcing the Law), the Iraqi name for what we call the Baghdad Security Plan. Gambar reports to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. This bifurcation of command poses significant challenges of coordination, but Generals Petraeus, Odierno, and Gambar have developed tactics that mitigate them.
The new plan pushes most U.S. forces out into the population. Americans and Iraqis are establishing Joint Security Stations and Joint Combat Outposts throughout Baghdad. U.S. and Iraqi soldiers eat, sleep, and plan together in these outposts and then conduct mounted and dismounted patrols continually, day and night, throughout their assigned neighborhoods. In Joint Security Stations I visited in the Hurriya neighborhood, in the Shiite Khadimiya district, American and Iraqi soldiers sleep in nearly adjoining rooms with unlocked and unguarded doors between them. They receive and evaluate tips and intelligence together, plan and conduct operations together, and evaluate their results jointly. Wherever they go, they hand out cards with the telephone numbers and email addresses of local "tip lines" that people can call when they see danger in the neighborhood. Tips have gone up dramatically over the past two months, from both Sunnis and Shiites, asking for help and warning of IEDs and other attacks being prepared against American and Iraqi forces. People have also called the tip lines to say thanks when a dangerous individual was removed from the streets.
Most of the military operations of recent months have been laying the groundwork for clear-and-hold operations that will be the centerpiece of the new plan. Coalition and Iraqi forces have targeted al Qaeda and other Sunni insurgent cells in Baghdad, in their bases around the capital, and in Anbar, Salahaddin, and Diyala provinces. They have established positions throughout Baghdad and swept a number of neighborhoods in a preliminary fashion. They have begun placing concrete barriers around problematic neighborhoods to restrict access and change traffic flow to support future operations. Targeted raids have removed a number of key leaders from the Shiite militias as well, reducing the effectiveness of Sadr's organization, which was already harmed by his hasty departure for Iran early this year.