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What the NIE Really Says

We're making progress on Iraq.

12:00 AM, Aug 24, 2007 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
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That's tens of thousands of Iraqi Army soldiers, National Police, and local police fighting on the front lines against both al Qaeda and JAM. Can they sustain themselves logistically, move themselves, etc.? No. But that's only the metric of success if your objective is to withdraw. If your objective is to win, then what matters is how well they're fighting. Remember that most American allies depend heavily on the U.S. for many sorts of logistics, fire support, command and control, and so forth. The Iraqis have a way to go, of course, but we need to be realistic about the bar we're trying to set, and the obsession with the ability of Iraqi units to fight without any American help is foolish.

The assertion that there is "widespread Sunni unwillingness to accept a diminished political status," widely quoted in the media, is also problematic. It is probably true of the Sunni parties in the Council of Representatives, but it's becoming very clear that they do not represent the positive trends occurring within the Sunni community. It's also probably true if you look at Baathist websites. But the atmosphere in many Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad, Anbar, and throughout Central Iraq strongly suggests that the Sunni increasingly understand that they've lost this round. And the key point is that Sunni Arabs who want to fight AQI are not asking to be set up in their own militias or local defense forces, but are asking to join the Iraqi Security Forces. Given the heavily Shia character of those forces, the Sunni will find it hard to turn their young soldiers and police into some sort of coup or civil war force. If they were asking to set up regional militias outside of the regular channels, that would be cause for concern. But their determination to participate in the government security apparatus is an indication of passive reconciliation that is underplayed in the report. It does not at all support the assertion that the Sunni Arabs are unwilling as a community to accept a role in the developing political process.

Sunni Arab demands to join the ISF also naturally increase the pressure on the current government, which is being asked to take thousands of former insurgents into its security forces in a matter of weeks. That is one of the reasons for the "precariousness" of the Maliki government, and it is understandable. The pressure on that government will increase in the coming months, not decrease. Considering the pressures already on it, what's amazing is that it has not fallen yet. Should we be concerned if it does fall?
Iraq has a parliamentary system. When we talk about the "government falling," what we mean is a parliamentary reshuffle that replaces the Prime Minister and his cabinet. This is a normal part of any parliamentary system. If the Iraqis have a peaceful reshuffle that replaces Maliki with someone else, that's probably a positive development--depending on who the new guy is. It may or may not make passage of benchmark legislation easier, but it probably would--the point of a reshuffle is to replace a PM who can't get things done with one who can. It's not inherently a problem for us if the Iraqis try to do that.

The key negative conclusion in the report is that the Iraqi Government has not yet made the political progress necessary to secure grassroots reconciliation initiatives. That fact should have been obvious to everyone and, in fact, it is. It has formed the basis of domestic discussions about Iraq for months.

The first question that follows is: can the government make such progress? The answer, of course, is we can't know. The NIE notes that the security situation is one of the major factors that is delaying such progress. That should be no surprise--it was always a core assumption of the new strategy that political progress would follow, rather than precede or accompany, the establishment of greater security. The NIE notes that we are establishing greater security. That means that at some point in the future we can reasonably expect to see greater political progress. Considering that the major military operations of the surge have been underway for a little over two months, it's not surprising that we haven't yet reached that point.