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Progress in the Iraqi Security Forces

What the Jones Report really says.

12:00 AM, Sep 6, 2007 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
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  • Finding 34: Police training in Iraq is improving, particularly in areas where training is led by Iraqi instructors partnered with civilian police advisors.
  • Violence remains a fact of life in Iraq. Those insurgents who perpetrate this violence are elusive, operate covertly, and seek to avoid direct engagement with Coalition and Iraqi forces. While violence has recently declined sharply in the Sunni-dominated Anbar province--the former stronghold of the insurgency--attacks have risen in Diyala, Balad, Basra, and Amarah. Violence remains endemic in Baghdad, despite measurable gains made since the implementation of Fardh al- Qanoon (the Baghdad Security Plan) in February 2007 by Coalition and Iraqi forces. Since the beginning of Fardh al-Qanoon, the average number of sectarian killings in Baghdad has decreased. The average number of daily attacks has similarly fallen. While these numbers may simply reflect the decision of many of the Shi'a militias to maintain a low profile during the Coalition-led surge, there are signs of improvements in the security situation in Baghdad.
  • Many of the shortcomings that prevent the Iraqi armed forces and civil security forces from independently maintaining the territorial integrity of Iraq are also weaknesses that prevent them from independently ensuring that Iraq does not become a safe have for international terrorists. Although the Iraqi armed forces have made progress in developing greater combat proficiency, they lack the combat support and combat support services outlined previously.
  • Reflecting the Coalition's much stronger grasp of counterinsurgency operations, the "clear, hold, build" strategy launched in March 2006 appears to be generating results in enhancing security in the provinces.
The Iraqi Army's ability to conduct "clearing" operations has improved significantly; units such as the 2nd Iraqi Army Division based in Ninewa province are conducting effective intelligence and counterinsurgency operations that seem to be noticeably reducing violence levels. New cooperative relationships with local forces in Anbar and Diyala provinces exemplify how local Iraqi forces are able to "hold" Iraqi territory after it has been cleared by Coalition and Iraqi Army troops. The "surge" of Coalition forces has made the presence of the Coalition and ISF much more visible in cities and neighborhoods all over Iraq. The morale of ISF units paired with Coalition forces appears relatively high, and trainers all over Iraq report that the ISF, particularly the Iraqi Army, seem to have the will to fight. An ISF casualty rate three times that of Coalition forces would seem to reflect this determination, albeit also the reality that neither the Iraqi Army nor the Iraqi Police Service are adequately armed or protected against the threats that they face. The Joint Security Stations established in Baghdad partner Coalition forces with the Iraqi Army, National Police, and Iraqi Police Service, and they appear to be reducing levels of violence in their immediate areas. The Joint Security Stations also are increasing the level of cooperation between local Iraqis, the ISF, and Coalition forces, as well as providing opportunities for in-depth mentoring and advising by Coalition forces.
  • Since the beginning of Fardh al-Qanoon in February 2007, the Coalition and the Iraqi Security Forces have managed to create some level of security and some breathing space for Iraqi politicians. If the Coalition continues to provide key enabling support and training to the ISF over the next few years, with the expected increases in security that such support will likely bring, a more durable security environment will continue to develop and perhaps broaden. The reverse is certainly true should the government be unable to find the required political solution.

In other words, the Iraqi Army has made tremendous strides, is fighting hard and skillfully, and is now a critical component of the counter-terrorism campaign in Iraq, but it cannot continue that campaign without continued Coalition combat and logistics support over the coming months (for more on this, see a new report from the American Enterprise Institute released today, "No Middle Way"). Almost all of the trendlines for the Iraqi Army and for security in Iraq noted in the report are positive. The Iraqi Police are more problematic, but even here, the report notes that training is improving and local recruiting is making a significant positive difference. The National Police, the report rightly notes, are broken, and the media has made much of this. But the National Police consist of around 25,000 members, compared to perhaps 300,000 members of the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police. The Iraqi Security Forces can hardly be judged a failure on such grounds.

In fact, the Jones Report offers no suggestion that the Iraqi Security Forces should be judged a failure at all. On the contrary, they have made great progress and the report sees every reason for them to continue to make better progress. The issue of their "independent" operations is and always has been a red herring. For Americans concerned about how long their sons and daughters will have to be in harm's way in Iraq, which is everyone, the point isn't how long it will take the Iraqis to operate independently, but how long it will take before they can carry more of the burden of fighting the enemy. The Jones Report makes it clear that they are already carrying a significant part of that burden, and that their ability to do so will increase steadily and rapidly in the coming months--as long as we maintain our presence and our current strategy, which the report clearly judges to be working. Presenting the Jones Report as a condemnation of the Iraqi Security Forces, proof of their hopelessness, or support for a rapid withdrawal of American forces or a "change of mission" goes beyond spin. It is simple dishonesty.

Frederick W. Kagan is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.