AS THE REDUCTION IN violence in Iraq has become incontestable (the insistence of early critics that no such reduction was possible notwithstanding), war opponents have fallen back on their next line of defense--that the military progress has not been matched by the political progress it was supposed to enable. This talking point, however, is also outdated and invalid. The Bush administration, commanders and ambassadors in the field, and supporters of the effort to win in Iraq have long pointed to evidence of grassroots reconciliation and political progress. This evidence is growing and the importance of these developments is becoming increasingly apparent. But critics have long dismissed these developments on the grounds that they meant nothing if the central government did not meet the key benchmarks established in 2007 as the basis for continued American support. For most of 2007, such critics at least had some facts on their side--the Iraqi Government quickly moved to achieve most of the security-related benchmarks, but key legislative benchmarks remained stalled. The facts no longer support this argument, however. As a recent study by the U.S. Institute of Peace noted, "It may be that February 13, 2008 will be remembered as the day when Iraq's political climate began to catch up with its improved security situation--or, more to the point, when Iraqi leaders discovered the key to political compromise and reconciliation."
As the tally below shows, the Government of Iraq has now met 12 out of the original 18 benchmarks set for it, including four out of the six key legislative benchmarks. It has made substantial progress on five more, and only one remains truly stalled. One can argue about the scoring of this or that benchmark, but the overall picture is very clear: before the surge began, the Iraqi Government had accomplished none of the benchmarks and was on the way to accomplishing very few. As the surge winds down, it has accomplished around two-thirds of them and is moving ahead on almost all of the remainder. To say in the face of these facts that Iraq has made "little" or "no" political progress is simply false-to-fact.
Some critics more willing to wrestle with unpleasant (to them) realities have argued that the laws that have been passed and the steps taken to meet the non-legislative benchmarks are flawed (and, therefore, don't count). This argument is highly disingenuous. Opponents of benchmarks (including the author) always argued against them on the grounds that simply getting Iraqis to "check the box" was not an appropriate way to measure progress. Defenders of the benchmarks insisted that we needed clear metrics. Well, the metrics they demanded and wrote into law are pretty clear, and the Iraqis have met most of them. Last year, critics accused the Bush administration of "moving the goalposts" by pointing to local reconciliation rather than national benchmark legislation. Now the shoe is on the other foot--those who most shrilly demanded a set of arbitrary benchmarks are now insist that the Iraqi Government's achievements in meeting them aren't enough. Who's moving the goalposts now?
Legislative Benchmarks (4 accomplished; 2 underway; 1 stalled)
|Benchmark||January 2007||March 2008|
|Enacting and implementing legislation on de-Baathification.||Not done||Passed by CoR on January 12, 2008; approved by Presidency Council in February 2008.|
|Enacting and implementing legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of hydrocarbon resources of the people of Iraq without regard to the sect or ethnicity of recipients, and enacting and implementing legislation to ensure that the energy resources of Iraq benefit Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, and other Iraqi citizens equitably.||Not done||Not done. Draft law of July 2007 still under consideration in a CoR committee. The Kurds are the major holdup here. But the provincial powers act and the 2008 budget do this de facto. The 17 percent share of Iraq's oil revenue given to the Kurds in the 2008 budget represented the short-term compromise on this issue, with negotiations on the longer-term legislation continuing.|
|Enacting and implementing legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions.||Underway||This was never desirable. The Kurdish Regional Government, however, is up and running, and a law has been passed that would allow provinces to form regions after April 2008. We can fairly say that this is moving ahead while hoping that it does not happen.|
|Enacting and implementing legislation establishing an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections.||Not done||Passed by CoR on February 13, 2008; vetoed by Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi on February 26, 2008; veto withdrawn and law approved by Presidency Council on March 19, 2008. Provincial powers law set October 1, 2008 as date for elections; Presidency Council has reiterated support for that date; United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq announced on February 14, 2008, a new procedure for selecting key elections officials; that procedure was set in motion on February 21, 2008.|
|Enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty.||Not done||Passed by CoR on February 13, 2008; signed by Presidency Council on February 26, 2008.|
|Enacting and implementing legislation establishing a strong militia disarmament program to ensure that such security forces are accountable only to the central government and loyal to the constitution of Iraq.||Not done||Laws have been passed and decrees have been issued declaring that only the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) are legitimate armed forces. The movement of former insurgents into Concerned Local Citizens groups is a major part of accomplishing this task. Moqtada al Sadr's ceasefire (extended for another six months) is another element of it. Maliki's recent push to disarm Sadrist militias in Basra and elsewhere is evidence of the Iraqi Government's determination to accomplish this goal, even if it is not yet capable of doing so.|
|Forming a Constitutional Review Committee and then completing the constitutional review.||Not done||CoR formed a Constitutional Review Committee in September 2006. It was originally supposed to report back in May 2007, and submitted a draft, but has since been granted an extension through August 2008. On the other hand, most of the key provisions in the Iraqi constitution requiring review involve the rest of the benchmark legislation, so this can be fairly said to be underway.|
Security Benchmarks (All 7 accomplished)
|Benchmark||January 2007||March 2008|
|Establishing supporting political, media, economic, and services committees in support of the Baghdad Security Plan (BSP).||Not done||The government has been supporting the BSP in all of these areas, with or without specific committees being formed.|
|Providing three trained and ready Iraqi brigades to support Baghdad operations.||Underway||Done--over and above, in fact. Far more than three brigades have rotated through Baghdad, to say nothing of the Iraqi brigades fighting actively in Anbar, Ninewah, Salah ad Din, Babil, Diyala, Wasit, Qadisiya, Basra, and elsewhere. The Iraqi Government is forming a new division in Baghdad (the 11th) to eliminate the need to keep moving forces from provinces into the capital. When that formation is complete, there will be three Iraqi Army divisions permanently stationed in or near the capital (the 6th, the 11th, and the 9th Mechanized Division based in Taji).|
|Providing Iraqi commanders with all authority to execute this plan and to make tactical and operational decisions, in consultation with U.S commanders, without political intervention, to include the authority to pursue all extremists, including Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias.||Not done||Done. Both U.S. and Iraqi forces have regularly targeted both Sunni and Shiite militias. The emphasis in this benchmark was on operations against Shia militias. Again, the recent operations in Basra highlight the renewed and increasing determination of the Iraqi Government to accomplish this goal.|
|Ensuring that, according to President Bush, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said "the Baghdad security plan will not provide a safe haven for any outlaws, regardless of [their] sectarian or political affiliation."||Not done||Done--there are no "safe havens" in Iraq for outlaws. U.S. and Iraqi conventional and special forces have targeted Sunni and Shiite militias and criminals from Kurdistan to Basra, including Sadr City.|
|Reducing the level of sectarian violence in Iraq and eliminating militia control of local security.||Not done||Done. Attacks against Sadrist positions in Basra are the start of an assault on the last bastions of militia control of local security in Iraq.|
|Establishing all of the planned joint security stations in neighborhoods across Baghdad.||Underway||Done. Iraqi forces operating in Mosul have adopted this technique on their own as well, planning and establishing JSSs similar to those developed in Baghdad.|
|Increasing the number of Iraqi security forces units capable of operating independently.||Underway||Done. Forty new ISF battalions will come on line this year. The Government of Iraq concentrated 30,000 ISF troops in Basra recently and launched a major offensive operation with virtually no Coalition ground support. Iraqi military units in the Najaf-Hillah-Karbala-Diwaniyah-Kut area repelled Special Groups attacks during this fight with little or no Coalition Forces ground support in many cases.|
Government Performance Benchmarks (1 accomplished; 3 underway)
|Benchmark||January 2007||March 2008|
|Ensuring that the rights of minority political parties in the Iraqi legislature are protected.||Hard to measure||Hard to measure--but the minority parties seem to think so, judging by the unanimous passage of key benchmark legislation recently.|
|Allocating and spending $10 billion in Iraqi revenue for reconstruction projects, including delivery of essential services, on an equitable basis.||Not done||The government has achieved equity on this point: all groups think they are being discriminated against. Progress in spending the budget has been significant, and the government is working actively to improve it.|
|Ensuring that the Iraqi Security Forces are providing evenhanded enforcement of the law.||Not done||It is hard to give a definitive "red light" or "green light" to this--some Americans do not think that American law enforcement does this. But enormous progress has been made since January 2007.|
|Ensuring that Iraq's political authorities are not undermining or making false accusations against members of the Iraqi security forces.||Not done||There has been progress here, but significant challenges remain.|
|Progress being made:||5||5|
Frederick W. Kagan, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of The End of the Old Order: Napoleon and Europe, 1801-1805.