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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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THE SUMMARY OF the findings of the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq released today is the predictable product of the process that created it. The consensus report of 16 intelligence agencies is full of on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand paragraphs that allow partisans of either side to make their points, if they are willing to quote selectively from the 4-page document. And it is a 4-page document (not 10 pages, as some media reports have it--the first six are title pages and descriptions of the methodology, and only the last four discuss Iraq). Its findings are broad and sweeping generalizations backed by little or nothing in the way of facts (which is natural, since intelligence agencies do not generally declassify the factual basis of such estimates).

The main conclusions of the document is clear: the strategy inaugurated in January 2007 has improved security in Iraq and will continue to do so; the development of grassroots movements within the Sunni Arab community focused on fighting al Qaeda in Iraq is an extremely important and positive development; Iraqi Security Forces are fighting effectively, if not yet independently of Coalition assistance; Sunni and Shia are not yet reconciled; the Maliki government is under great pressure and is not yet able to govern the country effectively; and Iraq-wide political progress will be required to solidify the gains made by the new strategy.

Many in the media naturally raced to flag all the negatives. The Washington Post online headline was: "NIE: Iraq 'Unable to Govern' Itself Effectively"--though the article reflects the on-the-one-hand-on-the-other presentation in the NIE more accurately than the headline. The New York Times titled its piece: "Report Cites Grave Concerns on Iraq's Government." It claimed that, "Implicitly, at least, the report questioned whether Mr. Maliki is willing or able to help the new Iraq become a fully functioning country." There is actually no basis in the declassified report for this statement. The report mentions Maliki in four places, noting that he was working to expand the size of the Iraqi Security Forces, that "divisions between Maliki and the Sadrists have increased" (which is a good thing, by the way), that Shia factions have explored alternative coalitions to the Maliki government (but have not yet formed any, we might note), that the "strains of the security situation and the absence of key leaders" have increased Maliki's vulnerability to other coalitions, but that Maliki will probably continue to benefit from the fear among his Shia rivals that attempting to replace him might paralyze the government. The Times article then features statements from a "Congressional official," Senator Harry Reid, Congressman Rahm Emmanuel, and "one official," all of whom focus on the negative statements in the report and add their own. Considering the relatively balanced nature of the declassified summary of the NIE, the Times's reporting can only be described as distorted.

The document itself is nevertheless weak. It significantly downplays important developments in Iraq on both the political and the military fronts. The NIE minimizes the efforts of the Iraqi Security Forces by focusing too heavily on the question of their ability to operate independently. It mentions only two significant ISF operations, both in Baghdad (although it notes that the ISF has met its goals for deployment of units in support of the Baghdad Security Plan, which was a Congressional benchmark), but ignores the following important activities undertaken by Iraqi Army units in recent months:

* The 8th Iraqi Army division in Diwaniyah planning and conducting large-scale operations against JAM militias with relatively little coalition support;

* The 10th IA division in Nasiriyah doing similar things;

* The 5th IA division in Diyala conducting operations together with U.S. forces in the provinces against both AQI and JAM;

* Two IA divisions and around 20k Iraqi police have been working with a little over 5,000 U.S. soldiers in all of Ninewah province, an area that includes Mosul (1.8 million people) and has been subjected to repeated AQI attacks;

* Two IA divisions have been working closely with Marine and Army forces against AQI in Anbar.