The Elements of Victory in Iraq
October 31, 2007
There has been a wide range of reporting that indicates the US and Iraqi government are scoring significant victories against Al Qa'ida in Iraq, and that the levels of the worst kinds of violence are dropping, along with the levels of US and Iraqi casualties.
These data come from a combination of GAO, MNF-I, and Iraqi government sources and are summarized in graphic and tabular form in the attached report. It should be noted, however, that the data and trends are contradictory and that the Iraqi data are appreciably less favorable than the data provided by MNF-I.
More significantly, the progress in defeating Al Qa'ida in Iraq and the worst elements of the Shi'ite militias highlights the urgency of political accommodation on practical terms that the various sectarian and ethnic divisions in Iraq can live with. The attached analysis also shows that so far, such progress has not address the issues that divide Iraqis and threaten the unity of the country.
To be specific, little progress has been made in addressing the causes of Arab Sunni versus Arab Shi'ite violence, and tensions between Arab and Kurd. Outside interference is a growing problem, and so is civil violence within key sectarian and ethnic groups. Shi'ite on Shi'ite tensions and violence are a major problem in the south, and Sunni on Sunni tensions and violence threaten the progress made in Anbar.
Only one thing can tie these elements of victory together with any hope of a lasting solution: political accommodation. The US military can only “win” to the point where it gives Iraq's political and religious leaders an opportunity to reach an accord. Once again, no amount of American military success can -- by itself -- have strategic meaning.
This does not mean that “victory” is mission impossible. The basic elements of Iraqi political accommodation have now been clear for months:
Progress in only a few of the key areas -- like the hydrocarbon or “oil” laws, provincial elections, amnesty, easing the terms of “de-Ba'athification” to give Sunnis a fair share of political power and military command, incorporating Sunni local forces into the police, and defining the conditions for federalism -- could make a major difference. It could also eventually pave the way to disarming and demobilizing the insurgent forces and militias -- although full success in meeting this goal may lag years behind any success in meeting the others.
What is clear, however, is that the military progress over the last ten months is all too easy to waste at the political level, and that defeating Al Qa'ida is at best the prelude to dealing with the rest of Iraq's problems. Time is running out, and Iraq's leaders need to act.