National Review Online’s critique of the recent Podesta, Takeyh, Korb op-ed rests on two mistaken assumptions. First, it argues that we were dishonest or ill-informed to say that the Iraqis have satisfactorily passed only four of the 18 benchmarks. According to NRO, there are eight. But close examination reveals that no more than four are really passed.
While it is true that the Iraqis provided three additional brigades to support operations in and around Baghdad, these brigades have consistently been understaffed. Moreover, the actual number of Iraqi forces in Baghdad has dropped from 18 to 15 brigades, a loss partially attributed to the redeployment of Iraqi troops to other unstable to the east and north of Baghdad.
The Maliki government remains committed to ensuring that there is no safe haven in Baghdad for any sectarian groups in name only. Both the ministry of defense and the ministry of the interior are still hampered by sectarianism, and since January 2007, the ministry of the interior has had to replace 70 percent of the senior commanders in the National Police because they were suspected of sectarianism. According to General Jones, despite these purges, the Ministry of Interior is unable to act evenhandedly and is widely regarded as being dysfunctional and sectarian, and suffers from ineffective leadership.
While the Iraqi Security Forces have grown in number to over 600,000, their ability to operate independently is still unproven. The ISF’s ability to provide security independent of U.S. supervision still leaves much to be desired. Currently, only nine of Iraq’s 18 provinces were under ISF control — all were meant to be in Iraqi control by the end of 2007.
While Iraqi-army commanders have been given wider authority to pursue extremists, American commanders do not trust them sufficiently to include them in planning for major operations, such as Operation Phantom Phoenix — the early January thrust into Diyala province’s breadbasket region. The Iraqi Security Force’s recent retreat from Mosul due to a shortage of Iraqi troops underscores the unreliability and inconsistencies within the ISF.
Further, the Iraqi presidential council rejected the highly praised provincial election law on Wednesday. NRO also touts the de-Baathification law passed last month. As with many pieces of Iraqi legislation, it helps to read the fine print. In their praise of its passage, NRO overlooks the fact that the legislation actually throws more former Baathists out of government than it will allow in. According to Khalaf Aulian, a Sunni politician, the de-Baathification law “will remain as a sword on the neck of the people.”
True, sectarian violence is down from the record-high levels of last summer but it is currently only at the unacceptable levels seen in 2005. NR0 also refuses to agree with the consensus of the intelligence community that the drop in sectarian violence is largely the result of an ethnic-cleansing campaign (here, here) which succeeded in segregated Baghdad neighborhoods and other locals into sectarian fiefdoms — Baghdad was once a 65-percent Sunni dominated city, it is now 75-percent Shia. What will happen when the over four million displaced Iraqis begin returning home?
The second mistaken assumption in the National Review Online editorial is that it claims that al-Qaeda once controlled big chunks of the country but doesn’t say where. NRO claims that the Washington Post piece, “demonstrate(s) the bankruptcy of the antiwar cause” because “[t]hey don’t mention al-Qaeda… as if it is of no consequence that al Qaeda once controlled big chunks of Iraq.” According to a recent Congressional Research Service, al-Qaeda represents only a small percentage of the violence in Iraq. Indeed, increasingly in 2007, U.S. commanders have seemed to equate AQ-I with the insurgency, even though most of the daily attacks are carried out by Iraqi Sunni insurgents.
Lawrence J. Korb
former assistant secretary of defense (Reagan)
senior fellow, Center for American Progress
senior adviser, Center for Defense Information