Friday, August 1, 2008

Iraq Continues to Improve - But Why?

The success of the surge cannot be denied - only spun now. With security improving and with U.S. deaths now decreasing to their lowest monthly total since the war began, President Bush has announced that he is reducing the length of combat tours for soldiers deploying to Iraq from 15 months to 12 months. He also indicated that, as security conditions improves, he will begin drawing down more units. All of the additional combat brigades sent over as part of the surge have now redeployed from Iraq, leaving 140,000 soldiers in country, 10,000 more than prior to the surge. These additional forces are logistics.

July was the lowest month for casualties - 5 combat deaths and 8 non-combat deaths - recorded in Iraq since the start of the war. This tracks with ever reducing violence throughout Iraq that has fallen to levels not seen since 2004. To their credit, both the Washington Post and the NYT run their stories on this on page 1. Unfortunately, WaPo also takes the line that the security improvements are due in part to events unrelated to the surge - i.e., the good will of Sadr and the Awakening movements. To call that partisan and demonstrably false is an understatement.

This from the Washington Post:

Five American troops died in July as a result of combat in Iraq, by far the lowest monthly U.S. death toll of the five-year war.

The number of Iraq-related American troop fatalities in July -- a total of 13 when noncombat deaths and the discovered bodies of two missing soldiers are included -- is a dramatic drop from just over a year ago, when more than 100 troops a month were confirmed dead for several months in a row.

In a brief statement at the White House early Thursday, President Bush suggested that the decreasing violence in Iraq would allow him to withdraw additional U.S. troops before he leaves office. He said that the top American commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, would make recommendations in September for "future reductions in our combat forces, as conditions permit."

"The progress is still reversible," Bush said he was told by top U.S. officials in Iraq. "But they report that there now appears to be a degree of durability to the gains we have made."

Bush struck a delicate rhetorical balance between asserting his view that sending additional troops to Iraq has been a success, while at the same time cautioning that withdrawing troops too rapidly could jeopardize security improvements.

. . . Starting Friday, Bush said, troop deployments in Iraq will shorten from 15 months to 12. The policy, first announced in April, applies to troops heading to Iraq but not those already stationed there.

The decline in American deaths highlights improvements in security that are widely attributed to three factors: a cease-fire by the country's largest Shiite militia, the decision of former Sunni insurgents to join with U.S. troops and the buildup of American forces. [emphasis added]

"It just feels so much safer than I ever thought it would," said Sgt. Daniel Ochoa, 26, of Highland Park, Calif., who is based in southern Baghdad. "We don't really go out anymore looking to go and fight the enemy. Things are stabilized, so now we're working more on helping the economy and getting people on their feet."

Despite the increased sense of security, deep-rooted tensions remain that continue to provoke violence. This week, more than 50 people were killed in a series of attacks related to a power struggle over control of the oil-rich and ethnically mixed city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq.

The situation grew more tense on Thursday when the Kurdish majority on the council of Tamim province, which includes Kirkuk, voted to join the neighboring Kurdish regional government.

The move is largely symbolic, because the Iraqi parliament would have to approve it, but it provoked denunciations by representatives of rival ethnic communities, who said they would fight to prevent the Kurds from taking over the city.

"The fires of Kirkuk will eat all Iraq's cities and even the Americans," said Hussein Ali al-Jubouri, the head of the largest Sunni Arab political bloc in Kirkuk.

. . . At military bases across Iraq, American soldiers have been paying close attention to the security situation and what it might mean for the timing of their return home.

"My soldiers ask me that every day: I heard a rumor they're reducing our deployment! Is it true?" said 1st Lt. Matthew Linton, 24, of Florida, N.Y., a platoon leader based in the once volatile Sadr City district of Baghdad. "Everybody wants to come home early."

Linton's troops spent Thursday distributing $2,500 grants to merchants in Sadr City's Jamila Market and chatting with the owner of a candy store.

"When we used to walk the streets in April, they were empty and we would be destroying buildings used by enemy positions," he said. "Now we walk the same streets that were covered in sewage and rubble and utter destruction, and they are vibrant and full of people.

"As the situation improves, it feels more like the race is almost finished," Linton said, "compared to you're in the middle of the race and you have a long way to go."

Read the entire article. As to the WaPo author's gratuitous attribution of the success in Iraq to events other than the surge, I would suggest reading Michael O'Hanlon's articulate assessment. That is the WaPo author inserting a pro-Obama political opinion into what is supposed to be a news article. I do hope Petraeus or some of our soldiers who have fought in Iraq so valiantly weigh in on this before the left can repeat their new myth so often it becomes accepted as reality. It is a tremendous disservice to our soldiers.

As to Kirkuk, I've written many times before that Kurdish seperatism and adventurism could well be the flashpoint for a true civil war in Iraq. The U.S. weighed in on this issue by supporting Turkey's incursions into the Kurdish north. That seemed to cow the Kurds somewhat, though clearly the underlying issues are divisive and still extant.

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