Friday, January 18, 2008

A Friedman Unit for the Surge Sceptics

By Cernig

Claims by the US military that 75% of Baghdad’s neighborhoods are now secure, up from 8% a year ago, have the usual triumphalists all in a lather today.
The military classifies 356 of Baghdad's 474 neighborhoods in the "control" or "retain" category of its four-tier security rating system, meaning enemy activity in those areas has been mostly eliminated and normal economic activity is resuming.

...The 310 neighborhoods in the "control" category are secure, but depend on U.S. and Iraqi military forces to maintain the peace. The 46 areas in the "retain" category have reached a level where Iraqi police and security forces can maintain order, a more permanent fix. The remaining areas have fewer security forces based there, though they are not necessarily violent.

In February 2007, when additional U.S. forces began arriving, only 37 Baghdad neighborhoods were in the "control" and "retain" categories.
No mention, you note, of the roles sectarian cleansing and massive enclosure walls might have played in making the city into a series of quieter villages. Notice too that we have to take the military's word - their classification - on this. Who is going to go out unescorted and check to see if the areas they say are controlled are as controlled as they say they are?

But those quibbles aside what comes through strongly is that, as in all things, the Iraqi government still can't stand up on its own. As James Joyner notes as he runs down the lack of reconcilliation and reconstruction measures, many of which were due to be completed by now:
It goes too far, though, to say that this demonstrates that the Surge worked. The goal was to alleviate the worst of the violence — which has happened — so as to provide breathing room for political reconciliation. That has not been achieved.
And there's a possible spoiler in the offing - regular newshoggers researcher Kat emails to say Muqtada al-Sadr may not extend his ceasefire.
Radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr put the United States and the Iraqi government on notice Friday that he may not extend a six-month cease-fire by his militia.

The cease-fire by the Mahdi Army militia, due to expire next month, has been cited by U.S. commanders in Iraq as a major contributor to the nationwide reduction of violence over the past six months. U.S. and Iraqi forces, however, have stepped up their hunt for the militiamen in recent months, arguing they were members of rogue cells closely linked to Iran.

"The rationale for the decision to extend the freeze of the Mahdi Army is beginning to wear thin," Salah al-Obeidi, al al-Sadr spokesman, said in a statement issued in the holy city of Najaf south of Baghdad.

"This is because the government is supporting some criminal gangs operating inside security agencies and which refuse to abide by the law," said al-Obeidi. He did not elaborate, but he was alluding to Shiites from rival groups that have infiltrated security forces.

Al-Obeidi said senior security officials remained in their jobs despite arrest warrants issued against them for human rights abuses. "This will force us to reconsider the decision to extend the cease-fire despite repeated public statements in the past that we will."

"This statement should be taken as a warning to the Iraqi government to pay heed ... if it wants to bolster stability," said the statement.
Ouch. Even Mookie isn't happy with the pace of Maliki's reforms - or rather with the utter lack of even trying on anything that might harm Maliki's power base.

If Sadr doesn't extend his ceasefire - which even US officials acknowledge has been a major cause of the security successes the Surgers like to claim as belonging entirely to Saint Petraeus - then I guess we'll find out pretty quickly if the good guys really own the streets of Baghdad or whether they were only loaned them for a while. If he does extend, then that too will prove something - that Sadr sees more potential gain from politics than armed conflict - which will be an important marker in Iraq's post-invasion history.

There are other factors at play too. This year we're going to find out if the various Awakening groups who have now taken on local leadership in their areas actually want to play peaceful politics or whether, as some suspect, they're warlord-led bands ready to jump the rails as soon as the prospect of loot and some score-evening comes along. If the former, then reconcilliation of sorts from the ground up is possible. If the latter, then ground-up reconcilliation based on the Awakening is a pipe dream and the US will have armed (or paid for the arms, same thing) of multiple sides in a faction war.

I say give it a Friedman Unit - six months. After all, the pro-occupation crowd demanded and got enough of them. Let's wait and see if, in six months, Iraq and Baghdad are still seeing the same or lower levels of violence; levels roughly comparable to early 2004 at which point I still thought Iraq was salvageable even if it was the wrong war for the wrong reasons. If after a Friedman Unit things still look as relatively quiet, I'll admit that the Surge (along with the entirely independent Awakenining and Sadr's ceasefire), contributed to making Iraq potentially viable again.

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