September 4, 2007

Has The Tide Turned In Iraq?

Kimberly Kagan makes a powerful case for a substantial change in fortunes in Iraq, and not just in the west. In today's Wall Street Journal, Kagan argues that the metrics and the momentum have shifted to the American and Iraqi security forces throughout the country as commanders ended the whack-a-mole campaign for good with the surge:

The initial concept of the "surge" strategy in Iraq was to secure Baghdad and its immediate environs, which is why its proper name was the "Baghdad Security Plan." But as President Bush pointed out during his surprise trip to Iraq, operations and events on the ground are already showing successes well beyond Baghdad in Anbar, Diyala and Salahaddin provinces -- formerly al Qaeda strongholds and hotbeds of the Sunni insurgency.

Considering the speed with which these successes have developed, and the rapidly growing grass-roots movement among Iraqis to support the effort, there is every reason to be optimistic about the prospects for establishing security in Iraq, and every reason to continue supporting the current strategy.

The first major combat operation of the surge, Operation Phantom Thunder, began on June 15 and accomplished its primary objectives. American troops and Iraqi Security Forces eliminated all of al Qaeda's sanctuaries in the Baghdad belts, including its urban stronghold in Baqubah. U.S. forces cleared Dora, al Qaeda's stronghold in western Baghdad. They established an extensive net of outposts in former enemy safe havens, degraded the capabilities of Shiite militias, and dramatically reduced sectarian violence and spectacular attacks in and around the capital.

Phantom Thunder was the first coherent campaign aimed at all of the major al Qaeda strongholds at once. As a result, terrorists could not move from one safe haven to another. Iraqi and Coalition forces killed, wounded and captured thousands of them.

Kagan gives an excellent, coherent narrative to the gains made this year in Iraq. She notes the resumption of normalcy in a region that supposedly could not be rescued. Also, Kagan reports that the surge has succeeded in Baghdad and points east, news not often heard in reports on Iraq. Specifically, attention has turned to the Shi'ite groups receiving aid from Iran, and the surge allows enough manpower to put consistent and aggressive pressure on these groups.

All of this is good news, and Kagan makes an excellent presentation of it as success. As she notes, few people thought we would see this much progress at any point in the new effort, let alone just two months after fully deploying the surge troops. That, however, is the rub.

We've seen progress before in Iraq, only to see setbacks later. That's the nature of war; few conflicts have ever seen one-sided momentum from beginning to end. American experience in war shows this in almost every conflict except perhaps Grenada and Panama. People who know their history understand not to panic when things go poorly for a while. We haven't yet seen a North Africa-style reversal in this war, nor a Dieppe, Kasserine Pass, or even an Anzio.

It's also important to take care in snap analyses of success. The enemy adapts, too, and what works for a couple of months may stop working at some point. The best way to keep that from happening is to stay on the offensive, a lesson we finally seemed to have learned in Iraq, but it doesn't mean we won't face setbacks. When that happens, we will adapt and overcome.

It will take longer than ten weeks to definitively declare the tide has turned. We should take care to acknowledge this, as I'm certain General Petraeus will underscore in his report. If the enemy adapts successfully to this latest strategy, declarations like this will give defeatists even more ammunition to declare the entire effort a waste of time. We should be clear about the success, but give Petraeus time and room to make necessary adjustments and not get too ahead of ourselves in building our own narrative.


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Comments (42)

Posted by Teresa | September 4, 2007 9:05 AM

Of course the fact that Kim Kagan is the daughter of Fred Kagan -- the guy who designed the surge -- has no bearing on her analysis.

In other news, my daughter thinks I'm the most beautiful woman in the world.

Posted by RKV | September 4, 2007 9:05 AM

It should be no surprise to the rest of us that the same people who cannot understand how putting career criminals in jail (through three strikes laws and determinate sentencing)reduces crime, find themselves unable to predict that applying combat resources (the surge) in Iraq causes AQI to fail. Applying adequate resources is the key to success in business and in war - cause and effect, folks. That we have had the resources to do the surge was never in doubt. What it has taken is years of struggle to find the WILL to win.

Posted by worldpeace | September 4, 2007 9:19 AM

now that the surge has succeeded we can bring the troops home tomorrow

Posted by John Steele | September 4, 2007 9:22 AM


why is it that when people don't like something we attempt to belittle the author or the proponents. "Kim Kagan is the daughter of Fred Kagan ..." Obviously Kim's only claim to fame and knowledge is that she's just the daughter of Fred Kagan, etc., etc.

Kim is a well known military historian in her own right, not simply because she's Fred's daughter. Granted that her interest in military history undoubteldly stems from her father, but that's common throughout history --- the acorn often falls not far from the tree.

If you don't like her conclusions then offer us some valid criticism of the conclusions, not her parentage. The only person deminished by this kind of criticism is the critic.

Posted by John Steele | September 4, 2007 9:25 AM


Grow Up.

Posted by Captain Ed | September 4, 2007 9:31 AM

My granddaughter thinks I'm the most handsome grandfather around. It doesn't make her wrong, either ... ;-)

Posted by JayD | September 4, 2007 9:40 AM

Well, Brit general Sir Mike Jackson says,
"America's war on global terror makes no sense."
Please don't shoot the messenger. Page 19 of yesterday's Daily Telegraph, London.

I can't find the link but if interested you can.
What bothers me isn't his opinion which he has a right to. It's that as a Brit general he makes it so public that it can only encourage and aid our common enemy.

Not all Brits think that way and here's a letter to the editor on this subject in this mornings paper. And I think this writer has it right re. aid to the enemy.

Britain in Iraq

Sir - If General Sir Mike Jackson is right that the Americans didn't send enough troops into Iraq after the fall of Baghdad, then why is Britain contemplating withdrawing ours now, just when it appears that the surge is beginning to work around the Iraqi capital, and as a drawdown of British troops in Basra is having the opposite effect (report, September 3)?

In 2003, President Bush and his then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might have been criticised for being heavy-handed if they had flooded Iraq with coalition troops. And can they really be blamed for disbanding the Baathist Iraqi army, which, being Sunni-dominated would have undermined its effectiveness at unifying the country?

And who really benefits from Gen Jackson's very public criticisms of America? Not Britain, whose international influence will only diminish further as a result of the current transatlantic tensions, while the leaders of al-Qa'eda and Iran will probably rub their hands with glee.

Julian Scholefield, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Posted by MarkJ | September 4, 2007 10:01 AM

worldpeace (a self-aggrandizing misnomer if there ever was one),

Try these on for size:

1865: To hell with Reconstruction--let the Rebels deal with their 4 million African savages. Now that we've defeated the South we can bring back the troops tomorrow.

1919: Adolf Hitler? Neeeeeever heard of him. Now that we've defeated the Kaiser we can bring the troops back tomorrow.

1945: Who cares about Joe Stalin and the Soviets? Now that we've defeated the Nazis we can bring the troops back tomorrow.

1953: The South Koreans? Forget about them. Now that we've stopped the Chicoms at the 38th Parallel, we can bring the troops back tomorrow.

1973: Genocide in Southeast Asia? Not a chance. Now that we've signed the Paris Accords, we can count on the North Vietnamese to keep their word, so we can bring back the troops tomorrow.

1995: Milosevic? Who gives two sh**s about what that dude does in his own backyard? And where in the hell is Bosnia anyway? Now that we've kicked the Serbs' collective asses we can bring the troops back tomorrow.

No further comment necessary.

Posted by lexhamfox | September 4, 2007 10:22 AM

As Ed suggests, tactics will need to be adjusted to maintain the initiative and it is good that there is some modest success for the military in Iraq. I still feel, however, that conditions for the average Iraqi continue to deteriorate as insurgents and incompetent government interrupt or fail to deliver basic needs (electricity & water) to the general public. The tide of internally displaced and international refugees continues and there is still little confdence in the ability of the Iraqi government to fend for itself. I'm not advocating full scale withdrawl. The surge can only be maintained for another few months and then there will have to be some kind of realignment because of the resources involved. The war was a mistake that we will have to live with now but I think our expectations need to be realistic. Think a trillion dollars and perhaps another 1 or 2k soldiers over the next three to four years before we get even close to anything approaching a victory.

Posted by unclesmrgol | September 4, 2007 10:30 AM

Let's hope we don't see a Kassarine Pass. Or, if we do, let's hope that the insurgents play the role of the Americans this time.

Posted by RBMN | September 4, 2007 10:34 AM

The three years before were not completely wasted either. It took a long time to do proper military and leadership training of the Iraqi defense forces, to get rid of the bad apples, and to build the trust necessary to work as closely with them as we do now. If their military works in the future, and keeps the jihadists out, that's our legacy. It’s a military trained to defend the whole population--not just one dictator, his friends, and his family. Something very new in Iraq.

Posted by mrlynn | September 4, 2007 10:43 AM

You'll be happy to know that the Boston Globe has declared the war a failure and unwinnable. Writing about al Sadr's latest 'pause', the editors say,

Sadr's freeze on military operations is more a public-relations ploy than a sign that reconciliation is imminent among key Iraqi warlords or between his anti-American Mahdi Army and what he calls the foreign occupation forces. There may be temporary lulls and truces, but no end can be expected any time soon to the many-sided fight for power - a fight not only between Sunni Arabs and Shi'ites but among the disparate factions, tribes, and gangs in each sectarian camp.

Because Iraq has been sundered into separate fiefdoms and has descended into Somalia-style warlordism, there is no identifiable enemy over whom President Bush may claim victory. There are now many different wars in Iraq, but none that America can win.

That there is something to this viewpoint is undeniable, but it flies in the face of recent progress. There may be "many different wars," but that is really not a surprise. In Iraq we are not engaged in a traditional war, but in a pacification action, which above all takes patience, perseverence, and dominating force—and a lot of time.

/Mr Lynn

Posted by Amendment X | September 4, 2007 10:53 AM

I take Kagan's comments not as the final word but as another piece of evidence.
The most telling comments came from Michael Yon, not as comment and not as opinion but as real reporting that's not filtered by upline editors.
In a dispatch from Yon about getting food to Baqubah, he quotes a bureaucrat upon hearing that al Qaeda was finished: "I recalled one of the bureaucrat’s comments, upon hearing that al Qaeda had scattered like rabbits out of Baqubah. He seemed at first not to believe that news, but once he got confirmation, he made a point to tell us what that news actually meant: if al Qaeda was done in Baqubah, al Qaeda was done in Iraq." ( Note that the bureaucrat got confirmation.
And the fact that Marines are now going out on patrol with and outnumbered by Iraqi police that are former insurgents, and the Marines, exposed, don't fear the former insurgents (The Ghosts of Anbar parts i-iiiat Yon's website-dispatches).
Anecdotal evidence becomes overwhelming evidence in time.
Worldpeace, Teresa:Stop drinking your water out lead pipes. Expand your information sources from something other than Daily Kos or the NYT. Read Yon and report back to this site.

Posted by filistro | September 4, 2007 10:58 AM

When your project is failing badly, a good PR strategy is to concentrate on the micro rather than the macro. (Class, can we all say "mini-benchmarks?")

So let's look at the macro picture, which is really quite simple.

The surge can't continue afer April due to troop numbers and logistics. The surge will only have been a success if, after American troops begin to draw down, Iraqi police and military can hold the line on their own. There is no reason, based on past and current performance, to assume this will happen. In fact there is no reason to believe there will even be a functioning Iraqi government in six months to run the police and military.

In the almost certain event of chaos in Iraq this coming winter and spring, Republicans cannot succeed in the '08 elections unless they have proactively begun to embrace some kind of troop drawdown in advance. Otherwise they will face a catastrophic defeat of historic proportions.

Even the famously "stubborn" George W. Bush seems to recognize this, and has begun to hint at the possibility of drawdowns "if this success continues." His hint has everything to do with the situation on the ground in the US, not Iraq.

Note how quickly Mitt Romney has already grabbed that bit of breathing room. Mitt's a smart guy who knows all about managing a failed enterprise. He knows that maintaining the status quo in Iraq will be pure poison for Republicans next year. Absolutely lethal.

Posted by filistro | September 4, 2007 11:01 AM

Regarding Kim Kagan's objectivity in this area... would everybody be equally generous and fair-minded if Karenna Gore penned an article on the hazards of global warming?

Posted by MarkT | September 4, 2007 11:28 AM

> Regarding Kim Kagan's objectivity in this area

I can assure you that nobody here would attack Al Gore because he has a big house. Nor would they question John Edwards because he is rich.


Posted by Cycloptichorn | September 4, 2007 11:30 AM

I've still never received a good answer, as to why people believe a successful counter-insurgency can be ran using such a small number of troops! It completely flies in the face of pretty much everything I've read (including by Petraeus) on the subject. So where does the confidence come from?

We can't win on will alone. But some seem to believe that is all which is necessary.

Posted by Del Dolemonte | September 4, 2007 12:02 PM

filistro said:

" would everybody be equally generous and fair-minded if Karenna Gore penned an article on the hazards of global warming?"

It doesn't really matter what we would think about an article by one of Gore's spawn, but how she would be treated by the "objective" media. Of course, they would fawn over her almost as much as they do over her Dad:

Posted by Teresa | September 4, 2007 12:08 PM

Well, Del, I'm not sure how much more fair the treatment of Kim Kagan can get with all the opportunities she has to be published in the Wall Street Journal -- not exactly small potatoes.

Of course, both filistro and I manage not to refer to her as "spawn".

You are pretty cute Captain! Got to agree with your granddaughter on that one!

Posted by Terry Gain | September 4, 2007 12:14 PM


We can't win on will alone.

Please address the following questions.

1. Does that fairly describe the current situation?

2. How many anti-insurgent forces -American, other coalition, IA, IP and armed Sunni tribesman-are operating in Iraq?

3. How many insurgents are there?

4. What is the composition of the insurgents?

5. How is it you know more than Petraeus?

Posted by Cycloptichorn | September 4, 2007 12:21 PM

Terry, the only question that needs to be answered in number 5 -

"5. How is it you know more than Petraeus?"

I don't know more then him. In fact, I defer to his knowledge on this matter. Have you taken the time to study the 'manual' on counterinsurgency, which he has the primary claim upon authoring for the US?

It calls for - and rightly so - overwhelming force on the part of the occupiers. Force which we don't have. I have no doubt that Petraeus is doing the best he can with the troops he has, but it isn't enough, not by multiples of the current forces under our control.

I think that you are making a serious mistake, if you look at the IA as anything other then an arm of the corrupt Shiite militias. The police are hardly better - a recent report recommended that the entire lot of them be scrapped due to systematic and endemic corruption.

I contend that we do not have the troops to effectively run a counter-insurgency in Iraq. The IA and Iraqi police are unreliable at best, and avenues for the training of our enemies at worst. Following Petraeus' own advice and manual, we need many, many more troops and a much large commitment to truly calm the country down; that isn't going to happen, as we both know. So, I think it's fair to say that people seem to believe that 'will alone' will win this war for us; we don't have the other tools which would help, for sure.

Posted by Hugh Beaumont | September 4, 2007 12:28 PM

I think that you are making a serious mistake, if you look at the IA as anything other then an arm of the corrupt Shiite militias.

Can you source this claim? What is the ethnic breakdown of the IA?

Posted by Carol Herman | September 4, 2007 1:57 PM

Where Bush Derangement Syndrome runs the strongest; there's no way to help these people see the mainstream.

Tide's turning? I didn't even know there was water, there.

The military has been scoring high with the public; at 70% approval. Even when Bush's popularity poll numbers were skidding downward.

Of course, in terms of popularity, the Hill is in the worst shape possible for having any affects on American morale. Or even to change minds on immigration.

Bush also just flew into Irak. Not something he'd do, if things weren't stable. And, even if this was our Labor Day Weekend, it was not a holiday in Irak. Where they get wall-to-wall coverage. And, they saw Maliki FREE to fly into Anbar; a sunni stronghold that was once strongly terrorist affiliated.

Most of the time you don't get enough news, anyway.

As a matter of fact, when the Sunni, Omar, over at Iraq the Model, had trouble getting into Amman, Jordan ... when he flew from Baghdad, to pick up his visa to America ... I had to sort out "well, why would the American embassy in Jordan get an Iraqi's visa," approved for a long stay at an American post-graduate program.

Well, said, I, to myself. Obviously, here are Sunnis who do not want to see Irak bleeding out furthur sunnis. And, one way to stop the traffic, is to take Iraqis, when they land in (Sunni controlled Jordan), herd them up from the plane, to prison, like cattle. And, then not approve their entry.

Omar spoke about that. All the time and money, down the drain.


And, somehow Jordan's part of this "game."

I guess the stakes are high, enough, now, for there to be pressures occurring on the heads of Iraqis where FLIGHT stopped being an option?

And, the press plays on.

Yesterday? Over at the Kos kids, in a "diary" that has since disappeared; there was an attempt to play our NAVY as fools. A good time was had up at Confederate Yankee. Kos pulled their story. So, you have to read how the military folks handled this one.

In my book the elite limosine liberals do not gain back their reputations. (I also don't think Hillary flies. But that's the mystery. Whose gonna be running in 2008? And, how many of us have made up our minds that in no case will we be pulling the levers for Bonkeys?

That's the end result of all the smears, and lies, that's been coming our way. You only see this stuff, though, in the gutters; looking to disappear in the sewers.

We've been doing stuff in Irak that just keeps improving. And, no. We haven't been doing it with much. But, actually with very little. You have no idea how other countries have to field armies of millions. Instead? WE TRAIN. And, our troops are better now than ever before!

STill problems in DC? Sure. Is it possible, in the future, it will erode away? Gee. I don't foretell stuff, here.

Posted by unclesmrgol | September 4, 2007 2:21 PM


Thank you for talking down to us in words we can under stand. Small words. Meaningful words. Now, I will track what you've just said and we'll see how many of your Nostradamus predictions turn out correct come April. If I get them right:

  1. Surge can't continue after April
  2. Iraqi police and military cannot hold line on their own
  3. Chaos in Iraq this coming winter and spring
  4. If no drawdown, catastrophic defeat of historic proportions to Republicans

We'll see

Posted by Carol Herman | September 4, 2007 2:29 PM

First of all, Kudo's to Frederick Kagan for producing a wonderful daughter. (We do hear of examples where famous people DON'T. In spite of their wishes.)

And, I'm cutting and pasting Fred Kagan's words, here, which are up at NRO, because they are wonderful.

Happy reading, folks.

September 03, 2007, 5:00 p.m.

The Gettysburg of This War
This Bush visit could well mark a key turning point in the war in Iraq and the war on terror.

By Frederick W. Kagan

President Bush’s Labor Day visit to Iraq should have surprised no one who was paying attention. At such a critical point in the debate over Iraq policy, it was almost inconceivable that he would fly to and from Australia without stopping in Iraq. What was surprising was the precise location and nature of the visit. Instead of flying into Baghdad and surrounding himself with his generals and the Iraqi government, Bush flew to al Asad airfield, west of Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province. He brought with him his secretaries of State and Defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the commander of U.S. Central Command. He was met at al Asad by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, as well as Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kemal al Maliki, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, and Vice Presidents Adel Abdul Mehdi and Tariq al Hashemi. In other words, Bush called together all of the leading political and military figures in his administration and the Iraqi government in the heart of Anbar Province. If ever there was a sign that we have turned a corner in the fight against both al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency, this was it.

Anbar, as everyone knows, has been one of the hotbeds and the most important base for both the Sunni rejectionist insurgency and al Qaeda in Iraq since 2003. It has been one of the most violent provinces in Iraq, and one of the most dangerous for American soldiers and Marines, until recently. Now it is one of the safest — safe enough for the war cabinet of the United States of America to meet there with the senior leadership of the government of Iraq to discuss strategy. Instead of talking about how to convince the Anbaris that the Sunni will not retake power in Iraq any time soon, Bush, Maliki, Petraeus, Talabani, and Crocker talked about how to get American and Iraqi aid and reconstruction money flowing more rapidly to the province as a reward for its dramatic and decisive turn against AQI and against the Sunni rejectionist insurgency. In any other war, with any other president, this event would be recognized for what it is: the sign of a crucial victory over two challenges that had seemed both unconquerable and fatal. It should be recognized as at least the Gettysburg of this war, to the extent that counterinsurgencies can have such turning points. Less than a year ago, it was common wisdom and the conclusion of the Marine intelligence community in Anbar that the province and its people were hopelessly lost. Now the Anbaris are looking to the Americans and the government of Iraq for legitimacy, for protection, and for inclusion in a political process they have spurned for years. What is that if not a major victory in this war?

Critics of the war have done everything in their power to denigrate the significance of Anbar’s turn against the takfiris and nationalist insurgents. Their arguments include:

Anbar’s tribal structure is unique, and therefore this “awakening” cannot be replicated elsewhere in Iraq.

The “Anbar Awakening” happened before the “surge” and independently of it, and will continue whether or not U.S. forces remain.

The movements in Anbar are local and mean nothing because they will not translate into reconciliation at the national level.

The government of Iraq distrusts these “awakening” movements and will alienate them, driving them back into the arms of the insurgents and takfiris.

The Anbaris are just operating on the principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and will turn on us and/or the Iraqi government at the drop of a hat.

We are setting the preconditions for a horrible civil war by “arming” local Sunni movements like that in Anbar.

None of these arguments holds much water, and all miss both the dynamics of the movement within the Sunni community and its significance for Iraq and the region.

Anbar’s Uniqueness
Anbar is, indeed, a unique province in Iraq. Its population is almost entirely Sunni, and tribal structures remain unusually strong in a country where they have generally been weakened by years of secular, totalitarian rule. There is little or no “sectarian” violence in Anbar, and the only real Shia threat the province faces comes from the central government in Baghdad and its security forces. These facts are now used to explain away the “Anbar Awakening” by “proving” that the movement will not gain traction outside this unusual area. One might note in passing that all of these facts have been true since 2003, yet the area was not what one might call friendly to the Coalition until recently, so whatever the uniqueness of the province, clearly something has happened worth noting.

It might be possible to demonstrate in principle that the Anbar Awakening movement could spread outside of the province, but it is not necessary, because it has already done so. Although some media outlets continue to portray this spread as speculative or potential, it is, in fact, well documented. Australian counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen recently described it in detail in a post on the Small Wars Journal website; Michael Gordon described it in even greater detail in The New York Times Magazine this weekend, and U.S. military and political officials have been briefing on it for many weeks. Local Sunni Arabs all throughout Central Iraq have come forward to volunteer for service in the Iraqi Security Forces in order to fight al Qaeda in Iraq and bring peace to their war-torn lands. This movement has gained great traction in Diyala Province — another area that was so heavily infested with AQI and Shia militias that many had given it up for lost — where it helped secure the gains of recent U.S.-ISF operations that cleared its capital, Baqubah. It is growing rapidly in the areas south of Baghdad (which Michael Gordon wrote about), including in the area formerly known as the “triangle of death” and serious al Qaeda safe havens in the Arab Jabour area. It has spread into Abu Ghraib, where more than 2,400 Sunni young men volunteered to join the ISF, and over 1,700 have been accepted by the Iraqi government. And it has even spread into Baghdad itself, where “concerned citizens groups” are helping U.S. forces track down and eliminate AQI fighters and leaders and to secure their neighborhoods. Movements are starting to grow even in Salah-ad-Din Province, site of Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit and Samarra, and also a major base for Sunni rejectionists and AQI fighters. The evidence of the spread of these movements is absolutely irrefutable. Anbar may be unique — and many of the local movements outside the province have ostentatiously refused to call themselves “awakenings” or to model themselves after the Anbar movement — but the Iraqis themselves are aggressively adopting the Anbar model to suit local circumstances in order to work with the Coalition and the Iraqi government against terrorists and militias to secure their homes.

Anbar and the Surge
The tribal leaders in Anbar began to turn against al Qaeda in Iraq last year, largely due to unspeakable atrocities committed by the terrorists against their own hosts. Many analysts and observers have seized upon this fact to argue that the movement in Anbar had nothing to do with the surge, began before the surge did, and would continue even without the surge. This argument is invalid. Anbari tribal leaders did begin to turn against AQI in their areas last year before the surge began, but not before Colonel Sean MacFarland began to apply in Ramadi the tactics and techniques that are the basis of the current strategy in Baghdad. His soldiers and Marines fought tenaciously to establish a foothold in Anbar’s capital, which was then a terrorist stronghold, and thereby demonstrated to the local leaders that they could count on American support as they began to fight their erstwhile allies. Even so, the movement proceeded slowly and fitfully for most of 2006 and, indeed, into 2007. But when Colonel John Charlton’s brigade relieved MacFarland’s in Ramadi and was joined by two additional Marine battalions (part of the surge) elsewhere in Anbar, the “awakening” began to accelerate very rapidly. At the start of 2007 there were only a handful of Anbaris in the local security forces. By the summer there were over 14,000. Before the surge, Ramadi was one of the most dangerous cities in Iraq; now it is possible for Americans to walk through its market with limited security details and without body armor. David Kilcullen describes the relationship between the surge and the movement very well in his Small Wars Journal posting, and I have also addressed the issue in detail in a recent Weekly Standard article . The fact is that neither the surge nor the turn of the tribal leaders would in itself have been enough to turn Anbar around — both were necessary, and will remain so for some time.

Anbar and National Reconciliation
One major problem with the current discussions about Iraq in Washington is that they focus so heavily on the congressionally mandated “benchmarks,” initially discussed in 2006 by the Bush Administration. Those benchmarks address the Iraqi central government, and particularly the Council of Representatives — the Iraqi parliament — almost exclusively. As a result, political developments that occur outside the CoR tend to be discounted in this debate, and so the shift in Anbar itself has been devalued inappropriately as it does not seem likely to lead rapidly to the passage of legislation in Baghdad.

But the turn of Anbar is not simply an isolated local phenomenon with no significance in the larger political struggle in Iraq. On the contrary, it is an event that may well have profound long-term consequences even more important than the passage of any given piece of legislation. The Anbari rejection of AQI deprived Anbar’s leaders of the single most effective fighting force they had in attacking the Shia-led Iraqi government and attacking or defending against its militias. If the Anbaris had thereupon asked for the creation of a local, autonomous or semi-autonomous security force that would be a de facto tribal militia, there would have been cause for concern about their intentions. But they did not. Instead, Anbar’s tribal leaders have been offering their sons by the thousands as volunteers in the Iraqi police army. An entirely new training center was built in a couple of months in Habbaniyah, near Fallujah, which has just graduated its first couple of classes of Anbari recruits to join the ISF. The Anbari police will naturally stay in their areas, but they will not have the technical or tactical ability to project force outside of Anbar — they cannot become an effective Sunni “coup force.” Anbaris joining the Iraqi army, on the other hand, are joining a heavily Shia institution that they will not readily be able to seize control of and turn against the Shia government. In other words, the turn in Anbar is dramatically reducing the ability of the Anbaris to fight the Shia, and committing them ever more completely to the success of Iraq as a whole.

This commitment will have consequences. It remains true that Anbar’s leaders are now more reasonable and probably more committed to the political success of Iraq than the Sunni parties in the Council of Representatives. Those parties were chosen at a time when most Iraqi Sunnis really did reject the notion of accepting a lesser role in Iraq, and many Sunni parliamentarians have continued to press for a maximalist version of Sunni aims. Local elections would help, although scheduling them is very complicated for a wide variety of reasons have nothing to do with any putative unwillingness of the Maliki government to “empower” Sunnis, but another event looms on the horizon of greater significance: Iraq will hold new parliamentary elections in 2009. As those elections approach, unreasonable Sunni parliamentarians will face the classic politician’s dilemma: tack more closely to their pragmatic base, or lose their seats to more pragmatic leaders. Either way, it is extraordinarily unlikely that the turn in Anbar will not have a profound effect on the political dynamics of the central government in Baghdad within a few years if not sooner.

Anbar and Shia Mistrust
The Maliki government is unquestionably twitchy about working with many of the Sunni grassroots movements, and with good reason. A lot of the new Sunni volunteers for the ISF were insurgents, and Iraq’s Shia, still traumatized by four years of Sunni attacks, are naturally nervous about taking former insurgents into their security forces. Nevertheless, they are doing so. The creation of the new training center at Habbaniyah, the acceptance of 1,700 Sunni recruits in Abu Ghraib — a very touchy issue because of the proximity of Abu Ghraib to Baghdad — efforts to repair sectarian imbalances within the two Iraqi Army divisions in Anbar itself, the Iraqi government’s acceptance of the establishment of “concerned citizens” groups all around Central Iraq, including in Baghdad, and a variety of other initiatives all indicate a surprising degree of willingness by the current Iraqi government to work and talk with former enemies.

The Sunni, of course, don’t trust the Maliki government any more than it trusts them, and herein lies a key point for American strategy. Right now, American forces are serving as the “honest broker,” the bridge between Sunni and Shia. Both sides trust us more or less, and are willing to work with us; neither trusts the other completely. If we remove this bridge now, it is unlikely that the Iraqis will be able to continue on a path to real reconciliation. But we are working hard every day to help them create their own independent reconciliation structure that will be able to stand on its own. President Bush’s visit to Anbar was a statement. Maliki, Talabani, and Adel Mehdi’s joining him there was a statement. The promise of additional U.S. aid to Anbar is a statement. So is the promise of additional Iraqi aid. This is a process that is ongoing and will take time to work, but it depends unequivocally on the continued presence of American forces and a continued American commitment to Iraq.

Anbar and “My Enemy’s Enemy…”
The Anbaris have certainly not reached out to American forces or the Maliki government because they have suddenly decided that they like us or them. Their turn has been based entirely on self-interest — which is why it is likely to be durable and meaningful. If Anbari leaders were now espousing their longing for Jeffersonian democracy or their enthusiasm for Shia rule, one would have to be highly suspicious of their motives. They are not. They turned toward us initially because they needed allies against AQI. They are joining the ISF rather than working to establish their own militias for similarly self-interested reasons. For instance, the Iraqi Army has always been held in high regard in Iraq and still is, for all its problems. Young Anbaris, who feel defeated by the Americans and the Shia in their quest to regain control of Iraq, need a way to regain honor in Iraqi society. Joining a militia won’t accomplish that goal — we’ve all spent four years telling them that militias are bad. Joining the Iraqi army does accomplish that goal — it gives them an honored place not just in Anbari, but in Iraqi society. It also gives them a reliable paycheck, which offers them the hope of being able to afford to get married, raise children, and so on — armies tend to be much more reliable than militias in this regard. The Anbari leaders are happy for their sons to make these decisions — indeed, are pressing them to do so — because it suits their own self-interest. We support their enlistment, but would oppose the establishment of militias. We promise to reward them with aid and prestige for taking this step, but would censure and dishonor them if they chose the militia path. Reluctant as it might be, the Iraqi government has made clear that it will accept Sunnis in the ISF, but that it will not accept Sunni militias. The wonderful thing about this movement, and the thing that makes it potentially so stable, is that it follows the line of everyone’s self-interest rather than relying upon commitment to ideologies or abstract principles.

Could the Anbaris turn against the U.S.? They might, but they would face a number of problems in doing so. All recruits into the ISF and even into “concerned citizens groups” have to provide U.S. forces with biometric data, including fingerprints and retina scans, and with the serial numbers of their weapons. All of this information strips them of their anonymity — a key asset for insurgents and terrorists. It would make it much easier for U.S. forces to locate turncoats and demonstrate their crimes. And even if they did turn, we would hardly be worse off than before — most of these guys were insurgents, remember. They had been fighting against us; now they’re fighting for us. Even if they turn back, we’re in no worse position than we had been before.

Anbar and the Danger of Civil War
Last is the argument that by “arming” former insurgents U.S. forces are setting the conditions for a terrible civil war if they turn against the Iraqi government at a future date. To begin with, despite a variety of media reports to the contrary, U.S. forces are not arming former insurgents in Iraq. The American command has been explicit and consistent on this point many times, I observed it for myself on a trip at the end of July, and Michael Gordon also addressed it after a longer and more extensive trip from which he recently returned. One of the characteristics of an insurgent is to be armed. By Iraqi law, every household is entitled to possess one AK-47. Almost everyone in Iraq is armed. The last thing former insurgents need is weapons. And, as noted above, not only do we not give them weapons, but we take the serial numbers of the weapons they do have. Whatever else is going on, the U.S. forces are not arming the Sunni in preparation for a civil war.

Nor are we helping them to organize in preparation for fighting such a civil war. Another characteristic of insurgents is that they were already organized to fight. The new organization is based heavily on Iraqi Security Forces and groups partnered with American troops — hardly a solid basis for fighting a sectarian civil war. Finally, if a civil war developed in Iraq — most likely as the result of a premature American withdrawal — does anyone imagine that the Sunni would fail to organize and arm themselves to fight it? On the contrary, by helping the Sunni community establish a legitimate local security force tied into the central government and both supported and advised by American troops, we are helping to establish the basis of long-term stability at the local level. Fear of Shia genocide has been a powerful force behind Sunni rejectionism. Local Sunni security forces help alleviate that fear. Fear of Sunni revanchism has been a strong motivation for Shia intransigence. Incorporating Sunni into the ISF mitigates that fear. Local developments in Anbar and beyond are far more likely to be elements of long-term stability and political progress than to be dangers — as long as the U.S. continues the right strategy.

Much depends on what America does. Progress in Anbar and throughout the Sunni community has depended heavily on a skillful balance between military force and political efforts at the local level. Neither alone would have been successful, as commanders on the ground readily attest. Stripping the U.S. effort of the forces needed to continue this strategy, as some in Washington and elsewhere are demanding, will most likely destroy the progress already made and lay the groundwork for collapse in Iraq and the destabilization of the region. President Bush clearly understands this fact, as his choice of venue in Iraq demonstrates. We should all understand the significance of the president’s presence in Anbar. With a little good fortune and the continued pursuit of a successful strategy, this visit could well mark a key turning point in the war in Iraq and the war on terror.

Posted by filistro | September 4, 2007 2:55 PM

uncle, thank you for paying attention. That you are willing to do so gives me some hope.

I don't know if you're a betting man. If you were, how many (and which) of my predictions would you be willing to bet against?

1.)Surge can't continue after April

2.)Iraqi police and military cannot hold line on their own

3.) Chaos in Iraq this coming winter and spring

4.) If no drawdown, catastrophic defeat of historic proportions to Republicans

Posted by Tom W. | September 4, 2007 3:09 PM

First we heard that the troop surge wouldn't work at all.

When it became clear that the surge was working, we heard that Iraq was still a failure because there was no political progress.

When the Iraqi government began its own political surge, the argument is now that the surge can't be maintained, so all its successes are irrelevant, and the government won't even exist in six months.

This is why "progressives" can't be trusted with national security. Their religion is defeat. When given a choice, they will always surrender, regardless of the circumstances or the consequences.

Look at the incredible mental gymnastics they're going through to rationalize our defeat. Look at the absolute refusal to even consider that they may have been wrong.

Scary, dangerous, self-destructive people who will ruin this country if they're put in power.

Posted by Carol Herman | September 4, 2007 3:25 PM

Why is it that some people think they're foretelling the future; when the spout "possibilities." The one thing for sure. It they had real skills of calling the numbers on the dice that are gonna show up; they'd have gone to Vegas. And, won the town.

Meanwhile, gamblers tend to lose their shirts.

And, idiots who believe they're foretelling the future should stick "the sun rises, tomorrow morning, in the East.

And, I happened to have enjoyed Frederick Kagan's piece. I took note of his comparing our "war moment now" to Gettesberg. Which wasn't the last Civil War battle. It was its turning point. After a hard fought civil war, against true believers, then, who believed slavery should stay in the Constituiton. They lost.

Losses, however, never appear on the cheat cheats of the gypsies selling you fortune cookies.

Of course. It's a free country. Go ahead. Believe in whatever horse crap attracts your fancy.

Meanwhile, we're not in Vietnam. And, the lock the old media once had; to provoke defeat; and move Americans to surrender instead of staying long enough to be victorious; flew out the window.

When could you be sure of this? When John Kerry's scripted convention didn't even have enough balloons.

Posted by Buddy | September 4, 2007 3:31 PM

Another one in the line of many pr pieces from the Kagan family. It appears war is good family business! Now the "surge" is working and Iraq is finally liberated, can we bring the troops home and spend some of that money on our needs here?

Posted by Del Dolemonte | September 4, 2007 4:20 PM

Teresa said:

"Well, Del, I'm not sure how much more fair the treatment of Kim Kagan can get with all the opportunities she has to be published in the Wall Street Journal -- not exactly small potatoes.

Of course, both filistro and I manage not to refer to her as "spawn".

I just find it hilarious that the first thing you leftists attack about Dr. Kagan's article is her family pedigree. Since you can't refute the points she made based on her recent trip to Iraq, you instead use the standard leftist ploy of personal attacks. Weak.

Speaking of "weak", here's one of the definitions of "spawn":

3. A person who is the issue of a parent or family

You people really need to lighten up a little!

Posted by Carol Herman | September 4, 2007 4:50 PM

Wedd, Del Monte, Bill Clinton shoots blanks.

How'd he get spawn?

Was a turkey baster involved?

As to genetics, a parent is lucky, indeed, when they're both bright, and produce bright children.

A recent article on the dead playwrite, Arthur Miller, finally spills the beans, that he had a Mongoloid child. And, he forced his wife to put this boy in an institution when he was one week old.

Some great moralist, Miller was, huh? Never provided a nickel for the kid's care. Daniel is still alive, by the way.

But the left really never does look at all the issues involved in "spawning."

Today, the "legacy media" has a legacy of losing business. Carrying a sick agenda. And, of failing to satisfy customers. Let them order up "more chrome." See if I care?

When the times change? Some brand names flush down your toilet. Cars once bought on the authority of brand recognition alone, faded away to the models people prefer driving, now.

Wanna see a dead city? Go look at Detroit.

Want to see cities that have positive change? See what our military can do when it doesn't go for the "quick kill." When it understands you can't build coalitions without the support of civilians. Who, if you're strong enough, will support ya.

And, George W. Bush has been misunderestimated, before.

While the congress critters sink to new lows. Why? So they can keep their friends in the media company. In the gutter.

Posted by Carol Herman | September 4, 2007 4:52 PM

Wedd, when I meant to type "Well."

Posted by Fight4TheRight | September 4, 2007 5:22 PM

Well Teresa, at least your daughter doesn't refer to you as the most "cynical" Mom in the World! : )

And filistro...I really don't know much about Karenna Gore, but hopefully she takes after her Father and not her Mother. My guess would be if she inherited Tipper's intellect her "penned" piece would consist of an " X ".

Posted by ck | September 4, 2007 5:44 PM

I wonder how many times this blog has thought "the tide was turning" since the war began?

Posted by Eric | September 4, 2007 8:38 PM

Lexhamfox says: Posted by lexhamfox | September 4, 2007 10:22 AM

…..The war was a mistake that we will have to live with now but I think our expectations need to be realistic. Think a trillion dollars and perhaps another 1 or 2k soldiers over the next three to four years before we get even close to anything approaching a victory.

Eric says:

That’s fine. It’s called doubling down and it’s a smart way to handle losses and turn them into winnings. It can work on the roulette table, and in my experience, the stock market. No reason to believe it would not work in Iraq as well. I would rather make the investment that you suggest than to sell at a loss. Only a looser sells at a loss. Nice thing about it is that we can afford what you’re suggesting (sarcastically.) It’s great to be America!

Posted by Del Dolemonte | September 4, 2007 8:53 PM

ck asks:

"I wonder how many times this blog has thought "the tide was turning" since the war began?"

Gee, as opposed to your Leftist blogs claiming "this war is lost" since the war began?

Having national leaders of a political party (Reid and Pelosi) calling a war lost is slightly more relevant than a bunch of blog heads doing it.

But since you seem to be a true leftist who wants everyone else to do their work for them, I can tell you some "super-ultra-secret information"

Captain Ed has some buttons you can click, one of which is "archives". He also has a "seach" function.

Don't hurt yourself, and let us know what you find.

Posted by Del Dolemonte | September 4, 2007 8:55 PM

Sorry, "search function"

Posted by Eric | September 4, 2007 9:19 PM

Filistro says: Posted by filistro | September 4, 2007 2:55 PM

uncle, thank you for paying attention. That you are willing to do so gives me some hope.

I don't know if you're a betting man. If you were, how many (and which) of my predictions would you be willing to bet against?

1.)Surge can't continue after April

2.)Iraqi police and military cannot hold line on their own

3.) Chaos in Iraq this coming winter and spring

4.) If no drawdown, catastrophic defeat of historic proportions to Republicans

Eric says: I'll bet against everything that you've said, and I'll give you 2:1 odds if you can figure out how to do so.

Posted by Eric | September 4, 2007 9:25 PM

Tom W says:
...This is why "progressives" can't be trusted with national security. Their religion is defeat. When given a choice, they will always surrender, regardless of the circumstances or the consequences.

Look at the incredible mental gymnastics they're going through to rationalize our defeat. Look at the absolute refusal to even consider that they may have been wrong.

Scary, dangerous, self-destructive people who will ruin this country if they're put in power.

Eric says:
You're most likely right. I've been saying all along, reach out to the blue dogs and allow them to come to the right side of the argument. They are the solid middle of America and the reason that I'm a Democrat. If they don't get their way soon, they will jump ship and become Republican...and so will I.

Posted by Eric | September 4, 2007 9:32 PM

Ck says:

I wonder how many times this blog has thought "the tide was turning" since the war began?

Eric says:

Answere is zero. I think this BLOG has rightfully believed that the war has always been won. That's why I'm here.

Posted by John Sabbah | September 17, 2007 6:41 AM

I watched this Kimberly Kagan talk at a pro-war rally on CSPAN last night. Actually...I'm in the process of sending her an e-mail.

Let me start by saying my name is John Sabbah. Notice the last name.'s Arabic. I have been to Iraq and have family there. Along with other family, I have a cousin there now that is setting up printing presses for a living. Let me tell you this....

Things are not getting any better in Iraq. And if you continue to listen to people like Kimberly or President Bush, then you can completely forget about a Republican making it into office this next election and can rest assured the congress AND the senate will be lost by the Republicans as well.

General Petraeus is a military man constantly at war with the facts. In 2004, just before the election, he said there was “tangible progress“ in Iraq and that “Iraqi leaders are stepping forward.” And last week Petraeus, the architect of the escalation of troops in Iraq , said ”We say we have achieved progress, and we are obviously going to do everything we can to build on that progress.” Every independent report on the ground situation in Iraq shows that the surge strategy has failed. EVERY SINGLE ONE FROM THE GAO REPORT TO THE NIE REPORT TO THE CSIS JONES REPORT.

Yet the General claims a reduction in violence. That’s because, according to the New York Times, the Pentagon has adopted a bizarre formula for keeping tabs on violence. For example, deaths by car bombs don’t count. The Washington Post reported that assassinations only count if you're shot in the back of the head -- not the front. According to news reports, there have been more civilian deaths and more American soldier deaths in the past three months than in any other summer we’ve been there. We'll hear of neighborhoods where violence has decreased. But we won't hear that those neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed. Most importantly, General Petraeus will not admit what everyone knows; Iraq is mired in an unwinnable religious civil war. We may hear of a plan to withdraw a few thousand American troops. But we won’t hear what Americans are desperate to hear: a timetable for withdrawing all our troops. General Petraeus has actually said American troops will need to stay in Iraq for as long as ten years.

This is rediculous. Alan Greespan just delivered the heaviest blow Bush could have received in months regarding our economy. You call Democrats tax and spend!!?? Haha!! Thats a good one. How about the Republcans and their spend and borrow policies of the past 6 years? Where do you think we're going to get the 1 trillion $$ to pay back the deficit this idiots have created. You guessed it....higher taxes. And we can all thank the conservatives that have been running the show for the past 6 years for that one.

The plan for Iraq should be retreat from Iraq all together. Follow a game plan like the great Gen.Schwarzkoff would have recommended in a theater like this. Stay at the borders. Enforce the borders to keep Iraqis in and everyone else out. And then concentrate on Afganistan/Pakistan (the real Al-Queda threat) and hunt down Bin Laden once an for all. If we need peace keeping forces in Iraq, we call in the U.N.

Oh...but wait!!?? They won't listen to us because Bush moved forward without U.N. approval in launching a war against a country that didn't attack us.

Goddammed Republicans. You've got this country into a fine mess. Thanks for voting this retard in not only once, but twice. That's REAL stupidity.

Posted by John Sabbah | September 17, 2007 7:13 AM

Here are the official reports. You can read them yourself.

Govt Accountability report, 9/4/07

National Intelligence Report, 8/23/07's_-_08-23-07.pdf

The report of the independant commission of the security forces of Iraq. 9/6/07

What Crocker and Patraeus didn't say.

The Patraeus report. CLAIM vs. THE FACTS.

Comprehensive fact check from Speaker Pelosi

But the truth is, the General does have a history of overstating the case for progress for political reasons. For example, just before the 2004 election he wrote a Washington Post op-ed claiming widespread gains in Iraq, which was widely viewed as a tacit endorsement of Bush.

And though he said this week’s report was his and his alone, the Washington Post has documented that he been coordinating extensively with top White House political operatives. His outfit joined daily conference calls with the White House and former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie this summer to "map out ways of selling the surge." The Post reported that Gillespie's White House political unit was "hard-wired" to Petraeus' military unit.

Patraeus was and is bought and sold to the American people by George Boosh and company. No wonder!! Any of the decent military men have jumped ship already (i.e. Colin Powell, Abazaid, etc.)

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