On December 14, the Department of Defense (DoD) released its latest quarterly report to Congress, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq. While noting a substantial decline in levels of violence in recent months, the report found that there had been no notable progress on critical national reconciliation initiatives. The Pentagon warned that the Iraqi government’s failure to capitalize on the improved security environment poses a real threat to prospects for long-term stability in Iraq. The DoD report also found that efforts to transfer security responsibility to Iraqi forces continue to lag; Iraq’s leaders remain divided by narrow political and sectarian interests; and basic services fall significantly short of the needs of the Iraqi people.
In contrast to rosy assessments from the White House, the report shows that the current strategy in Iraq is flawed. Without an effective diplomatic and economic development strategy to take advantage of improved security on the ground, the Bush Administration’s plan has been unable to advance political reconciliation in Iraq – the fundamental objective of the President’s surge strategy. And in the absence of political progress, experts and military officials warn that the security improvements achieved in recent months cannot be sustained and, in fact, may be reversible.
A recent string of suicide attacks and bombings in Iraq has underscored just how tenuous the security situation remains in the absence of political progress. Early last week, at least 56 Iraqis were killed and another 42 wounded in two bombing attacks, including the deadliest attack in Baghdad since August. Yesterday, in what appears to be a growing trend, a double suicide bombing targeted and killed a key Sunni leader allied with the U.S.-supported movement against al Qaeda and other extremist elements in Iraq, and also took the lives of another 14 Iraqis. Experts and military leaders are increasingly voicing concern that the recent security gains are fragile and could be reversed. In a recent press interview, a top U.S. military official in Iraq, Major General Rick Lynch stated that the security situation “is tenuous at best. On any given day the security situation could go backward by some catastrophic attack, or by the local population not seeing continued forward progress.” (Associated Press, 1/3/08; New York Times, 1/7/08)
It is critical to the success of the U.S. mission and prospects for long-term stability in Iraq that the Bush Administration recognize the realities on the ground in Iraq and rethink its flawed strategy. Democrats will continue to push to change the mission in Iraq to make America more secure.
The Iraqi Government Has Failed to Advance Political Reconciliation, The Key To Long-Term Stability
The Pentagon warns that security progress is unsustainable in the absence of political progress. According to the report, “sustained and durable progress depends on further progress in attaining political and economic objectives.”
The Iraqi government has failed to capitalize on security gains; there has been no notable progress on nation reconciliation. The report states that,”National reconciliation is required for long-term stability but continues to be hindered by slow progress and competing interests.”
· No action has been taken to advance the oil law. “The framework law is with the [Iraqi Council of Representatives] although no action has been taken on it. The other three supporting implementing laws have yet to be submitted for parliamentary approval.”
· Iraq’s constitutional review faces serious challenges. According to the report, Iraq’s Constitutional Review Committee has failed to resolve disagreements about regional power-sharing, and there has been “no progress on the constitutionally required census and referendum.”
The Iraqi government has failed to incorporate Sunni volunteers into the Army and national police force. The American military has helped recruit an estimated 69,000 Iraqi volunteers (80 percent Sunni and 20 percent Shi’a) through the Concerned Local Citizen (CLC) program to help secure Iraq. These volunteers, many of whom are former insurgents, have agreed to fight against extremists in Iraq under the supervision of the Coalition force. According to the Pentagon report, however, the Iraqi government has failed to institutionalize the arrangement by hiring the volunteers as policemen or soldiers: “The CLC program is proving crucial to the counterinsurgency effort but the slow pace of integrating the CLC members into GoI [Iraqi government institutions], lack of alternative employment and fears by the Maliki government that these forces may return to violence or form new militias are of concern.”
Iraqi Security Forces Are Not Capable Of Assuming Security Responsibility
Efforts to shift security responsibility to the Iraqi Security Forces continue to be undermined by internal sectarian influences, corruption, and weak administrative capacity. The report states that “internal sectarian biases, commissioned and non-commissioned officer shortfalls, logistics deficiencies and a dependence on the Coalition for many combat support functions continue to hinder the Iraqi forces’ ability to operate without Coalition assistance.” According to the report, the Iraqi Army is losing upwards of 17 percent of its force due to high casualty and desertion rates. As of November, an estimated 21,000 Iraqi soldiers had deserted the force this year.
· Forces are dependent on the United States for training and logistics support. “Many elements of the Iraqi Army are now capable of conducting counterinsurgency operations, but most also remain dependent on Coalition enablers.”
· Iraq’s police force lacks the training and capacity to operate effectively. According to the report, inadequate training capacity, corruption, and sectarianism within the Ministry of Interior continue to undermine police force development. The Pentagon reports that nearly 200 police were fired for “militia activity and involvement in corruption” in the last quarter, while the force’s ready for-duty strength is at just 60 percent of its authorized levels.”
Regional Power Struggles Continue to Undermine Stability in Iraq
Iran continues to play a destabilizing role in Iraq. Although Iranian President Ahmadinejad pledged to Prime Minister Maliki earlier this year that his government would halt support for militia and insurgent groups that cross the Iranian border, the Pentagon reported that “There has been no identified decrease in Iranian training and funding of illegal Shi’a militias in Iraq. Tehran’s support for Shi’a militant groups who attack Coalition and Iraq forces remains a significant impediment towards stabilization.”
Foreign terrorists and insurgents continue to flow into Iraq from neighboring Syria. “Terrorists, foreign fighters, and former regime elements continue to find sanctuary, border transit opportunities and logistical support in Syria. Syria is estimated to be the entry point for 90% of all foreign terrorists known in Iraq.”
The Iraqi government has failed to adequately improve the delivery of basic services to its citizens
Sectarian politics is undermining progress. According to the report, there have been only “minimal advances in the delivery of essential services to the people of Iraq, mainly due to sectarian bias in targeting and execution of remedial programs.”
Unemployment and underemployment continue to stymie economic growth and efforts to undermine support for insurgent and militia groups. The report warned that unemployment and underemployment “remain major challenges.” According to official estimates from the Iraqi government, unemployment remains at 17.6 percent and 38.1 percent.
Oil production remains stagnant. During the period covered by the report, from September to November 2007, oil production averaged 2.28 million barrels per day (mbbl/d), compared to 2.24 mbbl/d during the same period last year. Production continues to fall short of the U.S. goal of 3 mbbl/d and far below the pre-war level of 4.5 mbbl/d. And while higher world oil prices have helped to compensate for stagnant production levels, the report cites several challenges to progress on oil production: “Corruption at all levels in the oil industry remains a significant problem.” Iraq continues to suffer shortages of refined product because of scarce refining capacity, inadequate security for distribution pipelines and trucks, and under-funding of imports.”
Electricity production continues to lag significantly behind demand. According to Pentagon data, production in November fell 42 percent behind national demand. During the latest quarter, Baghdad received an average of just 11.5 hours of electricity per day, while the national average still lagged below demand at 15.1 hours per day.