On March 7, the Department of Defense (DOD) released its latest quarterly report to Congress, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq. While highlighting a substantial decline in violence in recent months, the report cautioned that security gains remain “fragile” and are fundamentally linked to improvements in critical political and economic areas. It outlined a number of formidable obstacles to building a national unity government and advancing long-term stability in Iraq, including the challenge of sectarianism and systemic corruption, the persistent threat of al Qaeda and other criminal and extremist groups, as well as shortfalls in economic reconstruction and the capacity of Iraq’s security forces.
In contrast to one-dimensional White House accounts that focus on short-term security gains, the Pentagon report provides a sober analysis of the larger political, economic, and security situation in Iraq. The report suggests that security will not continue to improve under the Bush Administration’s current strategy; that sustainable development and lasting political reconciliation depend on a change in course that more effectively advances political accommodation among Iraq’s leaders, emphasizes diplomatic initiatives, and ensures viable economic growth.
Security Gains Made In Recent Months Remain Tenuous And Reversible – And Dependent On Political And Economic Progress
The report repeatedly underscored the complexity and uncertainty of Iraq’s current security environment, despite the downturn in levels of violence over the past several months. It cautioned that, “Recent security gains remain fragile, and sustained progress over the long term will depend on Iraq’s ability to address a complex set of issues associated with key political and economic objectives.”
Progress Toward Political Reconciliation And Economic Development – The Key To Iraq’s Long-Term Stability – Remains Inadequate
Power struggles and the threat of al Qaeda and other criminal and militant elements persist. According to the report, “AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq] remains a serious threat in parts of the country, particularly in the North, and violent conflicts among communal groups for political power and resources persist. AQI continues its efforts to exacerbate these communal tensions with high-profile attacks and a campaign of murder and intimidation against tribal, political and security force leaders. In addition, broader networked security threats in the form of criminal elements and corruption continue to limit political and economic progress.”
“Bottom-up” reconciliation initiatives are seen as a potential threat to the Iraqi government and prospects for national reconciliation. According to the report, the Sons of Iraq [formerly known as Concerned Local Citizens (CLCs)], which include an estimated 91,000 members, “pose some prospective challenges, including the potential for infiltration by insurgents and lack a cohesive plan to transition Sons of Iraq to the Iraqi forces and civilian employment.” Further, it reports that “the GoI [Government of Iraq] is understandably concerned about the employment of a large number of former insurgents.”
Corruption and sectarian politics remain major obstacles to political progress. “Corruption in the form of extortion, theft and bribery, is rampant in parts of the GoI and business sector. Corruption in the oil and transport industries is also linked to the financing of extremists.” Further, the report states that “competing political and ethno-sectarian interests still constrain progress.”
Regional power struggles pose a threat to Iraq’s security and exacerbate communal divisions inside the country.
· Iran continues to play a destabilizing role in Iraq. “[T]here is no clear evidence that Iran has made a strategic decision to cease providing training and advanced munitions to extremist militias. Tehran’s support for Shi’a militant groups that attack Coalition and Iraqi forces remains a significant impediment to stabilization.”
· Foreign terrorists and insurgents continue to flow into Iraq from Syria. “Terrorists and foreign fighters continue to find safe haven, border transit opportunities and logistical support in Syria, despite increasing counterterrorism efforts. Estimates suggest that Syria is the entry point for 90% of all known foreign terrorists in Iraq.”
The Iraqi government has failed to adequately improve basic services or provide economic security and hope. “Despite many projects to improve the delivery of essential services and increased emphasis by government leaders, Iraqis have seen uneven progress in the delivery of essential services such as electricity, water, sanitation and healthcare. Since the U.S. has transitioned out of large-scale infrastructure reconstruction, and Iraq must now fill the bulk of future reconstruction projects, further improvements are at risk.”
· Unemployment and underemployment continue to present “major challenges” to economic growth and efforts to undermine support for insurgent and militia groups. “The GoI’s Central Statistical Organization has not updated its official estimates of unemployment and underemployment of 17.6% and 38.1% respectively. Attempts to measure unemployment by other means at the provincial levels suggest that the rate could be as high as 50% in some areas.”
· Electricity production has declined and lags significantly behind demand. “…the gap between [electricity] supply and demand [grew] by 18% from October 2007 to January 2008 and decreased the hours of power available throughout Iraq.” According to the report, Baghdad had an average of just 9 hours of electricity per day in January, and only seven of Iraq’S.18 provinces averaged more than 12 hours of power per day during that time.
· Oil production remains stagnant. During the period covered by the report, from December 2007 to February 2008, oil production averaged 2.3 million barrels per day (mbbl/d), which falls significantly short of the U.S. goal of 3 mbbl/d and far below the pre-war level of 4.5 mbbl/d.
· Iraq’s health care system remains in shambles. “Healthcare capability and capacity enhancements suffer from corruption and inefficiencies in the Iraqi medical supply distribution system. Furthermore, the lack of healthcare providers – as nearly half of the 34,000 registered physicians left the country in the wake of sectarian threats and violence – impedes healthcare delivery.”
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. According to the report, “support and sustainment capabilities [of Iraq's security forces] still lag…transition remains constrained…by [Ministry of Defense] and [Ministry of Interior] leadership shortages at all operational and tactical levels, as well as deficiencies in logistics, combat support functions and combat enablers.” Further, the report states that “Sectarianism and corruption remain significant problems that both ministries continue to address.”