Senate Democrats

Iraq Since the Surge: No Progress

When President Bush unveiled his troop escalation plan for Iraq on January 10, he claimed that increased U.S. troop levels would enable American and Iraqi forces to quell Iraq’s spiraling sectarian violence and bring security to the country.  He stated that “[o]ur troops will have a well-defined mission: to help Iraqis clear and secure neighborhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs.”  The President claimed that the surge plan would provide a window of stability and security in which Iraqi leaders would be able to make the political compromises necessary to move forward with national reconciliation.  In his speech, he highlighted the importance of security, economic and political benchmarks and pledged to “hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.” (President Bush, Address to the Nation, 1/10/07)

More than six months after the President’s announcement of his surge strategy, however, there is little evidence that progress is being made on any of these fronts.  The security situation in Iraq remains dire; Iraq’s forces have not been able to assume greater security responsibility; and there has been almost no notable progress toward achieving critical benchmarks for national reconciliation.  At the same time, there appears to be no indication that the Bush Administration is following through on its pledge to hold Iraqi leaders accountable.  In what has become a very familiar pattern, the White House continues to push back the goal posts in Iraq, shifting deadlines and diluting requirements for progress. 

While a growing number of military officials, regional and counterterrorism experts, and political leaders from both sides of the aisle have judged the surge to be failing and are calling for a new direction in Iraq, the Bush Administration has remained steadfast in its commitment to stay the course.  After months of claiming that September would be the first opportunity to provide a full assessment of the military escalation, the White House is now backpedaling from this assertion, seeking to manage expectations and buy more time.  General Odierno recently told reporters that it would be “at least November” before the military could provide a real assessment of the surge, while other officials have suggested that troop levels could be maintained through the spring of 2008. 

While the Bush Administration continues to stubbornly cling to a failing policy in Iraq, U.S. troops are suffering record casualties, our military is being stretched to a breaking point, and we are less safe from the threat of terrorism.  The Bush Administration has lost credibility on Iraq; Democrats, a rising number of Republicans, and the vast majority of the American people believe that the time to change course is now.

None of the Eighteen Benchmarks For Promoting Security, Advancing National Reconciliation, or Improving the Lives of the Iraqi People Have Been Met

Although the Bush Administration’s Initial Benchmark Assessment Report issued on July 12 identified “satisfactory” progress on eight of the 18 benchmarks set by the Iraqi government and endorsed by the Bush Administration in January, intelligence officials and outside experts and analysts have strongly questioned the honestly of this assessment.

  • Thomas Fingar, Deputy Director for Analysis at the National Intelligence Council:  In recent testimony, Deputy Director Fingar offered a far less rosy assessment of the reality on the ground in Iraq: “The multiparty government of Nuri al-Maliki continues halting efforts to bridge the divisions and restore commitment to a unified country, and it has made limited progress on key legislation.”  While noting some “first steps” on the oil law, local elections and the growing the Iraqi army, he stated that “communal violence and scant common ground between Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds continues to polarize politics.” (Thomas Fingar, Prepared Testimony, House Armed Services Committee, July 11, 2007)
  • Anthony Cordesman, Middle East expert, national security analyst:  “It is clear…that the Iraqi government has not really met the Bush Administration’s benchmarks in any major area.  Seen from a more nuanced perspective, actual progress has been more limited and has often had tenuous meaning.” (Benchmarks in Iraq: The True Status, 7/12/07)
  • Peter Galbraith, Iraq expert, former diplomat: “On July 12, the White House released a congressionally mandated report on progress in Iraq…As with the sham handover, the report reflected the administration’s desperate search for indicators of progress since it began its ‘surge.'”  Galbraith writes that “Iraq’s government has not met one of the benchmarks, and, with the exception of the revenue-sharing law, most are unlikely to happen.” (New York Review of Books, 7/12/07)
  • Steve Simon, counterterrorism expert: “The large presence of U.S. ground forces has had little effect on Iraqi politics or on the insurgency.  The surge has redistributed insurgent activity but not suppressed it.  Ironically, the violence now touches more of the country than before, with a corresponding erosion of societal stability and government credibility.” (Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 7/17/07)
  • National Security Network: “The National Security Network reviewed the benchmarks labeled by the Bush Administration as ‘satisfactory.’  Unfortunately the facts show that this moniker is misleading.  Some benchmarks claimed as ‘satisfactory’ only demonstrate minimal progress, not achievement.  Others have been achieved on the surface, but fail to accomplish the overall purpose of the specific measurement.” (Benchmark Report Fact Check, 7/12/07)

The President’s Plan Has Not Been Able to Bring Security to Iraq: Insecurity and Instability Persist Despite the Surge

Overall levels of violence remain high.  While there have been some signs of improved security in the areas where the surge of U.S. and Iraqi forces have been concentrated, overall levels of violence have remained high in Iraq, with many areas that once were calm now giving way to instability and lawlessness.  In its June quarterly report on security and stability in Iraq, the Pentagon reported that “The aggregate level of violence in Iraq remained relatively unchanged during this reporting period.  Violence has decreased in the Baghdad security districts and Anbar, but has increased in most provinces, particularly in the outlying areas of Baghdad Province and Diyala and Ninewa Provinces.”  (Department of Defense, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq, June 2007)

The New York Times recently reported on this growing trend, in an article describing the desperate security situation in Diwaniya: “The Shiite heartland of southern Iraq has generally been an oasis of calm in contrast to Baghdad and the central part of the country, but now violence is convulsing this city.  Shiites are killing and kidnapping other Shiites, the police force is made up of competing militias and the inner city is a web of impoverished streets where idealized portraits of young men, killed in recent gun battles with Iraqi and American troops, hang from signposts above empty lots…  The government’s authority appears to have broken down, with the governor calling this spring for Iraqi Army units, backed by American troops, to restore order.  Civilians, not sure where to look for protection, are caught in the deepening fear and uncertainty.”(New York Times, 6/21/07)

  • Ambassador Crocker has described the prevailing feeling among Iraqis as “fear.”  “If there is one word, I would use to sum up the atmosphere in Iraq on the streets, in the countryside, in the neighborhoods and at the national level that word would be “fear.” (Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, July 19, 2007)
  • General Dempsey called the violence in Iraq “mind numbing.”  In testimony before Congress in mid-June, the General stated, “You’ll hear people say, ‘You know, we were a lot more secure and safe during the Saddam regime.'” (Washington Post, 6/13/07)

Sectarian violence continues unabated, in spite of increased security initiatives.  According to the Pentagon, much of the violence in Iraq continues to be driven by sectarian forces.  In its latest progress report, the Pentagon stated, “The increasingly complex conflict has remained a struggle among and within ethnosectarian, criminal, insurgent and terrorist groups to wrest political and economic power from the [Government of Iraq].  Much of the violence is attributable to sectarian friction.”(Department of Defense, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq, June 2007)

  • Some of the deadliest sectarian attacks have occurred since the start of the President’s troop escalation plan.  In late March, more than 100 Iraqis were killed in a targeted bomb attack on a Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad and subsequent Sunni reprisals.  Earlier this month, a truck bombing killed more than 150 Iraqis in a Shiite town north of Baghdad, “making it one of the deadliest single bombings, if not the deadliest, since the 2003 invasion.” (National Security Network, 7/12/07; Washington Post, 3/29/07; New York Times, 7/9/07)
  • Sectarian violence in Baghdad has risen 41 percent since the start of the surge.  Statistics from the Iraqi Health Ministry show that the number of unidentified corpses – widely considered a key indicator of sectarian violence – discovered in Baghdad was 41 percent higher in June than when the surge began in January. (Washington Post, 7/5/07)
  • Sectarian cleansing continues to force minorities out of Baghdad.  According to news media reports, hundreds of Christian families fled the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad during April and May.  The Los Angeles Times reports that “The flight of Dora’s Christians is an example of how the initial phase of the U.S. security crackdown here has failed to establish security and stop the sectarian ‘cleansing’ of Baghdad’s neighborhoods.  The U.S. military conducted a major clearing operation in Dora last fall, then largely pulled out, turning security over to Iraqi forces.  Sunni Arab militants with ties to the group Al Qaeda in Iraq quickly reestablished themselves and late last year began harassing Christians.” (Los Angeles Times, 6/27/07)

High levels of violence and insecurity have driven more than 500,000 Iraqis to flee their homes since the start of the surge. (Brookings Institution Iraq Index, 7/23/07)

U.S. military casualties have reached record levels since the surge began.  331 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq during April, May, and June, representing the highest three month total since the start of the Iraq war.  Since the surge was announced in January, 621 American troops have been killed and more than 3,607 have been wounded. (icasualties.org, 7/25/07)

The President’s Plan Has Not Improved the Capacity of Iraq’s Security Forces: Iraqi Troops Are Not Standing Up, So U.S. Forces Can Stand Down

Iraqi security forces remain dependent on U.S. forces to provide security.  According to the Administration’s Initial Benchmark Assessment Report, “The Iraqi government has made unsatisfactory progress toward increasing the number of Iraqi Security Forces units capable of operating independently.”  The report states that “we continue to have concerns about the sectarian leaning of some national police units.  The effect is that the presence of Coalition partners and support remains necessary for ISF operations.” (Initial Benchmark Assessment Report, 7/12/07)

Sectarian influences continue to undermine the national police force.  In testimony in June, Lt. General Martin Dempsey stated that “we’ve had some real challenges with the national police… it is the single organization in Iraq with the most sectarian influence and sectarian problems.”  Similarly, a recent oversight report on the development of the Iraqi security released by the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations found that “there is strong evidence that many of the police are operationally ineffective, and their organization is riddled with corruption and sectarian influence.” (Testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, 6/12/07; U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, The Development of the Iraqi Security Forces, 6/27/07)

Iraqi Security forces are not adequately manned to effectively support U.S. security efforts or assume greater independence.  Lt. General Martin Dempsey recently told reporters that Iraqi units contributing to the U.S. surge strategy average only 75 percent of their mandated strength.  In order to fill these gaps, military leaders are now calling for increasing the end strength of Iraq’s security forces by 20,000 soldiers by the end of the year.  In testimony in June, General Lynch stated that “Within the past month, the commanding general of Multi-National Force-Iraq decided that based on lessons of Operation Fardh Al-Qanoon in Baghdad, it indicated the clear need to increase manning levels of these combat battalions up to 120 percent strength, or an additional 20,000 soldiers.  The ongoing 2007 growth plan addresses many, but not all, of these structural gaps in the Iraqi security forces.”  (Department of Defense Press Briefing, 6/13/07; General Lynch, Testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, 6/12/07)

Iraqi forces will need U.S. support for at least two more years.  According to General Dana Pittard, the top U.S. training official in Iraq, American surge forces will be needed in Iraq until next spring while continued U.S. support will be required for more than two years until Iraqi forces will be able to assume control of their country. (USA Today, 7/23/07)

The President’s Plan Has Failed to Bring About Political Progress: Benchmarks for National Reconciliation Have Not Been Met

The Iraqi government remains divided, unable to advance a national legislative agenda.  In its January National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies judged that “even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation in the time frame of this Estimate” – the next 12 to 18 months.  According to analysts and reports from Iraq, this assessment continues to hold true despite the surge: the Iraqi government continues to be fractured along political and sectarian lines, disconnected from the Iraqi population, and unable to move forward with critical national reconciliation initiatives.  In his recent assessment of the status of benchmarks in Iraq, national security expert Anthony Cordesman wrote that: “It was all too clear that the Iraqi central government still remained too weak to make the agreements and compromises required…Iraqi lawmakers were reluctant to succumb to the Bush Administration’s timetable for crucial issues.” (National Intelligence Estimate, January 2007; Cordesman, Benchmarks in Iraq: The True Status, 7/12/07)

  • Washington Post: Deadlocked Sunni, Shiite Factions Block Political Progress, Iraqis Say. “‘We have not made enough political progress, whether by presenting the oil law or amending the constitution or the de-Baathification law,’ said Hachim al-Hassani, a former speaker of parliament and a secular Sunni lawmaker.  He said the groups whose political fortunes ascended with the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, particularly Shiites and Kurds, ‘don’t want to give up those gains, they don’t want to share the power.’ ‘That’s where the problem is,” he said. ‘We can’t make any political progress unless we reach some kind of equalization of power between different groups, at least in the transitional period that we’re going through.’  Hassani said such benchmarks are needed to prod the Iraqi government into action. ‘The international players, which are led by the United States, really need to put pressure on the Iraqi political groups so they can reach the agreements that we are talking about,’ he said. ‘Otherwise the political groups that have the power right now, there is no reason for them to give up that power unless they feel pressure from international players.” (Washington Post, 7/13/07)
  • Los Angeles Times: “Iraq’s leader can’t get out of 1st gear.”  “Iraq’s government is teetering on the edge.  Maliki’s Cabinet is filled with officials who are deeply estranged from one another and more loyal to their parties than to the government as a whole.  Some are jostling to unseat the prime minister.  Few, if any, have accepted the basic premise of a government whose power is shared among each of Iraq’s warring sects and ethnic groups.  Maliki is the man U.S. officials are counting on to bring Iraq’s civil war under control, yet he seems unable to break the government’s deadlock.” (Los Angeles Times, 6/6/07)
  • New York Times: “Iraqis Are Failing to Meet U.S. Benchmarks.”  “In Shiite areas of southern Iraq, Sunni areas of the west and for Kurds in the north, Iraq’s central government has become increasingly irrelevant as competing groups within each faction maneuver at the local level for control of public money and jobs.” (New York Times, 6/13/07)

The President’s Plan Has Failed to Improve the Lives of Iraqis: Basic Services Continue to Fall Short of Iraqi Needs, U.S. Reconstruction Goals

In announcing his military escalation plan, President Bush acknowledged that “[a] successful strategy for Iraq goes beyond military operations.  Ordinary Iraqi citizens must see that military operations are accompanied by visible improvements in their neighborhoods and communities.”  Unfortunately, the surge also has failed to deliver on this critical promise:  six months into the military escalation, unemployment rates continue to soar while critical basic services still fall far below the needs of the Iraqi population.  In June, the Pentagon reported that, “Over the past quarter, the Iraqi government has made little progress” in “improving the availability of basic services.”  Without progress in these key areas, the government has been unable to move forward on a path for sustainable economic development or win the trust of the Iraqi people – goals necessary to ensuring the development of a viable Iraqi government.

Unemployment remains high, undermining economic growth and fueling the insurgency.  According to official Iraqi government estimates, unemployment stands at 17.6 percent and underemployment at 38.1 percent.  Other estimates, however, are much higher, citing unemployment levels as high as 60 to 70 percent.  Failure to ensure that Iraqis have access to permanent sustainable jobs is undermining economic growth, efforts to improve the legitimacy of the Iraqi government and stem support to the insurgency. (Department of Defense, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq, June 2007; Associated Press, 7/10/07)

Despite $4 billion in U.S. investment in the electricity sector, production stands roughly at pre-war levels, falling short of demand by more than 50 percent.  Today, electricity production in Iraq averages 4,000 megawatts, roughly equal to pre-war levels but significantly short of the reconstruction goal of 6,000 megawatts and even farther below the daily demand of 8,500-9,000 megawatts.  According to the Pentagon, in the most recent quarter, “electricity was available nationwide for an average of 14.5 hours per day in April, while Baghdad received only 8.4 hours per day.”  Before the war, Baghdad had an average of 16 to 24 hours of electricity. (Brookings Institution, Iraq Index, 7/19/07, Department of Defense, Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq, June 2007; Los Angeles Times, 7/18/07)

Oil production – widely seen as the key to Iraq’s economic growth – remains below pre-war levels.  Today, Iraq is producing 2.09 million barrels of oil per day (bpd), nearly 500,000 bpd below pre-war levels of 2.5 million bpd. (Brookings Institution, Iraq Index, 7/12/07)

The President’s Plan Has Not Included A Diplomatic Surge

The Bush Administration’s limited diplomatic initiatives are falling far short of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations for a “new diplomatic offensive.”  One of the Iraq Study Group’s most important recommendations called for the immediate launching of a “new diplomatic offensive to build an international consensus for stability in Iraq and in the region.”  The bipartisan group of experts advocated building a support structure that would include all of Iraq’s neighbors and called for “regional and international initiatives and steps to assist the Iraqi government in achieving certain security, political, and economic milestones.”  Although the Bush Administration has recently demonstrated a new willingness to engage Iraq’s neighbors, its diplomatic efforts have remained very limited.  During the May conference at Sharm el-Sheik, Secretary Rice did not meet with her Iranian counterpart, while her discussion with Syria’s foreign minister was described by the White House as “a sidebar conversation,” with U.S.-Syrian relations remaining “informal and not bilateral.”  According to media reports, the conference failed to secure regional support for an agreement that would provide debt relief and aid to the Iraqi government. (The Iraq Study Group Final Report, 12/06; New York Times, 5/4/07)

More recently, Ambassador Crocker has met twice with the Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi, but the type of robust regional engagement the Iraq Study Group recommended to achieve real progress in Iraq has not been pursued by the Bush Administration.  In testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Major General John Batiste stated, “What America desperately needs – and I’ll say this very slowly – now is a political framework defined by an ever expanding global alliance of equals – disciplined diplomacy based on a vision that is focused on long-term objectives.  Unfortunately, the current administration’s near-sighted strategy remains focused on Iraq and is all but dependent on the military component.  Diplomacy and the critical political and economic components of a successful strategy are dangerously lacking.” (Wall Street Journal, 7/25/07; General Batiste, Testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, 6/27/07)

Indefinite surge?  In the Absence of Progress, the Bush Administration Continues to Shift the Goalposts

In announcing the surge strategy in January, the President asserted, “America’s commitment is not open-ended.  If the Iraqi government does not follow through on its promises, it will lose the support of the American people.”  As months have passed and no real progress has been made in achieving these goals, however, the Bush Administration is not only failing to make good on this pledge, it appears to be setting the stage for an indefinite surge, in defiance of Congress and the will of the American people.  In recent weeks, Ambassador Crocker has moved to downplay the importance of meeting benchmark goals by September.  Testifying before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on July 19, he stated, “The longer I am here, the more I am persuaded that progress in Iraq cannot be analyzed solely in terms of these discreet, precisely defined benchmarks because, in many cases, these benchmarks do not serve as reliable measures of everything that is important – Iraqi attitudes toward each other and their willingness to work toward political reconciliation.” 

At the same time, military leaders have signaled that the escalation could be sustained far beyond September.  Lt. General Raymond Odierno recently told Pentagon reporters that it would take “at least until November” to assess the surge strategy while other military officials have said that the surge will be necessary through the spring of 2008.  And as the New York Times reported earlier this week, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have prepared a new coordinated strategy for Iraq that “foresees a significant American role for the next two years.”  The classified strategy, known as the Joint Campaign Plan, is expected to be released this week. (Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, July 19, 2007; New York Times, 7/20/07; New York Times, 7/24/07)

Democrats Remain Committed to Forging a New Direction in Iraq that Will Put an End to the Bush Administration’s Failed Strategy and Open-Ended Military Commitment 

Senate Democrats have demanded a change of course in Iraq: remove our troops from Iraq’s civil war and repair our dangerously overstretched military.  The BushAdministration’s failed Iraq strategy and mismanagement of our military have resulted in critical equipment and training shortfalls; forced repeated and extended deployments for U.S. forces; led to recruiting and retention challenges; and left our country without a strategic reserve.  Democrats believe it is time to put an end to the Administration’s flawed Iraq strategy and unsustainable military policies. 

In the 2007 Emergency Supplemental conference report sent to the President on May 1, Democrats included a provision that called for a gradual redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq, in conjunction with concerted efforts to train and equip the Iraqi security forces and to build regional and international support for the Iraqi government.  The legislation directed the President, within 120 days of enactment, to begin to redeploy troops from Iraq, with a goal of having only a limited number of troops remaining in the country on March 31, 2008.  With this provision, Democrats demanded a change in policy in Iraq that would transition the mission of U.S. forces and advance a new comprehensive economic, diplomatic, and political strategy to bring stability to the country and bring to a close the United States’ open-ended commitment in Iraq.  Unfortunately, the President chose to veto this legislation, against the advice of many military experts and the will of the American people.

Democrats remain committed to forging a new direction in Iraq that will put an end to the Bush Administration’s failed strategy and open-ended military commitment.  In the second version of the 2007 Emergency Supplemental bill,Democrats took a critical step forward in holding the President and the Iraqi government accountable for Iraq’s future and advancing the goal of changing course in Iraq.  The bill conditions U.S. economic support for the Iraqi government on its progress toward achieving key political benchmarks, including: the formation of a Constitutional Review Committee and the completion of the constitutional review; the implementation of legislation to ensure the equitable distribution of the oil resources of the people of Iraq; the implementation of legislation on procedures to form semi-autonomous regions; and the implementation of legislation to establish an Independent High Electoral Commission, provincial elections law, provincial council authorities, and a date for provincial elections.  The bill also requires the President to report to Congress on the Iraqi government’s success in meeting these benchmarks.  If the established goals are not achieved, the legislation would require, subject to a presidential waiver, that $1.6 billion in economic support funding be withheld from the Iraqi government.

In the months ahead, Senate Democrats will continue to take every opportunity to push for a change of course in Iraq.  While ensuring continued counter-terror operations inside Iraq and further training of Iraqi security forces, Democrats’ comprehensive plan for a phased withdrawal of U.S. combat troops will allow us to turn our attention and resources to the more critical fight against al Qaeda and affiliated terrorist networks, remove our troops from policing Iraq’s civil war, and work to restore the readiness of our military forces.