Senate Democrats

Debunking the “Bottom Up” Anbar Myth

Recently, the Bush Administration has increasingly touted “bottom up” reconciliation as yet a new New Way Forward in Iraq. Administration officials and war supporters have used reductions in violence in Anbar Province as evidence of progress in Iraq. But today’s release of the Jones Report confirms the long-time consensus that there must be national reconciliation in Iraq. Efforts by the White House PR machine to spin success cannot change the facts on the ground; the Iraqi government is making little progress towards national reconciliation and violence levels remain high due to crippling sectarianism. Continuing the surge while simply changing the goals of that strategy will not change the outcome in Iraq. It is time for Republicans in Congress to work with Democrats to ensure a change of course in Iraq.  

President Bush and the White House PR machine is talking up bottom up progress in Anbar provinice:

President Bush Touted the “Bottom Up” Progress in Anbar Province. During his stopover visit to Anbar Province in Iraq, Bush said, “The government they represent, of course, is based in Baghdad — but they’re here in Anbar because they know the success of a free Iraq depends on the national government’s support from the bottom up. They know what I know: that when you have bottom-up reconciliation like you’re seeing here in Anbar, it’ll begin to translate into central government action.” [President Bush Meeting with P.M. Maliki, 9/3/07]

Pentagon Spokesman Geoff Morrell Touted the “Bottom Up” Progress in Anbar Province.  “Anbaris were the first in the Middle East to live under Al Qaida rule, and if our progress in Iraq continues, they will hopefully be the last. Of course that requires continued hard work, both from the bottom up, as we are seeing in Anbar, and from the top down.” [Pentagon Briefing, 9/5/07] 

Senator Bond Acknowledged Failure of Political Progress at the Local Level, Touted “Bottom Up” Progress. “Now, on the political front, I agree that Prime Minister Al-Maliki is not getting the job done, at least not getting the job done on the timetable that we have artificially set but that much more work needs to be done. However, as we’ve seen for months now, progress is occurring from the bottom up at the local level.” [Senator Bond Floor Statement, 9/6/07]

… But consensus of experts and leaders agrees there must be national reconciliation in Iraq

Jones Report: Future of Iraq Hinges on National Reconciliation. “At the end of the day, however, the future of Iraq and the prospects for establishing a professional, effective, and loyal military and police service, hinges on the ability of the Iraqi people and the government to begin the process of achieving national reconciliation and to ending sectarian violence. For the time being, all progress seems to flow from this most pressing requirement.” [Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq Report, 9/6/07]

General David Petraeus Said There Is No Military Solution in Iraq, There Must Be a Political Solution. “And I think, again, that any student of history recognizes that there is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency of Iraq. Military action is necessary to help improve security, for all the reasons that I stated in my remarks, but it is not sufficient. A political resolution of various differences, of this legislation, of various senses that people do not have a stake in the success of the new Iraq, and so forth, that is crucial.  That is what will determine in the long run the success of this effort.” [Multi-National Force – Iraq, Press Briefing, 3/8/07

President Bush Said National Reconciliation Was Essential to Lasting Security and Stability in Iraq. “The strategy I announced in January is designed to seize the initiative and create those conditions. It’s aimed at helping the Iraqis strengthen their government so that it can function even amid violence. It seeks to open space for Iraq’s political leaders to advance the difficult process of national reconciliation, which is essential to lasting security and stability.” [President Bush Press Conference, 7/12/07]

Secretary Gates Said Conflict in Iraq Will Not Be Solved Militarily and it Must Involve Political Reconciliation. “[W]hat we’re all trying to figure out is how best do you get the Iraqis to reconcile their differences, because after all, this is not going to be solved by the military. It has to involve political reconciliation in Iraq among Iraqis. We’re basically buying them time. That’s the whole purpose of this strategy. And they’re going to have to step up to the plate, and we can help them by giving them the time to do that and to make their military forces able to carry the burden by themselves. [CBS Face the Nation, 3/18/07]

Iraq is making little progress towards national reconciliation:

NIE: Iraqi Political Situation Will Become More Precarious Over the Next 12 Months. “The IC assesses that the Iraqi Government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months because of criticism by other members of the major Shia coalition (the Unified Iraqi Alliance, UIA), Grand Ayatollah Sistani, and other Sunni and Kurdish parties. Divisions between Maliki and the Sadrists have increased, and Shia factions have explored alternative coalitions aimed at constraining Maliki.” [National Intelligence Estimate, Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: Some Security Progress but Political Reconciliation Elusive, 8/07]

GAO Report: Iraqi Government Has Met Just One Legislative Benchmark. According to the report, “Our analysis shows that the Iraqi government has met one of the eight legislative benchmarks and partially met another.” [GAO Report: Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq, September 2007]

  • GAO Report: Iraqi Government Can No Longer Call Itself Unity Government Due to Pullout of 15 of 37 Members of the Government. “Prospects for additional progress in enacting legislative benchmarks have been complicated by the withdrawal of 15 of 37 members of the Iraqi cabinet. According to an August 2007 U.S. interagency report, this boycott ends any claim by the Shi’ite-dominated coalition to be a government of national unity and further undermines Iraq’s already faltering program of national reconciliation.” [GAO Report: Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq, September 2007]

Ambassador Crocker: Progress on National Reconciliation “Has Been Extremely Disappointing.” “[P]rogress on national level issues has been extremely disappointing …there’s not really a strong sense anywhere, really, of the central government being present and active in making conditions in Iraq better.  They’ve got to do more of that.” [Multi-National Force Press Briefing, 8/21/07]

And levels of violence remain high:

U.S. Intelligence Officials Questioned Pentagon’s Methods of Tracking Violence in Iraq. “The intelligence community has its own problems with military calculations. Intelligence analysts computing aggregate levels of violence against civilians for the NIE puzzled over how the military designated attacks as combat, sectarian or criminal, according to one senior intelligence official in Washington. ‘If a bullet went through the back of the head, it’s sectarian,’ the official said. ‘If it went through the front, it’s criminal.’” [Washington Post, 9/6/07]

  • Comptroller General Said There Were Various Sources of Violence Statistics in U.S. Government Which Did Not Agree. “Others who have looked at the full range of U.S. government statistics on violence, however, accuse the military of cherry-picking positive indicators and caution that the numbers — most of which are classified — are often confusing and contradictory. ‘Let’s just say that there are several different sources within the administration on violence, and those sources do not agree,’ Comptroller General David Walker told Congress on Tuesday in releasing a new Government Accountability Office report on Iraq.” [Washington Post, 9/6/07]
  • Military Spokesman Admitted It Did Not Track Shiite-on-Shiite or Sunni-on-Sunni Violence. “According to a spokesman for the Baghdad headquarters of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), those attacks are not included in the military’s statistics. ‘Given a lack of capability to accurately track Shiite-on-Shiite and Sunni-on-Sunni violence, except in certain instances,’ the spokesman said, ‘we do not track this data to any significant degree.’” [Washington Post, 9/6/07]

More People Died in Iraq in First 8 Months of 2007 than Comparable Time Frame in 2006. “Nearly 1,000 more people have been killed in violence across Iraq in the first eight months of this year than in all of 2006. So far this year, about 14,800 people have died in war-related attacks and sectarian murders. AP reporting accounted for 13,811 deaths in 2006. The UN and other sources placed the 2006 toll far higher.” [Associated Press, 8/27/07]

Sectarian Attacks in Iraq Are Double the Pace of a Year Ago. “This year’s U.S. troop buildup has succeeded in bringing violence in the capital down from peak levels, but the death toll from sectarian attacks around the country is running nearly double the pace of a year ago… Iraq is suffering about double the war-related deaths countrywide compared with last year – an average daily toll of 62 so far this year, as against 33 in 2006.” [Associated Press, 8/27/07]

  • GAO Found Claims of Decreased Sectarian Violence Could Not Be Verified. “On trends in sectarian violence, we could not determine if sectarian violence had declined since the start of the Baghdad Security Plan. The administration’s July 2007 report stated that MNF-I trend data demonstrated a decrease in sectarian violence since the start of the Baghdad Security Plan in mid-February 2007. The report acknowledged that precise measurements vary, and that it was too early to determine if the decrease would be sustainable.” [GAO Report: Securing, Stabilizing and Rebuilding Iraq, September 2007]

NIE: Overall Violence Remains High, Iraqi Political Leaders Remain Unable to Govern Effectively. “However, the level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high; Iraq’s sectarian groups remain unreconciled; AQI retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks; and to date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively.” [National Intelligence Estimate, Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: Some Security Progress but Political Reconciliation Elusive, 8/07]

This Has Been the Deadliest Summer for American Troops.  According to research published by the Brookings Institution, June, July and August of 2007 has been the deadliest summer for American troops with 229 killed so far. In June through August of 2006, 169 Americans were killed. During that same time period in 2005, 2004 and 2003, 217, 162 and 113 American soldiers were killed. [Brookings Institution: Iraq Index]

Sectarianism continues within Iraqi institutions:

Jones Report: Ministry of Interior is Dysfunctional and Sectarian. “The Ministry of Interior is a ministry in name only. It is widely regarded as being dysfunctional and sectarian, and suffers from ineffective leadership. Such fundamental flaws present a serious obstacle to achieving the levels of readiness, capability, and effectiveness in police and border security forces that are essential for internal security and stability in Iraq.” [Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq Report, 9/6/07]

Jones Report: National Police Is Ineffective, Sectarian and Not Viable. “The National Police have proven operationally ineffective, and sectarianism in these units may fundamentally undermine their ability to provide security. The force is not viable in its current form.” [Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq Report, 9/6/07]

Jones Report: Iraqi Police Service Is Compromised by Militia and Insurgent Infiltration. “The Iraqi Police Service is fragile. It is better trained than in past years and is establishing presence in some areas, but the force is underequipped and compromised by militia and insurgent infiltration. In general, the Iraqi Police Service is incapable today of providing security at a level sufficient to protect Iraqi neighborhoods from insurgents and sectarian violence. The police are central to the long-term establishment of security in Iraq.” [Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq Report, 9/6/07]

Bottom line: Anbar is not a model and bottom up is not a good strategy:

Tony Snow Admitted Gains in Anbar Province Were Made Before President’s Troop Escalation. During his May 2nd briefing, Snow was asked:

Q: But answer that question about al Anbar. I mean, the President, again, cited progress in Ramadi and al Anbar, because that seems where the most progress is, and that was before the new strategy.

SNOW: What you’re supposed to take is there’s good news. Thank you for reporting it.

Q: But it has nothing to do with the Baghdad security plan, but we keep tying it to it.

SNOW: …..when it was announced that there would be another 4,000 U.S. forces in Anbar, it did, in fact, have the effect of strengthening both the confidence and the resolve of the people there. There have been many attempts over time to try to roll back the progress that had been made there. As a matter of fact, that is not new. You’ve seen progress in places like Ramadi, and you’ve seen the resurgence of violence. In this particular case, you have seen an effective and extended period of success there that we hope will continue. And it is worth noting that as part of the Baghdad security plan there was also a complement of 4,000 U.S. forces that would be there to supplement ongoing efforts in Anbar. You’re right, the progress began before, but it has continued. [White House Press Secretary Briefing (emphasis added), 5/2/07]

Secretary Gates Said Security Improvements in Anbar Province Happened Without the Influence of American Troops. Secretary of Defense Gates claimed the Sunni tribes decided to fight and retake control of Anbar from al-Qaeda many months before Bush decided to send an extra 4,000 Marines to Anbar as part of his troop buildup. “We have seen the fruit of that effort become more apparent in the last few months,” said Gates. Gates added, “it was the presence of the additional U.S. forces – the Marines that came in – that helped cement the gains they felt they had made but were at risk.” [AP, 9/3/07]

National Security Expert Said the Situation in Anbar Province Was Not an Accurate Model for the Rest of Iraq. Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the reversal in Anbar had less to do with American strategy than with local frustration over the extremism of Al Qaeda fighters trying to impose their doctrine. Cordesman also suggested it was more of an anomaly than a model that could be applied elsewhere in Iraq, where sectarian divisions and strife appear to be worsening. “We are spinning events that don’t really reflect the reality on the ground,” he said. [New York Times, 9/4/07]

Alliance Between U.S. Forces and Sunnis in Anbar Has Angered Members of Maliki’s National Government. “In the meantime, the most touted success of the campaign — an alliance between U.S. forces and some Sunni insurgent groups against al Qaida in Iraq — has angered many in the Maliki government, who accuse the United States of supporting groups that could ultimately turn against the government. Former Sunni insurgents and tribal leaders will expect some kind of payoff for having turned on al Qaida, said Lt. Col. Richard Welch, who works primarily with Sunni tribal leaders and has negotiated with insurgents. Maliki’s government, however, has been hesitant to grant concessions, he said.” [McClatchy, 8/15/07]

U.S. Could Be Helping to Arm Sunnis for Civil War With Shia. But Steven Simon, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, says the sheiks are telling U.S. leaders what they think they want to hear…By strengthening Sunni groups the United States could be helping to set the stage for a full-blown, if more balanced sectarian conflict, rather than a slaughter of the Sunnis by the Shiites if conflict spreads. ‘We put our thumb very heavily on the Shiite side of the scale’ by backing the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Simon said. ‘One could argue that if there is going to be a civil war, and you want to be sure that genocide doesn’t break out, then you strengthen the Sunnis’ ability to defend themselves.’” [Salon, 9/5/07]