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    Middle East
     Dec 21, 2007
Iraq is on the Pentagon's track
By David Isenberg

WASHINGTON - The US "surge" strategy in Iraq has "considerably improved overall levels of security during the past quarter", according to the most recent quarterly report released by the Pentagon on Tuesday.

The report, Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq [1], states that the number of security incidents has fallen significantly and is now at levels last seen in the summer of 2005.

For example, the number of high-profile attacks in Iraq declined by

over 50% since March 2007. The report says weekly improvised explosive device (IED) attacks have dropped 68% since June; the number of US troop deaths from IEDs fell to the lowest levels since January, 2006. However, the number of suicide attacks involving car bombs and individuals wearing vests filled with explosives was up slightly from October to November.

Coalition forces continue to transfer responsibility for security to the Iraqi government. Karbala province transitioned to provincial Iraqi control on October 29, bringing the total number of provinces for which the government has lead security responsibility to eight of 18 provinces.

However, those provinces are hardly stories of stable success. Baghdad may be secured by US and Iraq forces for the moment but could easily plunge back into conflict. Diyala and North Central Iraq remain a combat zone. In fact, despite an overall decline in attacks, to the level of the summer of 2005, violence has remained relatively high in northern Iraq, where US forces have been thinly spread, the report noted.

In the northern province of Nineveh, for example, the effort of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq to reconstitute has kept attacks above last year's level. Nineveh now ranks third among the provinces, after Baghdad and Salahuddin, in terms of average daily attacks, with about 14 per day, up from being fifth this summer.

And southern Iraq, especially now that the British have handed over control of Basra, is being abandoned to an intra-Shi'ite power struggle, between Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army and Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim's Badr Organization.

The report attributes the reduction to several factors, including:
  • The continued decrease in capabilities of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and militia extremists.
  • Increased tribal initiatives against AQI and other extremists.
  • Muqtada's ceasefire order to his Mahdi Army militia.
  • The increased capability of the Iraqi military and police.
  • The separation of Iraq's previously mixed sectarian communities into homogenous neighborhoods.
  • The sustained presence of coalition and Iraqi forces among the population.

    Some of those reasons, however, may be less real than thought. According to a new analysis by the Center for Strategic Studies and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, the staffing levels for both the Iraqi military are higher on paper than it is in reality. For example, only 161,380 personnel are now assigned to the 208,111 authorized manning for the Iraqi military. And that lower number is a total from Iraqi government payroll data and not personnel actually present for duty.

    The problem is worse when it comes to Iraqi police. US State Department data states that 255,601 personnel were assigned to an authorized manning level of 271,850. Again that is a total for payroll data. Actual manning available for duty is probably closer to 180,000 to 190,000. Furthermore, only 142,138 of the personnel supposedly on the payroll have been trained

    According to the CSIS report, currently only about one third of the nearly half a million men supposedly on the payroll of the Iraqi security forces consist of regular military with some credibility as growing and effective forces, If the growing local militias and Facilities Protection Service - a mixture of low-grade security forces with virtually no training and strong ties to various factions - are included the percentage drops to a little over 20%.

    Even the Pentagon report acknowledged that as of November 21,000 Iraqi soldiers had been dropped from the rolls this year after going away without leave.

    Meanwhile, the police are still plagued with corruption and sectarian behavior. Several thousand were fired because of criminal records, corruption or other problems, and nearly 200 were fired for militia activity, according to the report.

    Of course, nobody would say that the war is won.

    In fact, the Pentagon report was released on the same day the UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend the US-led multinational force in Iraq for one year. Authorization for the 160,000-strong multinational force was extended until the end of 2008 because "the threat in Iraq continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security", according to the resolution.

    The Pentagon report acknowledged that the most important factor, political reconciliation, was still problematic. The report stated, "National reconciliation is required for long-term stability but continues to be hindered by slow progress and competing interests."

    "Challenges remain at the national level" on achieving reconciliation, the report said. "The key to long-term success will be the government of Iraq's ability to capitalize upon local gains, pass key legislation and promote national reconciliation."

    1. To view the report, click here.

    David Isenberg is an analyst in national and international security affairs.

    (Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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