Saturday, August 25, 2007

Operation Whack-a-Mole Is Working

Via Steve J. at Radamisto, "Operation Whack-a-Mole continues":

There aren't enough troops in the Surge to restore order to Iraq as a whole. As a result, the violence has shifted to areas where there aren't as many troops. Worse, our own military is lying again about the violence.

Steve J. points us to an article by AP writer Steven R. Hurst:
This year's U.S. troop buildup has succeeded in bringing violence in Baghdad down from peak levels, but the death toll from sectarian attacks around the country is running nearly double the pace from a year ago.

Some of the recent bloodshed appears the result of militant fighters drifting into parts of northern Iraq, where they have fled after U.S.-led offensives. Baghdad, however, still accounts for slightly more than half of all war-related killings - the same percentage as a year ago, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press.
The AP tracking includes Iraqi civilians, government officials, police and security forces killed in attacks such as gunfights and bombings, which are frequently blamed on Sunni suicide strikes. It also includes execution-style killings - largely the work of Shiite death squads.

The figures are considered a minimum based on AP reporting. The actual numbers are likely higher, as many killings go unreported or uncounted. Insurgent deaths are not a part of the Iraqi count.

The findings include:

- Iraq is suffering about double the number of war-related deaths throughout the country compared with last year - an average daily toll of 33 in 2006, and 62 so far this year.

- 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 United Nations and other sources placed the 2006 toll far higher.

- Baghdad has gone from representing 76 percent of all civilian and police war-related deaths in Iraq in January to 52 percent in July, bringing it back to the same spot it was roughly a year ago.

_According to the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization, the number of displaced Iraqis has more than doubled since the start of the year, from 447,337 on Jan. 1 to 1.14 million on July 31.

But never mind all that, because Michael O'Hanlon informs us today that his and Kenneth Pollack's conclusion that "The Surge" is working, was based on "critical assessment" and unimpeachable evidence from sources whose impartiality and expert knowledge of Iraqi society, culture, history, and politics is beyond question:

The U.S. military.

The Pentagon.

Networks of unnamed military officers.

O'Hanlon's and Pollack's personal "observations" of "Iraq," based on visits to U.S. military bases, meetings in the Green Zone, discussions with Central Command, and conversations with U.S. military officers, U.S. troops, and a prescreened selection of Iraqis who could be trusted to say the right thing.

You can see, I'm sure, why O'Hanlon would be so aggrieved at having sources as impeccable, fair, and honest as these held up to question [bolds mine]:
How can one gather and assess information about Iraq -- collected on a trip or from any other source? Information from a war zone is difficult to attain [especially when you only talk to the people who are running the war] and interpretation is open to many views.

Unfortunately, much of the blogosphere and other media outlets have emphasized the wrong question, challenging the integrity of anyone who dares to express politically incorrect views about Iraq. Last week, Jonathan Finer criticized on this page ... a New York Times essay that Ken Pollack and I wrote, as well as the comments of several senators, for claiming too much insight based on short trips to Iraq. Finer suggested that we did not leave the Green Zone, although we frequently did [to visit military bases!], on this and other trips, and he ignored how critical Pollack and I have been of administration policy in the past. [We supported the war 100 percent even before it started, but there might have been a few mistakes made in the beginning, and we pointed them out -- politely, of course.]

Worse, Finer and critics such as Rep. Jack Murtha and Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald have suggested that our analyses are based on a few days of military "dog-and-pony shows." Our assessments are based on our observations [of military Powerpoint presentations] as well as on years of study. That experience creates networks of colleagues such as military officers whose off-the-record insights can inform ours and who in the past have often told us when they did not think their strategies were working or could work. While hardly making us infallible, this also led each of us to oppose predictions of a "cakewalk" before the invasion [IMPRESSIVELY DARING!!] and to join Gen. Eric Shinseki in criticizing invasion plans that had too few troops and too little thought given to the post-invasion mission.

Still, it is true that we must critically assess the quality of information from Iraq to assess and improve current policy. In addition, the U.S. government needs to improve information gathering and share more information with the public; a recurring theme on our trip last month was the classification of far too much data. Consider the evidence behind arguments Pollack and I have made:

Iraqi civilian fatality rates are down. The U.S. military has reported throughout much of 2007 that extrajudicial killings -- largely revenge murders by Shiite militias against Sunnis -- were down substantially since January. During our trip, the Pentagon showed us data illustrating that overall death tallies from all forms of sectarian violence were down about one-third from last winter's average. ...

Counterinsurgency tactics are much better. Working closely with Iraqi partners, we are trying to provide security to civilian populations. Previous tendencies were to concentrate Americans at large forward operating bases and patrol in rapid, "drive-by" fashion. Our weekly numbers of joint patrols tripled early in the "surge" and remain high. U.S. and Iraqi security forces have widely adopted the extensive use of sand berms, concrete barriers and vehicle checkpoints in the tensest areas, further reducing fatalities.

Iraqi forces are improving. This finding admittedly must be more hedged than the first two. While U.S. forces are more satisfied than before with the collaboration they receive from Iraqis, huge problems remain. Most commanders of Iraqi battalions (perhaps three-quarters in the Baghdad area) are judged to be relatively dependable today by American counterparts, but we do not know how they would behave if U.S. forces left. And while the interior and defense ministries have approved firing some commanders who have been guilty of clear bias or corruption, they still protect Shiite militias. They also often interfere with the hiring of security forces, particularly in Sunni regions such as Anbar. It is for such reasons that bold ideas for shaking up Iraq's politics need to be taken very seriously this fall -- ranging from holding new elections to convening a major regional peace conference to considering a soft partition model for the country. [Just a suggestion, of course: Iraq does not belong to us; and we wouldn't want anyone to think that their government is nothing more than an American-backed puppet regime that we can manipulate like Silly Putty.]

Economic reconstruction is improving. Militarily embedded provincial reconstruction teams now make our development specialists more effective by providing protection in the field. We are also placing greater focus on small-scale efforts rather than on massive infrastructure projects that are particularly vulnerable to single-point failures and thus sabotage [a definite sign that The Surge is working!].

Iraqi resources are starting to flow from Baghdad to at least some provincial governments, fostering reconstruction and helping local politicians work together for the good of their constituents. We saw evidence of such cooperation across sectarian lines in Hilla, Nineveh and Baghdad provinces, among other places.

I don't know about you, but I'm convinced. These guys really went to extraordinary lengths to assess "The Surge's" success without relying for information solely on the same people who are paid to carry out and support "The Surge."

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