Editorial Column: The Surge “Success” Debunked

The Huffington Post

October 7, 2008 – Senator John McCain will be speaking a lot about the “Success of the Surge” in the debate tonight, but don’t believe the hype. Here’s why:

1. There was a reduced level of violence in Baghdad prior to “The Surge” due to sectarian cleansing.

Satellite imagery recently collected and examined by experts at UCLA support the views of Refugee International, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other experts on Iraq that “The Surge” has not been responsible for a reduction in the violence in Iraq.

The central hypothesis of the UCLA study was that a reduction of nighttime light in a given neighborhood means that residents have left or are no longer occupying their dwellings.

UCLA’s study used satellite nighttime light signatures “…to unobtrusively examine whether or not the so-called US military surge in Baghdad may have produced a sustained and increasing level of nighttime light over the period March 2006 through December 2007,”1 said Dr. John Agnew, a UCLA professor of Political Geography and International Political Economy.

Proportion of change in nighttime lights in Baghdad between 20 March 2006 and 16 December 2007 (UCLA Dept. of Geography)

“Furthermore, the nighttime light signature of Baghdad data when matched with ground data provided by the report to the US Congress by Marine Corps General Jones and various other sources, makes it clear that the diminished level of violence in Iraq since the onset of the surge owes much to a vicious process of interethnic cleansing.”2

The following is a brief conversation3 I had with Dr. Agnew:

Montalván: “In a statement you gave to Reuters, you said, ‘By the launch of the surge, many of the targets of conflict had either been killed or fled the country, and they turned off the lights when they left.’ Could you elaborate on that, please?”

Agnew: “Remember, the paper is about the period from before the “surge” started until December 2007. The main point is that the level of violence in Iraq had turned down before the surge began because neighborhoods that were mixed or predominantly Sunni had undergone a massive process of sectarian cleansing by the Shi’a militias. This is what encouraged the Sunni Awakening (in Baghdad) and the Shi’a truce.

“Since December 2007, we can’t say what has happened except that the separation walls have kept the sides apart and Baghdad is now a heavily and overwhelmingly segregated city. If the surge had been the source of the calm, I would have expected to see a massive increase in US casualties as the military fought to overcome armed resistance. The surge was part of a new counterinsurgency tactic to damp down violence.

“In counterinsurgencies you have to go eyeball to eyeball with your adversaries. But in fact during the surge military casualties went down, not up. That the surge coincided with the ending of massive sectarian violence, then, should not be interpreted as the cause of that ending.”

Montalván: “Given the change in light signature in Baghdad, how many people would you approximate are no longer in Baghdad as of October 2008?”

Agnew: “This is hard to say but perhaps a third to one-half of the population of most western and southwestern neighborhoods had cleared out (either because of actual death and injury or threats) in summer/autumn 2006. Our last information is from December 2007, by which time nothing had improved. Since then some people have probably moved in, either original inhabitants returning from exile of elsewhere in Iraq or new inhabitants (typically Shi’a) moving in to ‘abandoned’ dwellings.”

Montalván: “Do you have anything to add to the report, Dr. Agnew?”

Agnew: “Recall that we say nothing in our article that General Jones hadn’t already said in his report to Congress. But Congress preferred to believe General Petraeus (in September 2007) whose maps in the congressional hearing removed the evidence of sectarian cleansing that was so apparent in the maps in the Jones report. Some day someone will have to investigate what happened.”3

2. Decreased levels of violence in Iraq are due to enormous population shifts — the Second Largest Refugee Crisis in the World (Second to Afghanistan)4

The International Crisis Group (ICG), considered the world’s leading independent, non-partisan source of analysis and advice to governments and IGOs, describes the Iraq refugee crisis as follows:

“Up to five million Iraqis – nearly one in five – are believed to have deserted their homes in a bid to find safety and security away from the violence that continues to engulf vast areas of their country. Among them, approximately half have become “internally displaced persons” (IDPs), individuals who have relocated within Iraq, joining relatives in somewhat more stable regions or settling in makeshift accommodations such as deserted government buildings and improvised camps. The other half has left Iraq altogether, finding temporary safety as refugees but also, quite often, socio-economic hardship in neighboring countries. Today, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Iraq’s IDP and refugee crisis ranks as the world’s second in terms of numbers, preceded by Afghanistan but ahead of Sudan.

The magnitude of the IDP and refugee crisis reflects continued failure to restore the requisite security for large numbers of Iraqis to return. Of course, not all IDPs or refugees were targets of violence. Some have committed gross human rights violations; others migrated essentially for economic or business reasons. That said, as countless tragic stories attest, a clear majority fled as a consequence of a conflict in which they have no stake but of which they were made victims due to their ethnic or religious identity, employment by U.S. or other foreign forces or personal wealth.”

It is fallacious for U.S. military commanders and Administration officials to attribute decreased levels of violence in Iraq to “The Surge,” since the Iraqi population has changed dramatically. Millions of refugees have left the country while others have been displaced within Iraq.

3. Since the “The Surge” began in 2007, Iraq has remained the Second Most Corrupt Country in the World.5

Transparency International, the foremost leading international NGO assessing global corruption, has ranked Iraq the second most corrupt country in the world for the past two years (since “The Surge” began). So, how has Iraqi governance been enhanced since “The Surge” began, if this is true?

In a July 2006 report,6 the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) identified fundamental problems in implementing a U.S. anti-corruption program such as the lack of coordination and leadership. SIGIR provided 12 recommendations to address these problems and to form a basis for assessing progress.

For example, SIGIR recommended that the Department of State appoint a senior leader to direct the anti-corruption program and provide continuity in program administration, and that a steering group be established to provide oversight over program activities and ensure that all agencies are working towards a common goal in an efficient and effective manner.

“In our April 2008 report,7 SIGIR discussed how the U.S. Embassy had implemented actions to address two recommendations, but that actions were still needed to fully address the remaining 10.”

Why, in over two years, has the Department of State implemented only two of the 12 recommendations offered to curtail corruption in Iraq? Wasn’t “The Surge” developed to help Iraq enhance governing capacity?8

4. Only five of 18 Political Benchmarks have really been met

The U.S. Embassy states that all but three of 18 benchmarks have been met but this contrasts sharply with other assessments including a recent Government Accountability Office Progress Report.9

And, as of September 25, 2008, The Center for American Progress believes that only four of 18 Benchmarks have been met.10

The Iraqi Benchmarks and their status were taken directly from the Congressional Research Service Report made by Kenneth Katzman (Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division, for Congress dated September 3, 2008.)

Benchmark 1: Forming Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) and completing review

“The CRC was formed but the review has not concluded. The Kurds want the Kirkuk issue settled before finalizing amendments. Sunnis want presidential council to have enhanced powers relative to prime minister. Deadlines for final recommendations beyond the latest May 2008 deadline.”

It is hard to believe that the Departments of State and Defense claim that they have met this benchmark when they clearly have not.

Benchmark 2: Enacting and implementing laws on De-Baathification

“Justice and Accountability Law” passed Jan. 12, 2008. Allows about 30,000 fourth ranking Baathists to regain their jobs, and 3,500 Baathists in top three party ranks would receive pensions. But, could allow for judicial prosecution of all ex-Baathists and to firing of about 7,000 ex-Baathists in post-Saddam security services, and bars ex-Saddam security personnel from regaining jobs. Some reports suggest some De-Baathification officials using the new law to purge political enemies or settle old scores.”

Therefore, this benchmark was met but it has caused increased friction among sects and ethnic groups. How is this an objective met?

Benchmark 3: Enacting and implementing oil laws that ensure equitable distribution of resources

“Framework and three implementing laws stalled over Kurd-Arab disputes; only framework law has reached COR to date. Revenue being distributed equitably, and 2008 budget adopted February 13, 2008 maintains 17{cd9ac3671b356cd86fdb96f1eda7eb3bb1367f54cff58cc36abbd73c33c82e1d} revenue for KRG. Kurds and central government setting up commission to resolve remaining disputes; U.S. Embassy says it expects near-term progress on revenue sharing law (an implementing law).”

This Benchmark is unmet. It remains the most divisive topic.

Benchmark 4: Enacting and implementing laws to form semi-autonomous regions

“Regions law passed October 2006, with relatively low threshold (petition by 33{cd9ac3671b356cd86fdb96f1eda7eb3bb1367f54cff58cc36abbd73c33c82e1d} of provincial council members) to start process to form new regions, but main blocs agreed that law would take effect April 2008. August 2008: petition being circulated among some Basra residents (another way to start forming a region) to begin process of converting Basra province into a single province “region.”

The Department of State says this benchmark has been met, but as the Basra petition of August 2008 indicates, it clearly has not been met. Either the regions have been formed or they have not!

Benchmark 5: Enacting and implementing: (a) a law to establish a higher electoral commission, (b) provincial elections law; (c) a law to specify authorities of provincial bodies, and (d) set a date for provincial elections.

“Draft law stipulating powers of provincial governments (and elections by October 1, 2008) adopted February 13, 2008, took effect April 2008. Election law required to implement elections not adopted due to Kurdish opposition to proposed interim arrangements for Kirkuk power sharing, as well as Arab attempt to replace peshmerga in Kirkuk with ISF. Agreement apparently reached to use “open list” (vote for candidates) voting system, favored by Sadrists. About 4 months preparation (registration, candidate vetting, ballot printing) needed after law is passed.”

The Department of State says (a) and (c) have been met, but (b) and (d) are more important. This benchmark has not been met.

Benchmark 6: Enacting and implementing legislation addressing amnesty for former insurgents

“Law to amnesty ‘non-terrorists’ among 25,000 detainees held by Iraq, passed on February 13, 2008. Of 17,000 approved for release (mostly Sunnis and Sadrist Shi’a), only about 1,600 released to date due to slow judicial process. Does not affect 25,000 detainees held by U.S.”

This benchmark has not been met.

Benchmark 7: Enacting and implementing laws on militia disarmament

“Basra operation, discussed above, viewed by Bush Administration as move against militias. On April 9, 2008, Maliki demanded all militias disband as a condition for their parties to participate in provincial elections. Law on militia demobilization stalled.”

This benchmark has not been met.

Benchmark 8: Establishing political, media, economic, and services committee to support U.S. “Surge”

“No change. ‘Executive Steering Committee’ works with U.S.-led forces.”

This benchmark has been met, but, is it appropriate as a “benchmark?””

Benchmark 9: Providing three trained and ready brigades to support U.S. surge

“No change. Eight brigades were assigned to assist the surge.”

Once again, this benchmark was met but this was never a serious benchmark. We had eight brigades ready for assignment in 2005.

Benchmark 10: Providing Iraqi commanders with authorities to make decisions, without political intervention, to pursue all extremists, including Sunni insurgents and Shi’a militias

“No significant change. Still some, although diminishing, U.S. concern over the Office of the Commander in Chief (part of Maliki’s office) control over appointments to the ISF-favoring Shi’a. Still, some politically-motivated leaders remain in ISF. In the past year, the commander of the National Police has fired over 5,000 officers for sectarian or politically-motivated behavior, and Ministry of Interior said to have been purged of sectarian administrators and their bodyguards. More Sunnis now in command jobs.”

This benchmark has not been met. Iraqi Security Forces are still divided along tribal, ethnic and sectarian lines.

Benchmark 11: Ensuring Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) providing even-handed enforcement of law

“Administration interpreted Basra operation as effort by Maliki to enforce law even-handedly, but acknowledges continued militia influence and infiltration in some units.”

This benchmark has not been met. The police are still highly infiltrated and corrupt.

Benchmark 12: Ensuring that “The Surge” plan in Baghdad will not provide a safe haven for any outlaw, regardless of sectarian affiliation.

“Administration sees ISF acting against JAM in Sadr City, and ethno-sectarian violence has fallen sharply in Baghdad.”

Ethno-sectarian violence may have fallen sharply but that is likely due to the fact that Baghdad is no longer comprised of mixed neighborhoods. Most of the Sunnis have left Baghdad. Additionally, most Iraqis have not returned to Baghdad for fear of lawlessness, threats and militias. So, in reality, this Benchmark has not been met.

Benchmark 13: (a) Reducing sectarian violence and (b) eliminating militia control of local security

“Sectarian violence continues to drop, but militias still armed, despite Basra operation. 103,000 Sunni ‘Sons of Iraq,’ but still distrusted as potential Sunni militia forces. Iraq government will assume payment of 54,000 Sons as of October 1, but opposes integrating more than about 20{cd9ac3671b356cd86fdb96f1eda7eb3bb1367f54cff58cc36abbd73c33c82e1d} into the ISF.”

This benchmark has not been met.

Benchmark 14: Establishing Baghdad joint security stations

“Over 50 joint security stations operating, more than the 33 planned.”

This benchmark has been met.

Benchmark 15: Increasing ISF units capable of operating independently

“Continuing but slow progress training ISF. U.S. officials say ISF likely unable to secure Iraq internally until 2009-2012; and against external threats not for several years thereafter. Basra operation initially exposed continued factionalism and poor leadership in ISF, but also ability to rapidly deploy.”

This benchmark has not been met.

Benchmark 16: Ensuring protection of minority parties in COR

“Rights of minority parties protected by Article 37 of constitution.”

This benchmark was met.

Benchmark 17: Allocating and spending $10 billion in 2007 capital budget for reconstruction projects.

“About 63{cd9ac3671b356cd86fdb96f1eda7eb3bb1367f54cff58cc36abbd73c33c82e1d} of the $10 billion 2007 allocation for capital projects was spent. Another $22 billion is in 2008 Iraqi budget, including August 2008 supplemental portion.”

This benchmark was met.

Benchmark 18: Ensuring that Iraqi authorities not making false accusations against ISF members

“Some governmental recriminations against some ISF officers still observed.”

This benchmark was not met.

Final note about the Iraqi Benchmarks:

How do the Departments of State, Defense, and the Administration justify claiming that 15 of 18 benchmarks have been met? This metric of “success” is another “Surge” myth that continues to be propagated by the MSM and Senator John McCain.

5. The situation in Iraq is fragile despite “The Surge.”

Levels of violence are down but Iraq is a patchwork quilt of tenuous relationships.

Muqtada Al Sadr has maintained the ceasefire of his powerful militia. He is rumored to be completing his theological studies in pursuit of the title of ‘marjea’ which would enable him to issue fatwas – or religious edicts.

The Sunnis have undergone an “Awakening” to consolidate their power after years of costly civil war and bloody conflict with Coalition Forces.

Over 100,000 nongovernmental forces such as the “Sons of Iraq” remain temporarily employed “protecting” their neighborhoods while American dollars buy time.

Meanwhile, the number of Iraqi Security Forces units capable of performing operations without U.S. assistance has remained at a mere 10 percent; far from the autonomous capability needed to secure Iraq’s 18 Provinces.

Kurdish separatists continue to attack Turkish forces with increased intensity and coordination. Turkey responds with air and artillery bombardments and Special Forces incursions into Iraq’s Kurdish region.

Iran continues to offer significant support the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) in Iraq. SIICs leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, commands the powerful Badr Corps and controls most of parliament.

America’s Coalition partners continue to dwindle. Georgian and Polish troops departed in recent weeks.

Iraq’s humanitarian crisis is the largest in the world. Millions remain displaced in neighboring countries and in different Provinces of Iraq. The return of refugees — many of whom no longer have homes to return to, because of the interethnic cleansing — poses a huge threat to the stability of any future Iraqi government…

The economy has not achieved any significant progress and the political climate remains crippled by corruption and uncertainty.

Iraq remains a powder keg. “The Surge” has done little to increase security and enhance governing capacity. A state of civil war remains and regional conflict threatens greater problems for the future.

In an Iraqi nationwide poll was taken in August 2008, only 41{cd9ac3671b356cd86fdb96f1eda7eb3bb1367f54cff58cc36abbd73c33c82e1d} felt that the Government of Iraq (GoI) is “effective at maintaining security” and less than less than one-third (31{cd9ac3671b356cd86fdb96f1eda7eb3bb1367f54cff58cc36abbd73c33c82e1d}) rated the level of peace and stability in Iraq as “stable”

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