Monday, September 1, 2008

The Iraq Surge

The New York Times is reporting that there was significant debate within the Bush administration about whether to proceed with the Iraq "troop surge."

At the time, General Abizaid and others within the Pentagon objected that the surge would not be sustainable, and that it would not meet the goals laid out for it:

some officials and senior military officers are arguing against the idea, saying that it could undercut a sense of urgency for Iraqi units to take on a greater role in fighting the insurgency and preventing sectarian attacks. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the head of the United States Central Command, told Congress last week that the military was stretched so thin that such an increase could not be sustained over the long term.
Temporary spikes in troop levels have succeeded in tamping down insurgent violence in Iraq in the past. But several Pentagon officials say they are not sure that the Army can achieve the same results against attacks fueled increasingly by sectarian tension. An increase in American forces this year to more than 140,000 from 128,000 has failed to stem the spike in sectarian attacks, they noted.

Representative Duncan Hunter, a California Republican who is losing the chairmanship of the Armed Services Committee at the end of the year, said at a news conference that rather than sending more American troops, he favored redeploying Iraqi units from largely calm areas to Baghdad and other violence-ridden sections of the country.

“The idea of having the Iraqi battalions that we’ve stood up and trained 50 to 100 miles away, in areas that are peaceful, simply staying in their barracks while we put together new rotations of Americans to take their place, simply doesn’t make sense,” he said.

Different factions within the administration favored different options:

But Mr. Bush’s penchant to defer to commanders in the field and to a powerful defense secretary delayed the development of a new approach until conditions in Iraq, in the words of a November 2006 analysis by the Central Intelligence Agency, resembled anarchy and “civil war.”

When the White House began its formal review of Iraq strategy that month, the Pentagon favored a stepped-up effort to transfer responsibility to Iraqi forces that would have facilitated American troop cuts.

The State Department promoted an alternative that would have focused on fighting terrorists belonging to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, containing the violence in Baghdad and intervening to quell sectarian violence only when it reached the proportions of “mass killing.”

The American ambassador to Baghdad argued that he should be given broad authority to negotiate a political compact among the Iraqis.

“The proposals to send more U.S. forces to Iraq would not produce a long-term solution and would make our policy less, not more, sustainable,” the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, wrote in a classified cable.
Because some aides to the Joint Chiefs of Staff were suggesting at the time that the military was stretched too thin to send many more troops, another security council staff member, William J. Luti, a retired Navy captain, was asked to quietly determine whether forces were available. Mr. Luti reported that five brigades’ worth of additional combat forces could be sent and recommended that they be deployed. The idea later won additional support among some officials as a result of a detailed study by Gen. Jack Keane, the former vice chief of staff at the Army, and Frederick W. Kagan, a military specialist, that was published by the American Enterprise Institute.

In the end, the troop reinforcement proposal split the military. Even after the president had made the basic decision to send additional troops, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, never sought more than two brigades, about 8,000 troops in all, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates reported to Mr. Bush in late December. But General Casey’s approach substantially differed from those of two officers who wanted a much bigger effort: the No. 2 commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, who helped oversee the military’s new counterinsurgency manual and whose views were known by the White House before he was publicly named to replace General Casey, administration officials said.
Three days after the 2006 midterm Congressional elections, the White House finally convened a formal governmentwide review. The Republicans had taken a beating at the polls and the Iraq Study Group, a nonpartisan panel led by Lee H. Hamilton, the former Democratic representative, and James A. Baker III, the secretary of state to the first President Bush, was preparing to publish its recommendations — to step up efforts to train Iraqi troops and withdraw virtually all American combat brigades by spring 2008.
the debate continued to swirl. In an early December meeting of top officials, Mr. Cheney argued for sending forces to address the sectarian violence in Baghdad, while Ms. Rice reiterated her argument that there was little the military could do to stop sectarian violence there, according to notes taken by a participant.
By now, there was a split in the military community. General Odierno had taken over in early December as the second-ranking officer in Iraq. He conducted a review that called for a minimum of five additional brigades in and around Baghdad and two more battalions in Anbar Province to reinforce efforts to work with Sunni tribes there.

As a subordinate to General Casey, General Odierno had no role in the security council review. But his views were known to General Keane, the retired four-star general who had helped oversee the study for the American Enterprise Institute that advocated adding five Army brigades and two Marine regiments. In separate meetings with Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney on Dec. 11, General Keane relayed General Odierno’ assessment, which was forwarded by General Pace as well.

Along with Mr. Kagan, General Keane also described in detail to Mr. Cheney and his staff his own plan calling for American forces to be deployed in mixed Sunni-Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad to demonstrate that the United States would be even-handed in protecting civilians.
Donald H. Rumsfeld’s resignation on Nov. 6, and Mr. Gates’s swearing-in to replace him as defense secretary in mid-December, removed some of the institutional resistance at the Pentagon to the “surge.” Ms. Rice also became more supportive after it was made clear that demands would be made of the Iraqis.

(Reuters has published a summary of this article.)

Much of the success of the surge has been due to the "Sunni Awakening," where Sunni tribes switched sides and began to fight against al Qaeda rather than being allied with them. Some critics of the surge point out that the Sunni tribesmen are on Washington's payroll, and suggest that they may decide to defect back once the payments stop. Washington has been encouraging the Iraqi government to integrate as many of these fighters as possible into the Iraqi defense forces, which would reduce this possibility.

But even as it sought ways to support Maliki, the United States was also hedging its bets by working with tribes in Iraq’s far-flung provinces. Before the surge, the American military had joined forces with Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi (known as Abu Risha) and other Sunni sheiks against Sunni insurgents. The additional American troops during the surge reinforced that effort and encouraged it to spread. The Iraqis called the tribal movement a Sahawa or Awakening. The Americans initially called the tribesmen “concerned local citizens,” but when translated into Arabic that came out something like “worried Iraqis.” So the name was changed to “Sons of Iraq.”

There has also been resistance from the Iraqi government to applying the same strategy to the Shiite militias.

Together they devised a plan to rid Diwaniya of the Shiite militias that roamed freely through the streets, and to strengthen the hand of Shiite tribal leaders: a variation on the tribal-empowerment plan that had already done so much to blunt the power of Sunni insurgents in Iraq’s once-violent Anbar Province. But their strategy wound up attracting far more attention than they liked from the Shiite-led government of Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, for the simple reason that sharing power within the Shiite fold was just as difficult for many Shiites as sharing power with Sunnis.

Over the previous few years, my own trips through Iraq had focused mostly on the U.S. and Iraqi governments’ struggle with Sunni insurgents in battlegrounds like Mosul, Baquba, Hit and Arab Jabour. But the nature of the war has fundamentally changed. The American “surge,” together with a strategy that emphasized protecting civilians and engaging with Sunni tribesmen, weakened Sunni insurgents and jihadists. The bitter fighting between Shiites and Sunnis that turned Baghdad into a killing ground of car bombs, suicide attacks and mutilated corpses has quieted down. And now this sectarian struggle has been eclipsed by a growing tussle for power among the Shiites themselves. The competition involves Prime Minister Maliki and the Shiite religious parties (the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and Maliki’s Dawa Party) that constitute the ruling hierarchy in Baghdad; Moktada al-Sadr’s weakened but still-popular political movement and its military wing, the Jaish al-Mahdi, or Mahdi Army; and, increasingly, Shiite tribes.
Shiite tribal leaders had begun to network with the Sunni Anbar sheiks to discuss how they might bring more security to the south and enhance their own political clout. Maj. Gen. John Allen, who served as the second-highest-ranking American officer in Anbar in 2007 and early 2008, recalled how Shiite sheiks from neighboring Karbala Province visited Anbar for a tribal get-together. They chanted poetry and closed the session by posing before an Awakening flag: crossed scimitars, the scales of justice and a pot of coffee on a yellow field. There were other meetings. “Their plea was, ‘Help us to get organized and we can throw off this thing called the Mahdi Army, and we can get the tribal society dominant again in the south, and we can begin to bring social order to the south akin to the way Sunni tribes had brought social order back to Anbar Province,’ ” Allen recalled.
After word of the program spread, dozens of sheiks began to approach Othman to get in on it. The next step was to import the program from the approach roads to the streets of the city. The sheiks were less of a force inside the city, so Team Phoenix put out the word that patrol volunteers would be paid slightly less than the pay scale for an Iraqi Army soldier. To protect the police’s prerogative, it was decided that the citizen-watch groups inside the city would not be armed. They would be equipped with radios to contact the police and would be outfitted with orange reflector belts for identification.
On Dec. 2, 2007, there was a meeting of the Ministerial Committee for National Security, a top-level body in Baghdad that Maliki and senior American officials used to coordinate policy. One agenda item was the Sons of Iraq, of which there were now more than 100,000, largely as a result of the Sunni Awakening. As the Americans saw it, the program was integral to the turnaround in Anbar and helped improve security in Abu Ghraib, Yusufiya, Diyala and even Baghdad. They wanted the Maliki government to integrate at least 20,000 and ideally 30,000 of the recruits into the Iraqi Army and police and find ways to employ the rest.
Maliki appeared to accept as many as 103,000 Sons of Iraq but insisted there could be no tribal Awakening in the Shiite south, his own power base. “The prime minister said, ‘Look, it is different in the south,’ ” recalled a senior American official who asked not to be named, because of the sensitivity of the subject. “ ‘There is not the same security imperative there. The Iraqi security forces can take on the security threat that comes from militias. It is not a question of the tribes being actively in bed with the militia. There is a different security dynamic. The Awakening would be a political movement. That is not what the coalition should be doing.’ I think he did not want us to be creating political movements to challenge him. I have got to say there is some merit to that.”