Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Iraq Endgame

The Iraq Endgame is on. General Petraeus has masterfully used the last 2 years to turn Iraq around from a seemingly-hopeless civil war to a functional--if highly flawed--Middle Eastern state that will soon be ready to control its own security. Mr. Petraeus has also managed to largely immunize his plan from the politics of the US Presidential Election and the US-Iraqi Security Pact, as we can see in the first figure, below.

Figure One: Iraqi Provincial Control

This picture has come a very long way from the mess that Petraeus inherited in February 07, and is right on track with his March 2008 predictions, except for Ninawah (pushed back 1 month) and Baghdad (pushed back a full 6 months). By the time the new president is in office, all provinces except for Baghdad will be under full Iraqi security control, with only minimal US support given. Petraeus is ready for even a hasty withdrawal, or some other form of unfavorable Iraq security pact.


In Iraqi polls, the number of people that feel safe in their neighborhood has shot up dramatically. This confidence is key to finally being able to report to authorities the locations and goings-on of local militias and gangs, which undermine the security of those outside one's neighborhood (which is why those poll number are so very low). If one feels very safe in his own neighborhood, he knows he'll receive protection if he is an informant, or if he stops funding the militias. Without funding or anonymity, the militias will be increasingly easy to track down and break up.

A few very interesting observations should be noted about this poll. First, Anbar is one of the most responsive provinces to the question of confidence in the Government of Iraq (GoI). This kind of poll undermines serious concerns about Anbar citizens being able to accept government hegemony. Basrah has very little confidence, but this is largely due to the power of the Al-Sadr militia there--supporters of the militia are necessarily anti-government, and non-supporters feel largely unsafe, and lack confidence in the government's ability to keep Al-Sadr in check. The very red results in Ninawah and Salad al-Din are more difficult to interpret. I will have to look into it.


Average daily electrical power remains low. Here, I am not sure why the US is not able to use its many hundreds of billions of spending to build some oil-run power plants. It seems a rather simple solution. Any insight from my readers would be appreciated.Here we see the once-infamous security incident trends graph. Particularly low here are small arms attacks--mortar, gunfire, RPGs, etc. This indicates that the Iraqi insurgents have lost their ability to operate openly--they cannot simply patrol their blocks with arms, waiting for Coalition or ISF troops to jump. Anti-government attacks remain somewhat stubborn--this is strange largely due to the fact that Sunnis have largely stopped attacking the government (think Sons of Iraq) and the Shiite extremist groups have a lot of power in the government currently. Either these attacks are by Al-Qaeda and other fundamentalists (which is very possible given the high number of IED and other bomb attacks/removals remaining in this chart), or Shiite gangs in Basrah have stopped fighting each other and have tried to take control of the city instead.


This trend graph is one of the less dramatic--the green line is Iraqi Security Forces deaths, and it's not particularly heartening. 100 or so ISF troops are still killed per month, and that number has been stubborn for months. It's an indication that the dramatic decrease in US deaths is due in large part to the fact that US troops have taken a back seat in security operations. US troop deaths cannot be used as a direct proxy for peace in Iraq. On the other hand, it means that the ISF is growing increasingly competent--if they are taking a larger and larger role in Iraq and their death toll is not increasing, then they are definitionally becoming safer per capita or per operation. Expect to see this number drop a few months after the full handover is complete (probably May). This is probably the most heartening graph in the set. Ethnosectarian deaths are 2 orders of magnitude lower today than they were in December 2006, at their peak. The civil war is just plain over, and the ISF now needs to concentrate on fundamentalist militant groups and Shiite gangs. This is a sigh of relief for the ISF. During the civil war, protecting one group meant giving it a military advantage against the other--there were no clear "victims," and the government was the enemy of most of its citizens--and thus it undermined its own support. But as it eliminates al-Qaeda, confidence in its ability to protect and serve will grow. When that confidence is high enough, it will have the political capital to pressure Al-Sadr and the Shiite gangs to disarm, or finish them once and for all. The Iraqi government is not going to tolerate having its own Hezbollah-style groups running around its southern regions.

Perhaps the most important sign of security success is civilian deaths; reducing civilian deaths (and pain and displacement, etc) is the primary job of the ISF, and deaths are probably an excellent proxy for all the bad stuff. Current monthly civilian deaths are 1/7 their peak, and are not as stubborn as the ISF death numbers--that is, they have declined int he last 6 months. This means that the ISF is improving the security of its citizens as it takes over, while simultaneously not losing more men per month.

We should note that confidence lags security significantly--and why shouldn't it? When one has lived in civil war and terror for years, one is not going to jump on reports of a quiet month and decide that everything is okay. By the time the new president is in office, though, confidence in the government's ability to keep Iraqis safe is likely to be much higher. When that happens, Iraq will be ready to run itself--it is still a highly flawed country, but when people begin to feel safe, they can return to normalcy, and the government can more easily address the non-security needs of its nation. This is the endgame. We must now see how cheaply and quickly we can take our leave.
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