General Petraeus (front) at work – but did the surge work? (via Flickr)
Just five weeks before US-general David Petraeus is to testify about the situation in Iraq in front of the US-congress, observers are fighting for the right interpretation of the success of the counterinsurgency strategy.
Launched in February, 30,000 additional troops were sent to the country to carry out sweeps against sectarian extremists. In their OP-ed piece “A War we just might win”for the New York Times, Kenneth Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon of the liberal Brookings Institution pointed out that the perception of the US-President’s Iraq-policy is so negative that the actual steps forwards are not recognized by the public. They claim that – on a military basis – the combat against sectarian violence has been successful, even in Baghdad, and that the threat of Al Kaida in Iraq is less imminent now.
In a radio-interview, Pulitzer Price-winning NYT author John Burns also spoke positively
Even in Germany, Ullrich Fichtner, author of Der Spiegel’s latest cover-story on Iraq, sees the situation more positive than the general public is aware of – even though, he writes, security in some areas of Baghdad has worsened. In his article, he claims that “the world has become deaf to positive news out of Iraq”. about the surge: “Some of the crucial indicators of the war, metrics as the American command calls them, have moved in a positive direction from the American”, he said, “and dare I say the Iraqi point of view, fewer car bombs, fewer bombs in general, lower levels of civilian casualties, quite remarkably lower levels of civilian casualties”.
So, where is the truth? Is it spin or will the media cacophony about the war make it impossible to judge (here you can see an example about how facts can be used for one position or another)?
It may be true that al-Kaida has overrated its own influence, bringing up Sunni militias against them. On the other hand, are the Sunnis a trustworthy ally for the U.S. in the long run? As long as the Iraqi police and army forces do not have the ability to deal with sectarian violence alone, the US-troops cannot be pulled out. And as long mistakes like losing 200,000 weapons continue to happen, most regions of Iraq will continue to be in danger of destabilisation sooner or later.
In September, General Peatraeus is likely to suggest staying longer in Iraq (which could also have implications for the Democratic policy in congress). After this, we might see a new change in US-policy: The personal animosity between Petraeus and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki shows how unsatisfied Washington and Iraqi political leaders are with Mr al-Maliki’s role, as he seems to favour his fellow Shiites (last week, the last Sunni members left his government). Additionally, despite U.S. pressure (as Mr Petraeus‘ report is coming up), Iraq’s parliament went on vacation this month after failing to pass either legislation to share the nation’s oil wealth or to reconcile differences among the factions.
Taking this and the weak Iraqi security forces into account, the USA might switch to a dual tactic: Securing the borders by negotiating with neighbours like Iran, and at the same time working together with local leaders to give Iraq a more federal structure in the long term, limiting Mr al-Malaki’s role to representation and foreign policy. It may not be before spring of 2008 that we will finally see whether there is any improvement in security and political issues.