This will probably wind up being a series of posts as there has been a lot said over the past couple days. In this post I am only going to focus on the prepared testimony Petraeus delivered Tuesday (charts here).
Petraeus starts out by pointing out the reduction in deaths in Iraq, at least until this recent renewal of attacks. Unfortunately, due to the compactness of the chart, it's very hard to see where that reduction is other than the overall change. There was a reduction in heavy arms fire (rockets and mortars) as well as sniper and small arms attacks. However, it appears IED and infrastructure attacks are little changed since the surge started (although down from the peak a year ago). There also appears to have been a drop in "ethno-sectarian" deaths.
These numbers, on their surface, make it look like the surge is working. But looking at those charts, his further testimony, and other things going on in Iraq, you begin to see that it isn't so simple.
There are three main causes of this drop in violence nationwide. The one Petraeus talked about the most is the so called "Sons of Iraq." This is an army of over 90,000 mercenaries that we are paying top dollar not to shoot at us. This would be like the city of New York paying the mafia protection money. Except it gets praised in Washington. Even Petraeus shows some hesitancy about this group in his testimony, "[The] transition of Sons of Iraq into the Iraqi Security Forces or other pursuits will require . . . careful monitoring."
The second, and this gets brief mention, is Al-Sadr's cease fire. This started back in August and was meant to last six months, coincidentally the planned duration of the surge. Unfortunately, this has recently ended, and violence is back on the rise. It also appears that Sadr has lost some of his control over these militias, which would make enacting another one of these difficult at best.
Lastly, and this is not talked about during his opening remarks but it is reflected in some of his charts, is the increasing segregation of neighborhoods. Like in Palestine now and Germany ages ago, areas where large numbers of Sunnis live are being walled off and guarded by largely Shiite military and police.
Then he gets to where Bush wants him to go, Iran. He claims that Iran is aiding in these recent attacks while the only proof he gives is that the weapons are Iranian. That would be like claiming Russia or China were involved in attacks because AK-47s were used. Are there weapons and supplies going to the militias from Iran? Probably, but no more so than from Saudi Arabia or Jordan (the home of the former Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader). This claim also dismisses Iran's well noted influence over the current Iraqi prime minister al-Maliki.
He goes on to detail improvements in Iraq's security forces. Thousands of troops and police trained, all in the same facility. Now it may just be my sense of paranoia, but do you really want the civilian police to be an offshoot of the military? He also highlights their contributions to the peace effort by saying that three times more of them have died than American soldiers. Could those numbers be largely reflective of the poorer equipment and training compared to our troops? He says "The number of combat battalions capable of taking the lead in operations, albeit with some Coalition support, has grown," meaning they still can't take the field alone. This is highlighted best in the uprising in Basra, where even now we are still fighting. Oh, but he does give a caveat to that " some of our assessments may be downgraded as a result [of our after action reviews]." So, in other words, this assessment isn't very accurate, huh?
What have we gained? A well funded mercenary force that may turn on us again at any moment, but some of them are in the main military, so it's ok. What do we need to do in Iraq? Don't withdraw forces and give us more money to keep paying them off...