Thursday, July 17, 2008

Is the War in Iraq Over?

If you're not familiar with the work of Michael Yon, you should be. He is an independent reporter who has spent more time in Iraq than any other journalist, and most of that time he has been embedded with various military units. According to Yon:

barring any major and unexpected developments (like an Israeli air strike on Iran and the retaliations that would follow), a fair-minded person could say with reasonable certainty that the war has ended. A new and better nation is growing legs. What's left is messy politics that likely will be punctuated by low-level violence and the occasional spectacular attack. Yet, the will of the Iraqi people has changed, and the Iraqi military has dramatically improved, so those spectacular attacks are diminishing along with the regular violence. Now it's time to rebuild the country, and create a pluralistic, stable and peaceful Iraq. That will be long, hard work. But by my estimation, the Iraq War is over. We won. Which means the Iraqi people won.
Yon also provides statistics to back up his claim (they can be found here in a PowerPoint file). The statistics are amazing to look at, as are the trends. Michael Totten summarizes them over at Commentary:
Security incidents, or attacks, are at their lowest level in four years. Civilian deaths are down by almost 90 percent since General Petraeus’ counterinsurgency “surge” strategy went into effect. High profile attacks, or explosions, are down by 80 percent in the same time period. American and Iraqi soldiers suffer far fewer casualties than they have for years. Ethno-sectarian deaths from Iraq’s civil war plunged all the way down to zero in May and June 2008.
Reports from all over Iraq indicate that al Qaeda is all but defeated, and the US Embassy in Iraq recently reported that Iraq has met 15 of the 18 benchmarks established by Congress. According to the report:

the only remaining shortfalls were the Baghdad government's failure to enact and implement laws governing the oil industry and the disarmament of militia and insurgent groups, and continuing problems with the professionalism of the Iraqi police. All other goals -- including preparations for upcoming elections, reform of de-Baathification and disarmament laws, progress on enacting and spending Iraq's budget, and the capabilities of the Iraqi army -- were rated "satisfactory."
The GAO has disagreed with this report, stating that there has been "little improvement in the political and economic spheres and noted continuing military problems despite a significant decline in overall violence." Still, the significant decline in violence is astounding. The embassy report stated that:
the Iraqi parliament has passed significant legislation on de-Baathification reform, the division of powers between the central and provincial governments, and amnesty for former insurgents. It grades progress in all of those areas as newly "satisfactory" even as it acknowledges that the laws in most cases have been implemented slowly, if at all. Congress mandated that Iraq both "enact and implement" the benchmark laws.

The embassy cited progress toward increasing the number of Iraqi security force units capable of independent operations. Although it says that the overall number of units that can operate independently has increased "marginally," it concludes that "70% of all formed units can now conduct [counter-insurgency] operations with or without Coalition support."

This is not to say that there won't be more deaths, either of US soldiers or Iraqis. But if al Qaeda has in fact been defeated, and the Iraqi government is stabilizing, there may in fact be a light at the end of the tunnel.


Joshua Foust said...

All those charts say is we're back to either early 2006 or 2004, depending on the type of incident being tracked. Given the trends at both times, including the many declarations of imminent victory, I think Yon's analysis warrants significant skepticism.

Stefan Moluf said...


That may be true, but the US could only dream of being back into early 2004 levels of violence just a year ago.

More than that, past declarations of imminent victory have been made, frankly, with flagrant disregard for the facts on the ground. Yon's analysis, while perhaps optimistic, is a direct result of the sea change that has taken place since the "surge" began.

Iraq is a different place today, and the most important work is behind us. The war may not be over, but we're on the right side of the turning point.

Do you keep up with Michael J. Totten? If not, you should.