Monday, May 11, 2009

# Posted 7:11 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS PROGRESS EVAPORATING IN IRAQ? Gen. Petraeus explains the situation to Chris Wallace:
WALLACE: There is also growing violence in Iraq, amid signs that the Iraqi government is dropping some of the counterinsurgency tactics that you introduced into Iraq. Jobs programs in Sunni areas are — are being ended. The Sunni "Awakening" — these are Sunni forces that are fighting Sunni insurgents — some of those units have not been paid for most of this year.

Are we giving back — is the Iraqi government giving back some of the gains that we worked so hard to establish on the ground in Iraq?

PETRAEUS: Well, first of all, I don't think it's accurate to say that the "Sons of Iraq," these Sunni "Awakening" forces, have not been paid this year. There is drama and emotion with every single payday, but the vast majority of these "Sons of Iraq" have been paid during the pay periods.

There's another one ongoing right now. Inevitably, names are lost, mixed up, or what have you. But over time, we feel quite comfortable with what the Iraqi government has done in taking care of these "Sons of Iraq" and on taking them all now onto their payroll rather than being on ours.

The level of violence, actually, has been roughly about the same for the last five or six months, which is quite significant. It has averaged between 10 and 15 attacks per day for that period, which equates to a level of violence not seen since the late summer of 2003 before the insurgency and well before the militia activities accumulated that led to, at one time, 160 attacks per day in Iraq in June of 2007. What we have seen and what is troubling, certainly, has been the incidence of sensational attacks, if you will, high-casualty-causing attacks. Particularly, we saw these in Baghdad a few weeks ago.

That did prompt a number of attacks with Iraqi conventional and special operations forces, together with our forces, to go after the reemerging networks of Al Qaeda.

We should expect that Al Qaeda will continue to try to reestablish itself in Iraq, even as the focus of Al Qaeda's senior leadership appears to have shifted away somewhat from support of the activities in Iraq.
I think Gen. Petraeus is right to focus on the overall number of attacks the insurgents are able to launch. That is the best indicator of whether the insurgency is gaining strength as a military and political force. And that number has remained stable.

At the same time, high-casualty suicide attacks create a perception of insecurity far out of proportion to the damage they cause. One might say that April was an especially bloody month in Iraq, with twice as many civilian fatalities as in January or February. On the other hand, the remarkably low casualty levels in January and February may just have been just a winter lull, since that's when the insurgents tend to be least active. Compared to any of the last six months of 2008, April was pretty typical in terms of violence.

The insurgents have made America pay attention recently with headline-grabbing attacks. As both sides know, "If it bleeds, it leads." If the insurgents continue to commit atrocities at that pace, it will represent a significant failure in terms of security. But explosions and headlines are at best a lagging indicator of the political changes that really matter. My best guess is that Gen. Petraeus is telling the President the same thing.

Cross-posted at Conventional Folly
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