Monday, December 31, 2007

Approaching Victory

General Petraeus summarize trends in Iraq that I've discussed over the years. Let's look at them:

U.S. forces will thin out through the year, rather than abruptly handing control to Iraqis. First Iraqi politicians must work out "fundamental" governance issues, Petraeus said, and continue expanding the Iraqi security forces. The country's police and army added about 100,000 members this year and benefited from a 70,000-member, Sunni-majority U.S.-funded Concerned Local Citizens groups.

Iraq's forces needed time to get bigger, better equipped, and better trained. We have bought that time. Even as we reduce American troop levels, overall troop strength will be higher after the surge. And I was emphatic in urging the creation of local defense forces as the first line of defense for the government against the terrorists and insurgents. Related to this, I tried to emphasize that getting enemies to defect is part of beating an insurgency. If you say we can't trust enemies to give up, you are really saying we have to kill every one of them. Or you're saying the enemy should win.

It's unrealistic for U.S. forces to wait for car bombs and suicide vests to disappear before beginning to wind down, he said.

Since fall 2003, I've argued for this point. We don't need to kill the last enemy. We need to make sure the Iraqi government can do that. Some enemies will not flee or surrender. They must be killed to restore peace.

"The question is 'Are they reducing in number and effectiveness over time?'" he said. "I think the answer to that has been yes."

This is the process of atomizing the enemy so that they are weak enough to be handled by green and developing government security forces. Those that parrot the truism that insurgency is not primarily a military mission neglect that it is still war and that we must still kill the enemy.

Extremist militias could pose a long-term threat to the country, Petraeus said, but the most significant enemy for now is al Qaida.

"It is the enemy that carries out the most horrific attacks, that causes the greatest damage to infrastructure and that seems most intent on reigniting ethno-sectarian violence," Petraeus said.

Petraeus confirms the threat of the jihadis as the most prolific murderers but knows they can't actually take over Iraq. He knows that thugs among the majority Shias are the more potent potential threat to the government itself.

As fresh military units cycle into the country next year, Petraeus said they'll use "graduate-level warfare" that combines force, education, public relations, politics and economics to pinch terrorist operations. Deploying troops should be prepared for unconventional Gangs of New York-style work, as al Qaida becomes a Mafia-like organization that strong-arms its way into profitable Iraqi businesses to fund itself.

Before the surge started, I said this surge would be the last phase of the war where we'd dominate in combat. Our forces will recede from the day-to-day fight as we turn over combat duties to Iraqi security forces that have grown significantly this last year. Actually, we are well ahead of where I thought we'd be by the end of the year. We will need to move on--even while combat takes place--to supporting the rule of law by bolstering courts and fighting corruption and crime as our primary job.

We are winning. We must make sure we stick with our reduced sacrifices long enough to finalize the victory. Well, as much as any victory can be "finalized," of course. New threats always seem to arise. That's the way it goes.