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A verdict on the “surge”


Was the decline in American casualties since the second half of 2007 due to the Bush administration's 30,000-soldier “surge” in Iraq in January 2007? The answer is no. There are more important factors than the "surge" that brought about the reduction in casualties. The timing of events, however, made it convenient for the Bush administration to credit the "surge" with the success.


What might explain the reduction in American casualties since the second half of 2007?

The violence in Iraq against American forces did not diminish as a result of adding 30,000 soldiers to the battle field. The "surge" added a mere 5% to an already significant security force numbering 600,000 soldiers before the "surge"; American and allied troops (180,000), Iraqi army and police (320,000), security contractors (100,000). In a relatively small country like Iraq  of about 25 million people, a security force of 600,000 soldiers is not small. 


Three factors may explain how the improvement was achieved.

The first factor is Tehran’s interest in calming matters down in Iraq during the remaining few month of the Bush administration’s term in office. In October 2007, US military officials began noticing a decrease in the supply of Iranian weapons and assistance. Spokesman Col. Steven Boylan said General Petraeus observes that Iran is following through on promises it made to Iraqi and US officials last fall not to provide aid to extremists in Iraq, adding, “We are ready to confirm the excellence of the senior Iranian leadership in their pledge to stop the funding, training, equipment and resourcing of the militia special groups.” In a related development, on August 29, 2007, Muqtada Al-Sadr suddenly ordered his Mahdi Army militia to suspend all acts of violence for six months. On February 23, 2008, Al-Sadr extended the cease-fire for six additional months. On August 8, 2008, Al-Sadr announced that his militias would disarm if the US set and followed a timetable for withdrawing its troops from Iraq. 

The second factor was in November 2007. A report by the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), the body that reflects the consensus view of all sixteen US intelligence agencies, stated with “high confidence” that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and has not restarted it. This conclusion reversed the findings of a similar NIE report in 2005.

The third factor is American success in arming and funding the Sunni tribes in the Anbar Province to fight Al-Qaeda instead of shooting at US forces. Named Awakening Forces, these have grown quickly during 2007 to about 100,000 men. There is little doubt that the “Awakening” project was made possible through the cooperation of neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Iran. 

How is one to read these developments? 

On the short-term, Washington is happy; the number of US casualties has dropped significantly. Tehran is happy; the threat of a Bush administration attack against its nuclear facilities has receded. Tehran is also happy because a drop in the level of violence in Iraq would make it difficult for Washington to stay in Iraq under the pretext of keeping order in the street. Indeed, the prospects of an Obama administration arriving at the While House in January 2009, with the possibility of withdrawing American forces altogether within 2-3 years, must have tantalized Tehran's policy makers into doing whatever they could to facilitate the departure of American forces. Iraq’s Arab Sunnis are optimistic; hoping that in return for “Awakening,” Washington would force the Baghdad government to amend the federalist provisions in Iraq’s constitution. 


On the other hand, the Al-Maliki government, however, is uneasy about the growth in “Awakening” strength. The US/Sunni accommodation means US pressure on Iraq’s Shiite government to give the Sunnis concessions. Iraq’s defense minister stated on December 22, 2007: “Iraq will not allow US-backed neighborhood patrols to become a ‘third force’ alongside police and the army.” Violent clashes between government forces and “Awakening” units in certain areas have already occurred. On August 21, 2008, the New York Times reported that the Iraqi military is going after 650 Awakening members and that a leading Shiite member of Parliament, Jalaladeen Sagheer, said: "The state cannot accept the Awakening … Their days are numbered."

The long-term prospects for a durable reduction in violence, however, are dim. Tehran and Washington are in conflict over who will ultimately control GCC oil politics. Washington, 10,000 kilometers away, relies on military bases to control the oil fields and maintain the hapless corrupt Arab tribal sheikhs, emirs, kings, and sultans. Iran, being next door, will want to limit America’s influence in the region, starting with the removal of US forces from Iraq.

Iran's solid infrastructure of support in Southern Iraq

Most of Iraq’s 15-million Shiite population live there. Shiism’s holiest shrines are there. The prominent families of Najaf and Karbala trace their roots to long lines of marriages with the leading clerics families of Iran. Ayatollahs have cross-country followings. The ayatollahs of Qom have followings in Iraq and elsewhere just like Najaf’s ayatollahs, who have followings in Iran and elsewhere. From Najaf and Karbala, Iranian clerics often led the world of Shiism.

Furthermore, Tehran’s men control Baghdad. Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani is obeyed by millions in Iraq and Iran. Born and raised in Iran, he does not accept Iraqi citizenship. Through his disciples, he has been heavily involved in the American designs on Iraq. While consolidating Shiite control, Al-Sistani has had a good reason to support the presence of the occupation troops. Notwithstanding this support, however, Al-Sistani is no friend of the American occupation. An objective of the election platform of the Al-Sistani-approved list of candidates that contested the January 30, 2005 elections was a timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces from Iraq. Middle East Online reported on May 23, 2008 that Al-Sistani has been quietly issuing fatwas declaring that armed resistance against US-led foreign troops is permissible.

Until his death on August 26, 2009 in Tehran, Abdulaziz Al-Hakeem was the head of SCIRI and the Badr Brigade (his son Ammar inherited the mantle). The Badr Brigade, a militia financed, trained, and equipped by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard fought on the side of Tehran in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988). On December 21, 2006, US troops raided Al-Hakeem’s compound in Baghdad and detained two members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Abdulaziz Al-Hakeem spent most of his adult life in Iran. He was the leader of the largest Parliamentary bloc. When his older brother was assassinated in August 2003, Tehran declared three days of mourning.      

Muqtada Al-Sadr, through his Mahdi Army, may be described as Tehran’s instrument to harass U.S. forces. Muqtada's father and uncle were Grand Ayatollahs. His uncle founded in 1958 the Islamic Daawa Party (IDP). IDP received big support from Tehran. Its leaders, Al-Jaafari and Al-Maliki, became Iraq’s transitional prime minister and full-term prime minister, respectively. 

Strengthening Tehran’s grip on Baghdad are the personal rivalries that exist among Iraq’s Shiite leaders, particularly the Hakeem camp and the Sadr organization.  Divide and rule is a weapon in the hand of Iran’s ayatollahs to keep Iraq’s Shiite politicians virtual surrogates. That Iran made Al-Sadr and Iraqi government end the fighting in Basra in March 2008 is a case in point. 

On April 9, 2003, control in Mesopotamia was transferred to Iraq’s estimated 60% Shiite majority after a thousand years of Arab Sunni control. Washington’s elimination of the Wahhabi Taliban to the East in Afghanistan and Saddam’s regime to the West in Iraq allowed Iran to become a regional powerhouse over the world’s richest oil region. On April 9, 2003, the U.S. won the battle against a tattered Iraq, but Iran, without firing a shot, won the war for Iraq; a triumph for the Khomeini revolution and Shiism’s greatest moments since Saladin ended the rule of the Shiite Fatimid State in Cairo in 1171. 

Regardless of whether the U.S. increases the level of its military presence in Iraq or withdraws altogether; whether the Democrats or the Republicans control the White House and/or Capitol Hill, and regardless of whether Iraq emerges from its current chaos as a single entity, a federal republic, or broken-up into three states the occupation has set in motion events that make it difficult to predict how lifting the lid on Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic tensions could lead to anything but to Iranian domination over southern Iraq, to Shiite emboldenment everywhere, and to endless long-Term Shiite/Sunni conflicts spilling rivers of blood and breeding hoards of Jihadists until the Sunni leaders in the region would either accept Iran’s hegemony or succeed in stopping the march of Shiism.

In return for cooling the Bush administration’s threats to attack Iran over the nuclear issue and in the expectation that less violence could accelerate the US withdrawal from Iraq, Tehran helped calm Iraq. The lull could come to an end if Iran is attacked by Washington or Israel, or if Washington decides to overstay its welcome in Iraq. In his report to the Congress on April 8, 2008, General David Petraeus described the situation in Iraq as “fragile and reversible.”


The lull in American casualties has not been due to the "surge". 

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