The Iraq stalemate

Tuesday’s testimony in Washington offered two irreconcilable visions of Iraq – one of confidence and progress, the other of chaos and failure

Marina Ottaway

Guardian, April 8, 2008

There was nothing new in the testimony to Congress of General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq. Violence in Iraq is down considerably since the beginning of the surge, but the gains are extremely fragile and could easily be reversed. The improvement is due above all to the mobilisation of Sunni militias on the American payroll – the awakening Councils, the Sons of Iraq, the Concerned Citizens Groups – against al-Qaida and to the ceasefire called by Moqtada Sadr, the firebrand leader of a major Shia political factions and its armed wing, the Mahdi Army. Because the improvement is real but fragile, the United States will continue to draw down the number of troops until July, when it will reach the pre-surge level of 140,000, then pause for at least 45 days to evaluate the situation. There is no telling when a new drawdown could start and what troop levels will be at the end of 2008.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker could not point to anything new, either. Political progress in Iraq has been – disappointing was a word General Petraeus had used previously. Yet, the situation is far from bleak. Despite the recent fighting in Basra and Baghdad, the spike in violent incidents and the uptick in the number of US casualties in March, put in the proper perspective the trends are still positive.

In a nutshell, the situation in Iraq remains largely unchanged since the last time General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testified in September 2007. So does the position of the Bush administration that insists progress is taking place but refuses to be pinned down to any long-term plan.

Continued . . .

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