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Update on Iraq

September 3, 2007
Weekly Columns

Next week Congress will receive the long awaited and eagerly anticipated progress report from General David Petraeus regarding the impact of the recently enacted “surge” in Iraq.  As the Commander of the multi-nation force in Iraq, General Petraeus is in a unique position to help craft American policy in Iraq.  And as one of our nation’s most highly respected soldiers, with a reputation for honesty and complete candor, General Petraeus’s report will carry a great deal of weight with me and my colleagues in Congress.

While I do not want to speculate about what General Petraeus will submit to the Congress and the President, a recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) may foreshadow what we are about to learn regarding progress in Iraq. And not surprisingly, that estimate reports tremendous success and progress by the American military forces that have been tasked with training their Iraqi counterparts in maintaining law and order.  Unfortunately, it also reports that the Iraqi political situation is still unstable and their elected leaders remain unable to govern effectively.
The NIE was released by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) this month to inform the President, policymakers and the public about the current and projected future of security efforts in Iraq. Within the report, several new findings were uncovered since the NIC released their initial report in January. The NIE notes that there have been measurable but uneven successes across the country. It also indicates that in the past seven weeks the high rates of escalating violence have fallen moderately. This has occurred because Coalition forces, Iraqi forces and other entities have been cooperating and have seen some success controlling the movement of the Al-Qaeda presence in Iraq. I believe that this success is due in part to the additional American troops that have recently entered Iraq.

But, in spite of this progress, sectarian groups within Iraq remain divided and political leaders have made little headway in effectively governing the nation. The NIE contends that as long as stringent counterinsurgency operations continue and are supported with the assistance of Iraq’s security forces, the overall security in Iraq will increase in the next six to twelve months. The future stability of the country will depend greatly on the ability of political leaders to govern effectively with the support of a majority of Iraqis. According to the NIE, until that occurs, violence will remain high among the various political and religious sects active in the country.
The report draws attention to the fact that the initial results of the surge have been positive and notable, but that more reforms need to occur so that the Iraqi government can maintain order and establish a rule of law. I believe we are now seeing the onset of more positive changes with the additional forces in place to provide support and security to our efforts in Iraq. However, sustained progress and eventual stability in Iraq will ultimately depend on the ability of Iraqi political leaders and groups to share power and settle their political differences peacefully.

There is no question that the roadway to success within Iraq has been paved with challenges and hardships and that there are more of them to come in the future. I believe that over time, Iraqi political leaders and factions will work together to achieve a measure of political stability. As they do, we will begin to reduce the number of U.S. forces in Iraq. In any event, our own military leaders tell us that we will have a much smaller 'military footprint' in Iraq by the end of next year. The key is to reduce our forces in a way and at a pace that still makes it possible for the emergence of a stable Iraq while leaving us with the units needed to fight terrorists, protect Iraq's borders and keep a watchful eye on the Iranians.