Sunday, January 08, 2006

Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq

Would You Buy a Used War from this Man?
I wrote several months ago that I.F. Stone would have been an incredible blogger.  In many ways, the I.F. Stone weekly showed the modern political blogger that one doesn’t need to have inside sources, be at the scene of every story, or have significant resources to find political stories.  There are plenty of revealing stories to be found in the official record itself if you happen to have a critical eye.  I also believe that the ratio of opinion to actual information in blogspace, including mine, happens to be way too high.  Pablo Casals, the  great cellist, used to play Bach once a day to keep purity and precision in his playing.  In that spirit I decided to have a look at the following Pentagon report, Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq from October 2005. I'm an amateur at this and if you've ever heard me play Bach on the piano, you should know that this is more for my political blogging soul than anyone's listening or reading pleasure.  

As part of the supplementary appropriations for the war, the Pentagon has to supply congress with measurable indicators of progress on a periodic basis.  The first version of the report from July 2005 was heavily criticized for being overly vague, more or less like the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.  The October report serves as a revision to that earlier report  and at 44 pages is roughly twice as long.  Essentially, the report plays the same role as a business plan supporting a loan application.  The Pentagon has to convince Congress to put even more of our tax money into the war.  

The Pentagon throws a lot of numbers and charts into its report.  Most of these will sound familiar.  Donald Rumsfeld talked about 88 operational units of Iraqi army.  The report confirms that.  Joe Lieberman went off about the insurgency being limited to a few provinces and oddly started talking about the number of new cell phones in Iraq.  The report mentions both of those items.  The report also makes much of the fact that the insurgency was unable to disrupt the election process.  Essentially, the Pentagon worked hard to get in every bit of good news it had about its adventure, not unlike its War on Terrorism news page, which I suspect serves as the model for all those pay for positive stories being planted in Iraqi media.

If I were a loan officer at the Bank of the U.S. Taxpayer, I would have to mention that the report raises far more questions than it answers.  Of the 88 units of Iraqi army, the report admits that only 1 unit was prepared to operate fully independently.  All of the 140 plus units of Coalition forces can operate independently.  The second highest rating for an Iraqi army group is the capacity to take the lead in an operation.  In the summary, the Pentagon says that 36 units are capable of being in the lead or operating independently.  In their bar graph, they don’t separate the two.  According to the report, being able to “take the lead” is almost as good as operating independently because it indicates that the group is genuinely operational.  The Pentagon also mentions that the capacity to operate independently is “overrated”.  

One of the favorite tricks in trying to figure out how much Iraqi army is necessary to allow a U.S. withdrawal is to imply the coalition’s current total should bethe target for the Iraqi army.  The report never comes close to suggesting how many “operational” units it’ll take to stabilize Iraq with Iraqi forces only.  Just a hint, it’s not currently stable with 140k plus American troops (all presumable rated as “independent”)  along with 88k Iraqi troops and all the other coalition forces.  After two and a half years, there is one Iraqi army unit capable of operating independently.  More charitably, there are 36.  A rough guess would be that they need 360, at a minimum.

One interesting fact is that Iraq has 27 million people.  The country has roughly five million people who are fit for military service.  One problem with that figure from the internet standby CIA world fact book, which interestingly has dropped its estimates of the size of the Iraqi army, is that a certain percentage of that five million is on the side of the insurgency.  Roughly ten percent of Iraqi’s fit for military service would have to serve in the military.  That’s not an impossible figure, but that doesn’t include police or anyone working to keep the economy going in other forms.  

Speaking of the economy, the report claims that the Iraqi economy is growing in real terms, but it’s only growing when compared to the disastrous year 2003 when the war started.  The Pentagon has chosen to compare the current Iraqi economy to the last couple years of Saddam’s reign which if anyone remembers why there was a Food for Oil program were dismal.   The report cites an inflation rate of 20 percent as well and an unemployment figure of 21 percent.  These aren’t unreasonable figures for a country at war, but they also aren’t signs that things are going well.  

The report summary claims a real growth rate of 3.7 percent for Iraq’s economy for the year 2005 and that electricity production briefly exceeded its goals last summer.  It doesn’t say a lot about the fact that Iraq’s GDP dropped by 41 percent in 2003.  It also only mentions that disruptions of the infrastructure have meant that electricity production has not been steady or reliable since summer.  You may have also read stories about the price of gas and other fuel quadrupling in Iraq the last few weeks of 2005.  

Instead, the report happily cites statistics like the number of new business registrations in the country without referring to the estimated total number of businesses in Iraq, the total lost in the last two and half years, or the total amount of capital involved in these new registrations.  For instance if General Motors goes out of business and I start a car company in my backyard, there’s no net loss.  They also happily cite a World Bank ease of doing business survey which now ranks Iraq 114th out of 155 countries in the world.  New Zealand is first btw.  

Other good news numbers are surprisingly subjective.  These include surveys of how safe Iraqis feel in their neighborhoods and willingness to participate in the political process.  Think about it though, how many people who are involved in the insurgency are going to say, “No, I don’t believe my neighborhood is safe or no I’m not going to vote, I’m too busy planting IEDs.”  

One fascinating bar graph indicates that “tips” received from the population have gone from 483 in March 2005 to 3341 in August 2005.  I have a couple worries.  First, there may be more tips because there’s a lot more activity to tip.  For instance, my suburban neighborhood is not a source for many tips about youth gang activity.  If that number jumped suddenly, it would scare me.  Second if the coalition is paying for those tips, the bar graph doesn’t suggest what percentage of those tips are reliable.  If you remember, police investigators often claim to have received hundreds of tips in a well publicized murder case especially when the family announces a reward.  Yes, the larger number of tips might indicate greater cooperation from the general population.  It might also be a very ominous number.  

Another graph quantifies the total attacks by province.  It’s meant to show that out of the 18 provinces, there are large numbers of attacks in only five of them.  Of course, the largest two, Baghdad and Al-Anbar are the two most heavily populated provinces.  Al-Anbar is has 2.2 million people or a little less than 10percent of the country’s population.  It’s more or less like saying that Americans are safe in twenty states and the problem is really only bad in two.  If it turns out that the two are California and New York and the twenty are all in the between the Rockies and the Sierras, that’s not a good thing.  At one point, the report mentions that Iraqi troops are taking the security lead for 87 square miles in Baghdad province, 450 square miles in other provinces, and have the lead in one province (funny that they didn’t mention the name).  Iraq has 168,000 square miles of territory.  Yes, there are large sections of Iraq that remain relatively safe.  Unfotunately, the equivalent of D.C., New York, Philadelphia, and Boston doesn’t happen to be.  

Btw, this report turned out to be the first indicator that the U.S. had been tracking Iraqi death totals, the President’s estimate of 30,000.  On page 23, the report talks about 80 percent of attacks being against coalition forces with 80 percent of the casualties being Iraqis.  

One fascinating figure is the estimate of 192,100 trained an equipped combined military and police in Iraq.  The washout rate in training is 15% and absentee “spikes” during combat run 5-8% of units, which means that one in 12 soldiers disappears during combat.  
Overall AWOL rates are 1-4%, which isn’t bad compared to certain National Guard units in Alabama during the War in Vietnam.  

It turns out that the Iraqi police, for instance, are equipped with Ak47s, the Kalashnikov.  I don’t know what this means exactly, but it’s curious.  I had a horrible time figuring out what the level of equipment is for a unit of coalition forces.  When talking about the Iraqi army, the Pentagon mentions the infusion of hundreds of Kraz and Gaz trucks, from Russia.  I looked closely for items like the number of tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and helicopters available to the Iraqi army and possibly for strategic reasons, the Pentagon failed to offer any figures.  I don’t know why they made a point of mentioning hundreds of trucks.  ;The report mentions some 750 light to medium vehicles have been added to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, but that might include motorcycles and cars and those hundreds of Russian trucks.  

The report does mention specific equipment in discussing the Iraqi navy and air force.  The Iraqi navy operates 24 Fast Aluminum Boats, I’m thinking future Iraqi John Kerrys here, and 10 rigid hull inflatable boats.  The air force has three C-130e aircraft.  It mentions 14 reconnaisance aircraft, then points out that 6 of them are currently grounded.  The Iraqi air force has 9 helicpoters, five of which are used for training only., but four of them aren’t operating and there’s an equivocal sentence about whether or not the others can operate in the “Iraqi” environment.  

The police figures and equipment numbers are similiarly vague.  ;There is some mention of the fact that AWOL police remain a problem wherever there is “considerable strife.  The report offers no AWOL rate.  There is also mention in the report of problems with various security units getting out of control and torturing suspects during interrogation.  For some reason, the Pentagon declines to quantify the problem.  

The Pentagon ends its report by identifying criteria for withdrawal of coalition forces.

  1. levels of present and projected insurgent activity.  (it offers no target here)

  2. readiness and capabilities of Iraqi Security Forces.  Worse estimate, after 2.5 years there we have 1 unit that can operate independently.  Their estimate is 36 are at an acceptable level, roughly 40% of the current Iraqi army and about one tenth of the lowest reasonable number needed.  If this is linear, that means 20 more years.

  3. readiness and capabilities of relevant governmental institutions.  It takes 3 weeks to count the votes in their elections.  When you run for office, you do so anonymously so you can’t be assassinated.  Baghdad, where the parliament expects to meet isn’t secure.  Other than that, there’s been a lot of progress.

  4. ability of coaltion forces to reinforce the Iraqi Security Forces if necessary (that sounds suspiciously like Murtha) and there are no “metrics” on this count.  In fact, I can’t find out how many planes and tanks we currently have over there ourselves.  I do suspect that we have more than four working helicopters.

The Report also concludes that international support and the engagement of Iraq’s neighbors will be crucial to the process.  Let me throw two names at you, John Bolton and Condaleeza Rice.  

Would I loan more money on this project based on a report like this?  I doubt it.  If this is the Pentagon’s loan application, even at its most favorable it just doesn’t look good.  Another way to look at the report is as a “dependency matter”. Dependency court is basically the place where courts determine what to do with children who have been taken out of their parents’ custody.  In this case, there may have been good reasons for declaring Saddam an incompetent and abusive dad.  If this were the foster parent’s report to the court for a soon to be 18 year old child, I would worry.  There are indications that the kid isn’t being fed, is still getting into fights, and that there’s still abuse in the home.  We might be moving towards adoption by the foster parent, but it might be a long time before any court lets that happen.  

This is the amazing thing though.  There are almost 300 Democrats in the House and Senate and some 612 overall. They’re the ones who got this report and they’re the ones who are supposed to act on it.  We’ve heard from Joe Lieberman.  I’ve seen a number of right wing blogs claim that this report shows “real “ progress and the hidden good news in Iraq.   Why isn’t there anyone in Congress who complains about even half the flaws that an amateur like me found in the thing?  



At 1/09/2006 04:04:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm very sorry to post this in your comments section but I like your blog and think you may have a good chance of getting listed at our blog directory, "High Class Blogs."

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Ethan Potter

At 1/09/2006 04:20:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Ethan,
I'll e-mail you. If you don't have any of my links in your directory, you might want to take a look at Pogblog, Benny, GSMSO, Life as I See It. etc. as well. I'm too lazy to do the html, but they're in my right hand column.

At 1/13/2006 12:13:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gosh, cl, how bloody depressing. However, thank you so much for doing the anal-ysis. Necessary for some ordinary bloke like me to get it.

They've already got $820,000 per minute of our cash for the Military Budget. And an additional $200,000 per minute for Iraq. I'm not making the new loan.

My guess is that most of those Iraqis are just in the units for the money (Who can blame them since we blew up their country?) & when the real shooting starts, they'll flee. I would.

If these Present Menaces listened to Bach, they wouldn't go blow people up maybe?

At 1/13/2006 09:16:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

the two things I keep thinking about are the 1 unit that can function independently and the almost comical descriptions of the Iraqi navy and air force. The helicopter thing was weird, but listing inflatable boats was even stranger.


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