Sunday, July 08, 2007

Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq June 2007

photo by Brian Mullennix

Have you ever had someone try to sell you something and you figure out about five minutes in that he or she is embarrassed to be selling it? Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq 2007, the Pentagon's report to Congress on how well our money's being spent there reads like that. For our hundred billion dollars a year, the Pentagon tells us that progress there is mixed at best. In fact the most positive news they appear to have is that sectarian attacks in Baghdad are down and that "confidence" in the Iraqi government's ability to improve matters has gone up? It doesn't take long to read a bit further and find out that the total number of violent attacks in Iraq as a whole and Baghdad itself have gone up since the "surge" started or that the Iraqi government has been able to manage little to no progress in taking any meaningful steps towards national reconciliation.

In fact, the whole report is "yes buts" For instance, one learns that the Iraqi budget allocated a large amount of money to improving oil production and distribution, but for various reasons has only been able to execute three percent of its budget for improving the oil infrastructure. Oil produuction, the key economic factor in stabilizing the Iraqi econiomy for the last year has been basically flat. Significant numbers of police units often don't have their full allocation of critical equipment. One of the promises in the report is that the government is undertaking a one hundred percent inventory review of all units to determine what equipment is really available.

Electricity production also has not improved in the last twelve months across the country. It's been reported that there's a critical shortage of hospital equipment and capacity. It hasn't been reported as widely that the Sadrists control the ministry of health and thus most of the hospitals. It's not unusual for individuals to be denied medical care for sectarian reasons.

I reviewed last year's version of this report and the story really hasn’t changed much. For example, they mention that more than a three hundred thousand people have been trained either for the army or the police, but never tell us how many trained men are actually available for military service. Instead we learn that most Iraqi army units are at about sixty five percent strength at any time, because they don't have a trustworthy pay disbursement system in place. Soldiers frequently go AWOL or take extended leaves to take their pay home and make sure it gets to their families. The Iraqi police report suggests that anywhere from thirty to seventy percent of those trained are not available for service.

Similarly, one of the oil production issues is that those who work in the distribution system are literally siphoning off oil and selling it on the black market. One consequence of De Baathification has been that the country has had to rebuild all of its distribution and administration systems from scratch.

Two of my favorite items from the last report are back. The Iraqi air force has a handful of helicopters but a year later none of them are operational. One metric that hit the popular press last year was that the Iraqi army had something like two divisions that were capable of operating fully independently. Instead of breaking out that number again, the Pentagon now only reports that there are more than forty Iraqi units in the lead with minimal coalition support copmared to thirty four a year ago.

What's this mean for a possible withdrawal? At the current rate of improvement, we're looking at a minimum of ten years before Iraqi units can come close to taking the lead in anything resembling sufficient numbers to deal with the current level of violence in the country. Throughout the report, the Pentagon tells congress that measures have been "partially effective" or "limited progress has been made".

Some of the items are so frightening, they're laughable. The agricultural section of the report mentions that the war has left the country's irrigation system in complete disrepepair and that the soil has become increasingly saline which has led to even lower crop yields. What's the good news? The US is developing a consortium of US Universities to develop an agricultural extension program in Iraq. In other words, millions of dollars are going to US Universities to tell Iraqi farmers how to fix their fields. As for getting them equipment and experts on the ground, well there's no mention of that in the report. This is hauntingly similar to one of the anecdotes in the excellent "Imperial Life in the Emerald City" about a University in Hawaii getting millions of dollars from the Coalition Provisional Authority to consult with Iraqis on the topic of tropical plants.

Another favorite measure of mine is the "number of tips" about possible terrorist violence getting to the authorities. The report mentions that this has continued to grow and suggests that this is a sign of greater cooperation among the general public. The problem is that this number more or less exactly tracks the growth in the number of violent incidents. There are more tips because there is more violent activity to report. Even the most positive statistic in the report, the drop of sectarian violence in Iraq misses the fact that the killings drop in what we know as the winter months and go up sharply in the spring. The report fails to note that the violence may be cyclical and that the downturn may be the result of a natural drop with a subsequent rise in the spring. As recently as a month ago, one general was quoted as saying that some forty percent of Baghdad, the focus of the surge, is still not under control.

As I read this year's version of the report, it strikes me that the military is all but begging to get out of this thing. There are for instance no suggestions that more troops or more money will improve matters. While they do mention that the surge is not complete, the report declines to name a number or a strategy that would transform what it calls "partial progress" into sustained improvement. Our own Department of Defense is giving Congress a far bleaker picture of the situation than either the Administration or many members of Congress acknowledge. What's going on? Measuring Stability is a very public document specifically addressed to Congress. Why are so many members of Congress willing to keep paying for a war without either demanding better results than this or insisting on some different or better strategy? Why is there so little mention of the content of this document in the media?

One of the sad things to me is that the public during both Vietnam and Iraq has seriously monitored only one measure of the cost of either war, the number of dead American soliders. In both cases, the President announced a withdrawal plan that prominently counted on the capacity of either Vietnam or Iraq to take care of its own security and economic needs. For some odd reason, the public never seriously looks at the very clear data about how well that's going.
Even a casual read of Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq will reveal the bad news. At the current rate, it's going to be decades before Iraq is sufficiently stable to allow the US to withdraw. If this is what the Pentagon's own report is essentially telling us, just imagine what’s left out.



At 7/11/2007 11:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, cl, for reporting on the report. Urrrggghhh. "Measuring Stability"?! Quel joak.

In addition to the $820,000 per minute military industrial budget, the Iraq supplemental is up to an additional $233,000 per minute. That's folding money -- not counting all the hell and blood & death. I'm amazed at how many people are oblivious to the catastrophic sums of money that have been dumped into Iraq to mostly horrible effect. I'm amazed that people aren't hauling out the guillotines -- and the knitting . . .

Apparently as Dan Quayle was a Jack Kennedy manque, chillingly Mr. Bush fancies himself a Truman/Churchhill hybrid -- misunderstood in his own time. It ice-nines the blood.

At 7/12/2007 09:18:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I just don't understand why the media is acting like the "pending report" is the one that matters. This is the Pentagon's report to Congress as of June and it pretty clearly says that the surge has not worked.


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