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Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq

June 2008
Report to Congress
In accordance with the
Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2008
(Section 9010, Public Law 109-289)


Executive Summary

This report to Congress, Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq, is submitted pursuant to Section 9010 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act 2007, Public Law 109-289 as amended by Section 1308 of Public Law 110-28 and Section 1224 of Public Law 110-181.1 The report includes specific performance indicators and measures of progress toward political, economic and security stability in Iraq, as directed in that legislation. This is the twelfth in a series of quarterly reports on this subject. The most recent report was submitted in March 2008. The report complements other reports and information about Iraq provided to Congress and is not intended as a single source of all information about the combined efforts or the future strategy of the United States, its Coalition partners or Iraq.

The strategic goal of the United States in Iraq remains a unified, democratic and federal Iraq that can govern, defend and sustain itself and is an ally in the war on terror. The United States is pursuing this goal along political, security, economic and diplomatic lines of operation. This report measures progress toward achieving this goal during the reporting period (March through May 2008) and highlights challenges to Iraqi and Coalition efforts to achieve their mutual objectives.2

The security environment in Iraq continues to improve, with all major violence indicators reduced between 40 to 80% from pre-surge levels. Total security incidents have fallen to their lowest level in over four years. Coalition and Iraqi forces’ operations against al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) have degraded its ability to attack and terrorize the population. Although AQI remains a major threat and is still capable of high-profile attacks, the lack of violence linked to AQI in recent weeks demonstrates the effect these operations have had on its network. Equally important, the government’s success in Basrah and Baghdad’s Sadr City against militias, particularly Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) and the Iranian-supported Special Groups, has reinforced a greater public rejection of militias. This rejection, while still developing, is potentially as significant for Iraq as the Sunni rejection of AQI’s indiscriminate violence and extremist ideology. Overall, the communal struggle for power and resources is becoming less violent. Many Iraqis are now settling their differences through debate and the political process rather than open conflict. Other factors that have contributed to a reduction in violence include the revitalization of sectors of the Iraqi economy and local reconciliation measures.

Although the number of civilian deaths in April 2008 increased slightly from February and March 2008, in May 2008 civilian deaths declined to levels not seen since January 2006, when the Coalition began tracking this data. Both Iraqi and Coalition forces reported that civilian deaths are 75% lower than July 2007 levels and 82% lower than the peak number of monthly deaths that occurred in November of 2006 at the height of sectarian violence. Periodic high-profile car and suicide vest bombings continued throughout the period and were largely responsible for the increased civilian deaths in April 2008. However, the trends of decreasing violence suggest the failure of these high-profile attacks to rekindle the self-reinforcing cycle of ethno-sectarian violence that began in 2006.

The emergence of Sons of Iraq (SoIs) to help secure local communities has been one of the most significant developments in the past 18 months in Iraq. These volunteers help protect their neighborhoods, secure key infrastructure and roads and locate extremists among the population. What began primarily as a Sunni effort, now appears to have taken hold in several Shi’a and mixed communities. Today there are 103,000 SoIs contributing to local security in partnership with Coalition and Iraqi forces. AQI’s continued targeting of SoIs demonstrates AQI’s recognition of the importance and effectiveness of SoI initiatives. To convert SoI successes into long-term security gains, the GoI must transition SoI members into the Iraqi forces or train them for civilian jobs. The GoI should speed the pace of this transition.

Recent operations in Basrah, Sadr City and Mosul remind us, however, that security gains can be uneven, fragile and tenuous if not accompanied by continued progress toward national reconciliation and economic development. In Basrah and Sadr City, mainstream JAM and elements of Special Groups appeared to coalesce, at least temporarily in late March and early April, to defend against the loss of their areas of influence to government forces. This generated significant increases in security incidents in late March and early April 2008. Coalition and Iraqi forces ultimately succeeded in obtaining freedom of movement and significantly extending their control of Basrah and Sadr City. Clearing operations by Iraqi forces in Mosul have also progressed well. Security incidents in the last two weeks of May 2008 across Iraq have returned to levels comparable to early 2004. Civilian deaths in Iraq and Baghdad remain below long-term and shortterm averages.

In a broader sense, the government’s efforts in Basrah reflected two positive and long-awaited improvements. First, Prime Minister Maliki demonstrated a willingness to confront militias and extremists, regardless of sectarian identity. His leadership in the Basrah events generated a generally positive response from all Iraqi communities— Sunni, Kurdish and Shi’a. Second, Iraqi forces demonstrated an improved capability to lead and execute significant counterinsurgency operations. Despite some initial difficulties and the uneven performance of local police, Iraqi forces won the support of most Basrawis and a greater share of the Iraqi population. Although still reliant on Coalition enablers, Iraqi forces developed a sense of confidence that enabled them to conduct more effective follow-on security operations. The Basrah operation also demonstrated an improved capability by the Joint Headquarters and Division staffs to deploy and sustain Iraqi Army units in battle.

Iraqi security forces continue to grow and improve but at varying rates. In many areas throughout Iraq, Iraqi Special Operations Forces, Iraqi Army battalions, National Police and Special Police units operate independently of, or side by side with, Coalition forces. These units consistently demonstrate a high level of proficiency in counterinsurgency operations against AQI and other extremist groups. In many cities, such as Ramadi and Kirkuk, the Iraqi Police are in the lead for population security, performing well and earning the trust of the population. In addition, the GoI continues to assume greater provincial security responsibility through the Provincial Iraqi Control (PIC) process. Nine of eighteen provinces have assumed PIC, and the remaining provinces are progressing well. Anbar and Qadisiyah are expected to transition to Iraqi control in the early summer of 2008.

The Government of Iraq (GoI) continues to assume broader ownership of Iraq’s security programs. Iraq’s security ministries have improved their ability to execute their budgets but still require increased capacity to man, train, sustain and field forces. The Ministry of Defense (MoD) and the Ministry of Interior (MoI) training capacity continues to expand but will require more time to fully address the training demand backlog. The current shortage of Iraqi force leaders will take years to overcome, but several measures are in place to address this problem, including rehiring former NCOs and officers. Both ministries continue to lack institutional capacity and have not been able to make procurement decisions in a timely manner.

Iran’s negative role in Iraq has emerged as a major security challenge. Despite promises to the Iraqi Government to the contrary, Iran continues to fund, train, arm and guide JAM Special Groups and other Shi’a extremist organizations. In Basrah, Iraqi troops uncovered massive caches of Iranian-origin weapons and ammunition, including some items manufactured in Iran in 2008. The GoI has begun to directly engage the Iranians on this issue and recently confronted Iranian national leadership with evidence of Iran’s widespread efforts to destabilize Iraq. In response, Iran denied its involvement and sought to blame the Coalition for Iraq’s instability—a response that suggests Iran will continue to provide lethal support to Iraqi extremists.

Expanding oil export revenues are generating the capital resources needed to support emerging development and reconciliation programs, and an enhanced security environment should favor political compromises across sectarian and ethnic divides. In general, the Council of Representatives (CoR) has shown a greater willingness and capability to address difficult issues. After passing the 2008 Budget, Provincial Powers and Amnesty Laws, Iraqi leaders are now focusing on passing the Provincial Elections and Hydrocarbon Laws. In contrast, the Article 140 process to settle disputes over internal boundaries has made little headway. The GoI also needs to provide more support for returning refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs). In addition, recent struggles within the GoI related to the Provincial Powers Law and ministerial appointments suggest that these will require considerably more time and effort.

The GoI focused much of its reconciliation effort during this reporting period on resolving the conflicts centered in Basrah and Sadr City, but other important political progress deserves mentioning. For example, Iraqi leaders demonstrated an increased willingness to institutionalize power sharing by reconstituting the Political Council for National Security (PCNS) and formalizing the 3+1 arrangement as the Executive Council. Prime Minister Maliki’s actions against JAM and militias in Basrah, Sadr City and Mosul, combined with his apparent willingness to challenge Iran over its support of extremists, is one of the primary reasons the Tawafuq party reportedly may return to the Council of Ministers. The U.S. Government also understands the Kurds may soon compromise on the Hydrocarbon Laws.

The Iraqi economy grew 4% in real terms in 2007 and is projected to grow 7% in real terms for 2008, reaching an estimated gross domestic product (GDP) of $60.9 billion. Oil production increases of 9-10% this year—coupled with the higher prices of oil—should drive growth in that sector and support increased government spending. The non-oil sector is likely to grow at 3%. Core inflation fell to 12% in 2007 compared to 32% in 2006—the result of an improving security environment in the second half of 2007, tight monetary policy throughout 2007 and dinar appreciation of 23% against the U.S. dollar from November 2006 through the end of April 2008. Lower inflation rates improved Iraqi purchasing power for basic needs and provided a more stable environment in which the private sector could grow.

The GoI’s inability to execute its capital budget remains a concern. The GoI is hampered by spending units’ lack of capacity and cumbersome budgetary approval and funding processes. Despite these difficulties, the overall trend for capital budget execution continues to improve, allowing the GoI to reportedly spend or commit 72% of its $10 billion capital budget for 2007 by year’s end. Provincial budget execution also improved, but progress is uneven. Improvements must be made in provincial budget execution. Bureaucratic inefficiency and corrupt or sectarian behavior are still problems the GoI needs to confront.

Due to greater emphasis by government leaders, Iraqis have seen an increase, albeit uneven, in the delivery of essential services such as electricity, water, sanitation and healthcare. Despite these improvements, the population’s level of satisfaction with essential services remains low. Future progress in essential services could be at risk since the U.S. will transition large-scale infrastructure reconstruction projects to the Iraqis to fund and execute. While the GoI acknowledges it has the revenues to support these projects, budget and program execution rates indicate that the GoI lacks the ability to execute programs on the scale required. The Coalition continues to work with the GoI to improve ministerial capacity.

Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) continue to help provincial development by strengthening local government capacity, political and economic development, reconciliation, rule of law implementation and basic services delivery. Their support of provincial governments was essential in the effort to develop Provincial Development Strategies, which outline the provincial objectives and areas of focus for the next three to five years, for 17 of the 18 Iraqi provinces.

Negotiations continue to formalize a bilateral relationship between Iraq and the United States. The GoI views the development of this relationship as a strong affirmation of its sovereignty and of its close relationship with the United States.

The United Nations Assistance Mission – Iraq (UNAMI) continues to provide essential technical assistance in several areas under its mandate. These efforts include organizing upcoming provincial elections; resolving territorial disputes in accordance with Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution; initiating a program to support GoI long-term efforts for facilitating demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR); and planning for the safe and orderly return of refugees. Additionally, UNAMI seeks to promote regional dialogue through the Neighbors Process and assists the GoI in providing essential services.

In summary, the security, political and economic trends in Iraq continue to be positive; however, they remain fragile, reversible and uneven. Recent events in Basrah, Sadr City and elsewhere have generated new challenges and opportunities for the future. As in the past, continued progress will require Iraqi leaders to take additional selfless and nationally-oriented actions in the spirit of reconciliation and compromise if Iraq is to achieve its potential as a stable, secure, multi-ethnic and multi-sectarian democracy under the rule of law.

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