Iraq, the Surge, and the Sunni Awakening: Not So Fast, Jack

The Sunni Awakening had more to do with recent gains in Iraq than did the surge.


Jack wrote yesterday that it's time to admit that the surge has worked (and that John McCain should himself also admit some hard truths). I'm still not convinced.

To wit, I commend to your attention an interesting commentary by Wayne White, a former deputy director of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. White argues that the security gains in Iraq were rooted in the Sunni Awakening, not the surge—and that these gains are now in serious jeopardy.

White writes:

The most important element in dramatically reducing violence was not the surge, but rather a deal between U.S. forces and Sunni Arab tribal and insurgent elements in late 2006 that translated the Awakening among many Sunni Arabs into stunning progress in terms of overall security and reduced U.S. casualties. Elements of the Awakening first approached U.S. forces seeking a deal two years earlier.

The U.S. forces hadn't taken the deal but eventually did, of course. And the surge?

The surge initiated by President Bush in January 2007 had two main objectives: to stabilize Baghdad during a wave of horrific sectarian violence spanning many mixed areas of the country, pitting Sunni Arab against Shi'a, and to create a period of calm during which there could be sectarian reconciliation. Only a small portion of the roughly 29,000 U.S. soldiers included in the surge was dispatched to predominantly Sunni Arab al-Anbar Governate, the scene of heavy fighting between U.S. forces on the one hand and Sunni Arab insurgents and elements of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) on the other. Virtually all other surge-related U.S. troops were deployed into Baghdad.

And problems persist, White writes. The central Iraqi government never signed on to the U.S. alliance with the Sunnis and still drags its feet—accepting some of the Awakening's "Sons of Iraq" into Iraqi security forces but pursuing others as criminals.

So Sunni Arab elements comprising the Awakening now find themselves assailed on two fronts, with levels of tension rising ominously. It would be sadly ironic if the Awakening (the main driver of improved security in so many areas beyond the more restricted scope of the surge) was to collapse, many [Sons of Iraq] were to turn against the government, and, now, Iraq's Kurds (or both).

I mulled all of this over while walking my dog this morning and read in the New York Times that Iraq had finally passed an election law. This should be good news, right? Well, except for the fact that the government punted on the most contentious issues.