Who Lost Iraq?
Success has many fathers. The mess in Baghdad has a lot more
Petraeus told U.S. News that he offered realistic assessments up the chain of command. "Mosul did quite well there, for the bulk of our time," Petraeus says, "even though we had a tough time at various points, especially in November of 2003, during Ramadan." The 101st Airborne was redeployed home by the end of January. Petraeus left Iraq in mid-February.
The 101st Airborne was replaced with an assortment of other units, which was "half of what we had, and by November, it was at a third," says one Army officer. "And the new unit did not have the robust intelligence analysis structure that we did earlier." By the summer of 2004, Mosul had become a fertile ground for insurgents again.
"Metrics with rigor." In June 2004, Petraeus was tasked with training Iraqi security forces, a crucial responsibility because it was tied directly to the U.S. exit strategy. Once again, the initial news was good-Rice's aide, Blackwill, returned from a trip to Iraq that September and reported that Petraeus was pumping out lots of newly trained Iraqi security forces; Petraeus himself said he was making "huge progress." But by December Blackwill's assessment had become considerably bleaker. In January 2005, the State Department issued a report giving Iraqi security forces a failing grade; Pentagon officials now acknowledge that they have no idea how many of the more than 300,000 U.S.-"trained" troops are still in the Iraqi security forces. Petraeus says he was always candid in his assessments of Iraqi troop readiness. "We tried very hard to develop metrics with rigor," he says, "and to continually improve them."
In January 2005, Rice was confirmed as Bush's new secretary of state. Four days later, an estimated 8 million people in Iraq went to the polls to vote in elections for a transitional national assembly. The United Islamic Alliance-a coalition of mainly Shiite groups-won a majority of assembly seats, followed by the Kurdish party.
Back in Washington, President Bush asked Rice's former deputy, Hadley, to become his national security adviser. Once he took charge, Hadley's message was crystal clear: "The NSC doesn't do operations." He immediately pulled the NSC staff back from its "border collie" role in Iraq and shut down its remaining efforts on reconstruction, infrastructure, oil, and water. By then, Miller and many of his colleagues working the Iraq issues on the NSC Iraq staff had left for the private sector. Last November, the NSC released a major report, "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq." This past summer it was roundly criticized by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress. "We said it was lacking in important respects," says the GAO's Joseph Christoff, who did the evaluation. "It doesn't say how much it will cost; it doesn't say who will take the lead."
The answers to those questions remain elusive to this day. Perhaps they will be provided by one of the three Iraq studies now underway. Or perhaps not. "What's frustrating," says one former NSC staff member, "is that we're dealing with one small country, and we're tying ourselves in knots."