“Today in Iraq, what we’re seeing is undeniable success,” stated David Bellavia, co-founder of Veterans for Freedom and former Army Staff Sergeant, who served in the Diyala province in Iraq from 2004-2005 and recently returned from a trip to his “old battlegrounds” to report on the growth of the region. The American Enterprise Institute hosted Bellavia and two other experts fresh from the region in a discussion on the situation on the ground in Iraq. Bellavia stated that in the Diyala province there were “15 significant attacks a day in January ’08. That number three months ago was 7 to 8 significant attacks a day, and today the number is less than 1 significant attack a day.”
Bellavia credited the success of the U.S. troops to the new counterinsurgency strategies put in place by General Petraeus in Iraq—one example being the emphasis on gathering detainees instead of bodies. Captain Eric Swabb of the U.S. Marine Corps stated that the troops “got in touch with the people” and “partnered with the community” as a part of this strategy, efforts which earned them the Iraqis’ trust and resulted in an “avalanche of intelligence” and “detailed info on insurgent leaders in the area.” Bellevia noted that because of these community-based efforts, the “American military is a tribe to [the Iraqis] now.”
Bellevia also mentioned a rising pan-nationalism of sorts, stating that, “Today in Iraq you ask, what are you? and you offend someone… They say ‘I’m an Iraqi, you fool, why would you ask me that question?’ That was never the case in 2004, 2005, and 2006.” Swabb spoke about the improvements in Iraq security forces and their increased adopted responsibility of stability in the area.
However, neither advocated establishing a timeline for withdrawal. Just back from a ten day tour of Iraq, Colin Kahl, fellow at the Center for a New American Security, asserted that “These security gains are a result of a whole host of things,” including, according to Kahl, as follows:
• A mix of better, improved counterinsurgency practices;
• The increased ability and willingness of the Iraqi security forces to assume responsibility;
• The Sunni and Shia combatants sidelining their ongoing fight.
Kahl stated that while there has been “substantial and undeniable security progress,” the gains are “fragile and reversible.” He warned against prematurely celebrating success and pulling out troops, as some of the major difficulties within the region have yet to be addressed. Kahl mentioned the lack of political resolution to the Sunni-Shia struggle as well as to the broader Kurdish-Arab tensions; he stated that these factions “aren’t all just magically going to get along.” Kahl also mentioned the fledgling Iraqi government is still mired in bureaucracy and is largely unable to efficiently allocate its funding to continue the growth of the country. He stated the U.S. “should not establish an enduring, decades-long, Korea-style presence in Iraq” but instead urged for a timeliness to withdrawal, stating, “most Iraqis want us to leave, they just don’t want us to leave quite yet.”
Rachel Paulk is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run jointly by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.