The latest National Intelligence Estimate on the situation Iraq was released today, and it does not paint a pretty picture for the present or immediate future in that country. One of the key judgments made about the Iraqi situation is that there has been improvement in the security situation, but the improvement has been uneven.

There has been some success in dealing with al-Qaeda in Iraq, but “the level of overall violence, including attacks on and casualties among civilians, remains high; Iraq’s sectarian groups remain unreconciled; AQI retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks; and to date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively. There have been modest improvements in economic output, budget execution, and government finances but fundamental structural problems continue to prevent sustained progress in economic growth and living conditions.”

The collective judgment of the U.S. intelligence community was, “We assess, to the extent that Coalition forces continue to conduct robust counterinsurgency operations and mentor and support the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), that Iraq’s security will continue to improve modestly during the next six to 12 months but that levels of insurgent and sectarian violence will remain high and the Iraqi Government will continue to struggle to achieve national-level political reconciliation and improved governance.” In other words, things are bad, and don’t be looking for them to get any better in the immediate future.

The report said that Sunnis in Iraq are growing more resistant towards al-Qaeda, but that really isn’t the bigger problem. The problem is, “Political and security trajectories in Iraq continue to be driven primarily by Shia insecurity about retaining political dominance, widespread Sunni unwillingness to accept a diminished political status, factional rivalries within the sectarian communities resulting in armed conflict, and the actions of extremists such as AQI and elements of the Sadrist Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) militia that try to fuel sectarian violence.” While al-Qaeda in Iraq is trying to promote sectarian violence, the bigger problem remains the sectarian issues and militias.

Sunnis have also started to resist al-Qaeda over the past 6-9 months, but this resistance has not translated into support for the government. It was also pointed out that opposition to al-Qaeda could provide some common ground to lead to political reconciliation if the government supports the efforts of the Sunni Arabs. “The IC assesses that the emergence of “bottom-up” security initiatives, principally among Sunni Arabs and focused on combating AQI, represent the best prospect for improved security over the next six to 12 months, but we judge these initiatives will only translate into widespread political accommodation and enduring stability if the Iraqi Government accepts and supports them.” The problem is that this type of mobilized effort could create a force that would be a threat to the Iraqi government.

The report also said that Iraq’s security forces aren’t ready to operate on their own. “Iraqi Security Forces involved in combined operations with Coalition forces have performed adequately, and some units have demonstrated increasing professional competence. However, we judge that the ISF have not improved enough to conduct major operations independent of the Coalition on a sustained basis in multiple locations and that the ISF remain reliant on the Coalition for important aspects of logistics and combat support.” The report said that disagreements with in the government have placed it in a “precarious position,” and added the population displacement due to violence is creating a destabilizing influence in the whole country.

The report said that Iran, Syria, and Turkey are all looking to exert more influence in Iraq in anticipation of a coalition troop drawdown. It also warned that all the security progress that has been gained would be lost if the U.S. switches from a combat role to training Iraqi forces. “We assess that changing the mission of Coalition forces from a primarily counterinsurgency and stabilization role to a primary combat support role for Iraqi forces and counterterrorist operations to prevent AQI from establishing a safehaven would erode security gains achieved thus far.” This is a report that can be read from both stay the course and end the war points of view.

The White House used the report to back up their claims that the troop surge is working, and that forces have to remain in Iraq. Deputy Press Secretary Gordon Johndroe said, “The National Intelligence Estimate’s updated judgments show that our strategy has improved the security environment in Iraq, but that we still face very tough challenges ahead. While the February NIE concluded that conditions in Iraq were worsening, today’s key judgments clearly show that the military’s counterinsurgency strategy, fully operational since mid-summer, has begun to slow the rapidly increasing violence and patterns of that violence we have been seeing in Iraq. This change is a necessary precondition to the stability and increased political reconciliation that we all seek.”

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi viewed the report as evidence that it is time to get out of Iraq. “In today’s National Intelligence Estimate, the American people were presented with yet more evidence that the Iraqi government has failed to take the necessary steps to reach political reconciliation.  Our military has performed their duties excellently, but the purpose of the escalation in Iraq was to create a secure environment in which political change could occur, and it is clear that the Iraqi leaders have failed to make progress. We need a New Direction to bring our troops home from Iraq so that America can refocus its efforts against terrorism worldwide.”

Pelosi is correct in that wasn’t the whole point of the troop surge was to create an environment where political reconciliation could occur?  Before everyone rushes to blame the Iraqi government, remember that it is a sham created by the United States. The U.S. rushed to create a governmental system that lacked the ability to provide services, or even control the security situation. The flaw here goes the whole way back to the administration’s lack of a post war strategy. The government is inept because Washington was more concerned with political appearances than creating a government that could actually govern.

How I read this report is that things are bad in Iraq, and they aren’t going to get any better over the next year. The big question remains what do we do? Do we stay in Iraq and keep fragile government in power, or do we leave and let the chips fall where they may? Unless the U.S. is willing to stay for another decade, I don’t the situation in Iraq ever improving. U.S. troops are the only thing keeping that government in power, and I do think the Iraqis are going to have to fight it out for themselves. We can only keep the lid on the pressure cooker for so long until it blows, but more importantly the Iraqis are going to have to sort this out for themselves at some point. Maybe Iraq ends up being a democracy maybe it doesn’t, but I think that is up to the Iraqis to decide. U.S. soldiers really are caught in a civil war that they don’t belong in.
Full text of the NIE

Pelosi statement

White House statement

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at 

Jason can also be heard every Sunday at 7:00 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at

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