Iraq Buildup Troops In Place -- Now What?

A soldier with the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne division stands guard at the scene after a suicide car bomber blew himself up in a busy commercial district in central Baghdad on Monday, May 28, 2007, killing at least 21 people and wounding 66, police and hospital officials said. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed ) AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed

In what appears to be the first official announcement that all of the troops for the "surge" are in Iraq, President Bush told an audience at a Washington fundraiser that the remaining U.S troops comprising the buildup he announced in January are now in place.

"I talked to General David Petraeus today," Mr. Bush said. "The final troops have just arrived."

Even having reached this benchmark — the deployment of approximately 28,000 additional troops to bolster security in Baghdad — Mr. Bush acknowledged that the situation in Iraq has not markedly improved. "Some progress and some setbacks," he said.

In fact, a new report by the Pentagon cites "the rise of high profile attacks" as one of the negative trends since the American troop surge began, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin. The overall level of violence in Iraq remains unchanged, running at more than 1,000 attacks a week, and casualties among troops and civilians has edged higher despite the U.S.-led security push in Baghdad.

In its required quarterly report on security, political and economic developments in Iraq, covering the February-May period, the Pentagon also raised questions about Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ability to fulfill a pledge made in January to prohibit political interference in security operations and to allow no safe havens for sectarian militias.

Wednesday's broader report, the eighth in a series, said that while violence fell in the capital and in Anbar province west of Baghdad during the February-May period, it increased in other areas, particularly in the outlying areas of Baghdad province and in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad and in the northern province of Nineva.

The report described Iraq's violence as mainly a result of illegally armed groups engaging in a "cycle of sectarian and politically motivated violence, using tactics that include indiscriminate bombing, murder, executions and indirect fire (rocket and mortar attacks) to intimidate and to provide sectarian conflict."

Unlike the previous such report to Congress, submitted in March, the Pentagon made no reference to the debate over whether Iraq is in a civil war. In March it said "some elements of the situation in Iraq are properly descriptive of a `civil war."'

It noted that al-Maliki had pledged in January, when Mr. Bush announced his commitment to send more U.S. troops to Baghdad, that there would be no political interference in the security crackdown and no sectarian favoritism.

"To date, operations in Baghdad indicate that Iraqi government delivery on these commitments has been uneven," the report said. "For example, there have been reports of political involvement by some leaders in tactical and operational decisions that bypass the standard chain of (military) command."

The report offered a less-than-optimistic outlook for political reconciliation among the rival sectarian groups in Iraq. It said Shiite fear of a Sunni return to power and splits within the Shiite community "will continue to impede formation of a 'Shiite consensus' and complicate reconciliation with the Sunnis."

On the positive side, the report noted that Sunni Arab tribal leaders in Anbar province, where there is no sizable Shiite population, have been joining with U.S. and Iraqi government forces to fight al Qaeda forces.

"With the right mechanisms, these Sunni leaders could pursue reconciliation with the government of Iraq," the report said, adding that the Sunnis currently are limited in their political effectiveness by a lack of unity.

The report does cites a decrease in sectarian killings, and U.S. military officers say there's been a decrease in the horrific market bombings in Baghdad due to the barriers and checkpoints erected around the capital. In response, the terrorists seem to have shifted to bridges — 16 attacks since February.

They don't cause as many casualties but they send the same message: The government cannot protect you from an adaptive enemy.

Stephen Biddle, Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at the Council On Foreign Relations, told Martin: "We're dealing with people who have learned through survival over multiple years of warfare how to fight the Americans effectively and are training others in what they've learned" — for instance, attacks using enhanced explosive devices smuggled in from Iran hit an all-time high in April.

Overall, however, the report said it was too soon to judge whether the security crackdown was working.

One of the goals of the U.S. troop surge was to bolster security while allowing Iraqis to put their own security forces in place. But according to one Defense Department official Iraqi security is slow to come along.

Most Iraqi military units arriving in Baghdad for an American-led security crackdown have only 75 percent of their assigned soldiers, Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey told a Defense Department news conference Wednesday.

  • Joel Roberts

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