Despite drop in violence, Pentagon finds little long-term progress in Iraq

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 18, 2007 

WASHINGTON — Despite significant security gains in much of Iraq, nothing has changed within Iraq's political leadership to guarantee sustainable peace, a Pentagon report released Tuesday found.

The congressionally mandated quarterly report suggests that the drop in violence won't hold unless Iraq's central government passes key legislation, improves the way it manages its security forces and finds a way to reconcile the country's competing sects. It said none of those steps has been taken.

"Although security gains, local accommodation and progress against the flow of foreign fighters and lethal aid into Iraq have had a substantial effect, more needs to be done to foster national, 'top-down' reconciliation to sustain the gains," the report said.

The Pentagon report is the latest assessment circulating in Washington as officials ponder whether the strategy of increasing U.S. troop strength this year by 30,000 can be called a victory or whether the drop in violence is a lull that will break once the United States returns to last year's troop levels.

Another report this week, by retired Lt. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, said that mid-ranking U.S. military officers have become "the de-facto low-level government of the Iraq state."

"The Iraqis tend to defer to U.S. company and battalion commanders based on their respect for their counterparts' energy, integrity and the assurance of some level of security," McCaffrey wrote after a three-week visit to Iraq.

The Pentagon report documents the steep decline in violence. It said that 600 civilians were killed in November, compared with 3,000 in December 2006. The report also said that al Qaida in Iraq is now on the defensive, weakened by a Sunni Muslim populace that no longer backs it.

But the report also said that the Iraqi government has failed to improve basic services such as water and electricity and hasn't passed legislation outlining how it would distribute oil revenues or hold provincial elections. Most sessions, the parliament struggles to reach a quorum.

Corruption remains a major problem throughout the government. The report cited both the Ministry of Interior, which runs the police force, and the oil industry, Iraq's largest generator of revenue. "Corruption and sectarian behavior continue to be evident in the MoI," the report said. "Corruption at all levels of the oil industry remains a significant problem."

The report also said that despite four years of intense U.S. effort, the Iraqi security forces remain unprepared to operate independently. It said that the ministries of interior and defense are plagued by "deficiencies in logistics, combat support functions and . . . by shortages of officers at all operational and tactical levels."

The report also raises questions about the future of so-called concerned local citizens organizations, which U.S. military leaders have credited with helping to quiet many of Iraq's contentious areas. The U.S. pays the organizations' estimated 70,000 members to patrol Iraq's streets, giving them jobs and, U.S. officials believe, less incentive to join the insurgency.

The report said the groups were "crucial to the counterinsurgency effort." But it also warned that they could evolve into a militia that's opposed to Iraq's central government, a fear shared by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki. The vast majority of the concerned local citizens are Sunni Muslims. The government is dominated by Shiites.

"The slow pace of integrating CLC members in (government) institutions, lack of alternative employment and fears by the Maliki government that these forces may return to violence or form new militias are of concern," the report said.

The report also included polling data that indicate that Iraqis are skeptical about how widespread the drop in violence is. Sixty-one percent of Iraqis nationwide said that their neighborhoods were calm. But only 19 percent said that violence had declined elsewhere in Iraq.

McClatchy Newspapers 2007

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