Shadow Government

Wikileaks dump puts the surge decision in sharp relief

The New York Times is highlighting the Iran angle in the latest dump from Wikileaks. That doesn’t appear to be generating as much commentary as the question of civilian casualties but I think it may be more important for shedding new light on the war. In particular, the Iran reports draw attention to an underappreciated ...

The New York Times is highlighting the Iran angle in the latest dump from Wikileaks. That doesn’t appear to be generating as much commentary as the question of civilian casualties but I think it may be more important for shedding new light on the war.

In particular, the Iran reports draw attention to an underappreciated part of the surge in 2006-2007: the ratcheting up of efforts against the Iranian-backed Jaysh Al Mahdi (JAM) terrorist cells and, indeed, on the Iranian agents themselves who had been operating with near impunity inside Iraq for much of 2006. The surge was designed to buy time to accomplish five tasks: 1) pruning the accelerants of the sectarian violence, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) on the Sunni side and the Iranian backed rogue militias on the Shia side; 2) building a larger and more reliable Iraqi security force (ISF) — in the language of Jaws, building a bigger boat; 3) fostering local, bottom-up accommodation (as with the Tribal Awakening — a marked departure from the top-down, Green Zone centric approach that preceded the surge); 4) connecting these localized, decentralized efforts to the central Iraqi government, making the Iraqi government relevant to the regions; and 5) pushing the top-down reconciliation steps, the famous "benchmarks."

The first were two sides of the same coin: no one expected the surge to "win" the war, but it was designed to beat the problem down, while building the solution (Iraqi forces) up, until the two were matched again, permitting an American withdrawal. Beating the problem down involved significantly ramped up kinetic operations by "Stan McChystal’s guys" against these groups.

Most of the attention of outside commentators focused on the Sunni accelerants of the violence — how the Tribal Awakening and accelerated raids reversed AQI’s momentum. But those inside the administration with responsibility for this issue were just as concerned about the Shia side, especially the Iranian connection. The trove of intelligence reports about rogue Shia and Iranian operations helps explain why.

There is a cottage industry among academics and some pundits attempting to discredit the surge as either a total failure or as irrelevant to what progress there has been in Iraq. The latest Wikileaks dump poses a real problem for them, and I haven’t seen any of them yet adequately rise to the challenge: how would any of their preferred options in 2006 have dealt with the Iranian challenge in Iraq more successfully than did the surge that President Bush ordered?

Peter D. Feaver is a professor of political science and public policy and Bass Fellow at Duke University, and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies and the Duke Program in American Grand Strategy. He is co-editor of Elephants in the Room.

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