Links: Petraeus Report and the charts
Major Points:
– The Tribes are cooperating with security and local political reconciliation
– Al-Qaeda is severely disrupted
– Overall violence, insurgent attacks, and sectarian killings are down significantly
– The Iranians are withdrawing the Quds force from Iraq.
The last point is potentially the most interesting development.

Nature of the Conflict

The fundamental source of the conflict in Iraq is competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources. This competition will take place, and its resolution is key to producing long-term stability in the new Iraq. The question is whether the competition takes place more – or less – violently.

The goal is to foster tribal and political negotiation and bargaining. The US acts as a powerful tribe and a neutral mediator in the conflict.

If the Iraqis believe the US will withdraw, they will shift support to violent militias over the short-term to provide fundamental security.

Anbar Awakening

Additionally, in what may be the most significant development of the past 8 months, the tribal rejection of Al Qaeda that started in Anbar Province and helped produce such significant change there has now spread to a number of other locations as well.

The change in the security situation in Anbar Province has, of course, been particularly dramatic. As this chart shows, monthly attack levels in Anbar have declined from some 1,350 in October 2006 to a bit over 200 in August of this year. This dramatic decrease reflects the significance of the local rejection of Al Qaeda and the newfound willingness of local Anbaris to volunteer to serve in the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police Service.

The Tribal Rebellion produced a radical change in direction in Iraq. The rebellion against the insurgency began in Anbar but has now spread to 40% of Iraq. This is the center of gravity in Iraq.
Note the insurgent activity on the Euphrates River over time. The bulk of the Iraqi War occurs on the Euphrates in particular. It has been a river war with the insurgent base in Anbar.

The tribal rebellion is very significant for a few reasons.
– Anbar was the previous base of operations for the Sunni insurgency
– The insurgency relied on supply routes from Syria along the Euphrates River. Most insurgent activity occured along the river – and you can see the marked decline in activity as time progressed.
– The insurgency lost control of the Trigris River supply routes back in 2004.

Without the support of the tribes, the remaining insurgents lost their sanctuary and logistical supply network. This contributes to incremental declines in insurgent activity across the rest of Iraq.

The Anbar Tribes are taking up responsibility for their own security and have partnered with the US. This model is being replicated in Diyala, Saladin, Ninawah, Babil, and other provinces.

Phantom Thunder and the Baghdad Security Operation

In mid-June, with all the surge brigades in place, we launched a series of offensive operations focused on: expanding the gains achieved in the preceding months in Anbar Province; clearing Baqubah, several key Baghdad neighborhoods, the remaining sanctuaries in Anbar Province, and important areas in the so-called “belts” around Baghdad; and pursuing Al Qaeda in the Diyala River Valley and several other areas.


Phantom Thunder was a collection of offenses in Diyala, Anbar, Baghdad, Babil, and Saladin. These offenses cleared insurgents out of their strongholds, then began population-centric operations.

Note the “clustering” of violence in Baghdad, particularly over the Sunni and mixed regions of Iraq. This correlates with other maps of the violence. The goal is to isolate and contain these clusters, then slowly “choke them” to a smaller region.

Inside Baghdad and other cities like Fallujah, the US used a “urban tourniquet” strategy to clear, hold, and secure segments of the city.

The US disrupted insurgent supply lines into Baghdad by going on the offensive in the “belts” around the city. This prevents the insurgents from regenerating their forces and supplies in the city while US and Iraqi Forces clear it.

The Shia militias defeated the Sunni population. The militias ethnically cleansed Sunnis from a large portion of Baghdad and the surrounding areas. A substantial portion – up to 50% of the Sunni population – were internally displaced. This pressured the Sunnis to end the insurgency. The violence slows down since most of the ethnic cleansing is over.

The US role is to ease these transitions and minimize the level of violence.

Decline in Insurgent Activity

One reason for the decline in incidents is that Coalition and Iraqi forces have dealt significant blows to Al Qaeda-Iraq. Though Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq remain dangerous, we have taken away a number of their sanctuaries and gained the initiative in many areas.

We have also disrupted Shia militia extremists, capturing the head and numerous other leaders of the Iranian-supported Special Groups, along with a senior Lebanese Hezbollah operative supporting Iran’s activities in Iraq.

There has been a large drop in the number of IED attacks, and a vast increase in the number of insurgent munition caches discovered. This signifies much better intelligence and civilian cooperation.

The insurgents reached the culminating point of attack and were unable to achieve victory. Now their power is declining as the US takes the inititative.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq

Our operations have, in fact, produced substantial progress against Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq. As this chart shows, in the past 8 months, we have considerably reduced the areas in which Al Qaeda enjoyed sanctuary. We have also neutralized 5 media cells, detained the senior Iraqi leader of Al Qaeda-Iraq, and killed or captured nearly 100 other key leaders and some 2,500 rank-and-file fighters. Al Qaeda is certainly not defeated; however, it is off balance and we are pursuing its leaders and operators aggressively. Of note, as the recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq explained, these gains against Al Qaeda are a result of the synergy of actions by: conventional forces to deny the terrorists sanctuary; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets to find the enemy; and special operations elements to conduct targeted raids. A combination of these assets is necessary to prevent the creation of a terrorist safe haven in Iraq.


The COIN operation does not engage in direct counterterrorism. That is why is so especially effective against terrorists. By securing the population, you clear regions and deny terrorists like AQI sanctuary. Enemy-centric tactics, at best, supplement the operations. Any operation requires high levels of cooperation form the civilians as well as intelligence to target AQI cells. Without a COIN operation, CT operations are ineffective.

AQI also pushed their insurgent allies past the breaking point. The Tribes began the rebellion and were joined by nationalist insurgents who turned against AQI and its brutality against Arab Muslims.

Petraeus also warns against an enemy-centric strategy which will surely fail in Iraq.

One may argue that the best way to speed the process in Iraq is to change the MNF-I mission from one that emphasizes population security, counter-terrorism, and transition, to one that is strictly focused on transition and counter-terrorism. Making that change now would, in our view, be premature. We have learned before that there is a real danger in handing over tasks to the Iraqi Security Forces before their capacity and local conditions warrant.

Civilian Deaths
I don’t believe this is a true marker of progress, but this is probably a result of the Tribal Awakening combined with the population-centric COIN strategy.

Civilian deaths of all categories, less natural causes, have also declined considerably, by over 45% Iraq-wide since the height of the sectarian violence in December. This is shown by the top line on this chart, and the decline by some 70% in Baghdad is shown by the bottom line. Periodic mass casualty attacks by Al Qaeda have tragically added to the numbers outside Baghdad, in particular.


Engram double checks these figures by comparing them to the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count. If anything, it appears that the independent ICCC undercounted civilian casualties, so Petraeus has not “cooked the books” as critics claimed.

Now here’s the stunning part.
Iran and the Jaish al-Mahdi

In the past six months we have also targeted Shia militia extremists, capturing a number of senior leaders and fighters, as well as the deputy commander of Lebanese Hezbollah Department 2800, the organization created to support the training, arming, funding, and, in some cases, direction of the militia extremists by the Iranian Republican Guard Corps’ Qods Force. These elements have assassinated and kidnapped Iraqi governmental leaders, killed and wounded our soldiers with advanced explosive devices provided by Iran, and indiscriminately rocketed civilians in the International Zone and elsewhere. It is increasingly apparent to both Coalition and Iraqi leaders that Iran, through the use of the Qods Force, seeks to turn the Iraqi Special Groups into a Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.

The US is disaggregating JAM to target the “special groups” and Iranian agents while encouraging moderates and nationalists within JAM to oppose Iranian intervention.

Iran clearly intended to build up JAM into an Iraqi version of Hezbollah. The US limited their ability to do so and has captured a number of Iranian agents in Iraq.

Petraeus reports the EFP and rocket continue to be smuggled into Iraq to JAM and other Iranian-backed militias. The volume of arms appear to have increased. The Iranian-backed Shia militants may be off-setting the remarkable decline in the AQI and Sunni insurgency.

Like his earlier interviews, Petraeus is convinced that AQI is just a short-term threat to Iraq. Iran is the long-term threat, and there is an ongoing proxy war. President Ahmadinejad is claiming that Iran intends to fill the power vacuum in Iraq if it chases the US out, so this is not exactly breaking news.

Petraeus refuses to comment on what to do with Iran. Good – that’s a political question beyond his authority.

But then something odd happened just as the report was getting ready. Sadr suspended Mahdi Militia activity for 6 months, at least officially. The violence at Karbala damaged the reputation of JAM at a critical point in time.

Petraeus reports, with surprisingly little fanfare, that it appears that the Iranian Quds Force and Lebanese Hezbollah withdrew from Iraq recently. Here’s the video of Rep Hunter and Petraeus. I have no idea what is going on with Iran. There are too many mixed signals to understand what is going on right now.

If Iran is backing away from a full-scale proxy war, then this is great news. But it could just be misperception. We’ll find out.


The recommendations I provided were informed by operational and strategic considerations. The operational considerations include recognition that:
• military aspects of the surge have achieved progress and generated momentum;
• Iraqi Security Forces have continued to grow and have slowly been shouldering more of the security burden in Iraq;
• a mission focus on either population security or transition alone will not be adequate to achieve our objectives;
• success against Al Qaeda-Iraq and Iranian-supported militia extremists requires conventional forces as well as special operations forces; and
• the security and local political situations will enable us to draw down the surge forces.

My recommendations also took into account a number of strategic considerations:
• political progress will take place only if sufficient security exists;
• long-term US ground force viability will benefit from force reductions as the surge runs its course;
• regional, global, and cyberspace initiatives are critical to success; and
• Iraqi leaders understandably want to assume greater sovereignty in their country, although, as they recently announced, they do desire continued presence of coalition forces in Iraq in 2008 under a new UN Security Council Resolution and, following that, they want to negotiate a long term security agreement with the United States and other nations.

Those seem to be the main points. The whole report is worth a read.