Digesting The Iraq Report

Kirk Johnson, formerly the Deputy Director for Assessments in the Joint Strategic Planning and Assessment office at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, met with bloggers yesterday to help the community understand the elements that comprise the security improvements in Iraq that result from the troop surge. Fresh from Iraq (he left less than two weeks ago), Johnson relayed his take on the progress report, mentioning that the surge was initially put forth last year as a “new way forward.”

Like any new plan, the surge required some tweaks. Johnson, who was also the chief statistician for Ambassador Ryan Crocker, said it went from “transition[ing] to Iraqis to population security” instead. With “joint security stations,” American troops work side by side with the Iraqis for what Johnson called “on the job training.”

“Their abilities [are] strengthened and they’ll act as a force multiplier…[and] help us provide better security,” Johnson said, adding that security has demonstrably improved throughout the country.

Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker’s testimony to the House and Senate confirmed these security improvements. Petraeus surprised many by recommending a “substantial withdrawal” of troops to begin as early as next month.

The recommendation undermined Monday’s ad in the New York Times, which mocked Petraeus as “Gen. Betray Us.” In his opening statement to Congress before the report yesterday, Rep. Tom Lantos sounded like a spokesman for, saying “…the Administration has sent you here today to convince the members of these two Committees and the Congress that victory is at hand … I don’t buy it.”

Johnson admitted that political progress was “slow” but said that most news reports fail to show that such progress “can be seen on a local, bottom-up approach” rather than a purely national scale. He cited positive developments in Anbar and Diyala provinces as examples of progress. Because the results prove encouraging, Petraeus was able to make an asessement that proved credible to most Americans.

While Democratic leaders have been calling for troop withdrawal for months, this proposal is different because it is “based on conditions on the ground” and not politicians in Washington, said Jim Phillips, a Heritage Foundation research fellow for Middle Eastern affairs.

“I think Crocker ultimately has the tougher job…to point the way ahead on a political front,” said Phillips.

Petraeus refused to speculate on decisions past next summer. But he honed in on the increasing Iranian infiltration in Iraq, referring specifically to the Iranian Republican Guard Corps’ Qods Force who have “assassinated and kidnapped Iraqi governmental leaders, killed and wounded our soldiers with advanced explosive devices provided by Iran and indiscriminately rocketed civilians…”

Newspapers printed overheated “troop reduction” headlines yesterday. But those are misleading: there is not going to be a permanent or complete withdrawal.  America has to keep a presence there to deal with the Iranian threat facing the entire region

“Iran wants us out because we are the locus of power,” said Johnson. To accomplish this, they want to “destabilize Iraq for the short term” so they can eventually stabilize it for the long term according their motives.

Attacks and threats from Iran have increased greatly in recent weeks. Johnson said munitions are more frequent, noting that on his last day in the green zone, there was a large rocket attack — and similar occurrences are happening daily.

“If we want to capitalize on security gains…we must continue to see these efforts forward,” said Johnson. “It may be a hard road ahead but there would be a great disaster if we were to leave.” He noted that Petraeus and Crocker are both extremely concerned with those consequences.

Only recently has the military opened up about the grave threats from Iran. Petraues’ and Crocker’s testimony both went farther than any senior leader has before in specifying Iran’s involvement in the insurgency and the fact that it’s killing Americans in Iraq.  Those who advocate troop withdrawal, like both front-running Democratic presidential candidates, ignore the fact that Iraq is part of a larger war, which includes both Iran and Syria. Further, Iran’s history proves they refuse to abide by UN sanctions or cooperate diplomatically.

Johnson said the American people should be fearful of Iran because the government knows “far more about what is going on in Iran” than the public is being told.

Phillips thinks the Bush Administration kept the Iranian danger out of the limelight because critics espoused it as an attempt to explain away other problems in Iraq. But, also, “if you start exposing it, you’re gonna have to do something about it.”

In his report, Petraeus said "none of us earlier this year appreciated the extent of the Iranian involvement in Iraq."

“In view of this, I do not believe it is reasonable to have an adequate appreciation for the pace of further reductions and missions adjustments beyond the summer of 2008 until about mid-March of next year.”

AP reported that the President plans to decrease the American troop presence in Iraq by about 30,000 by next summer, though only in accordance with continued improving conditions.