Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The latest Iraq NIE:what happened to the candy and flowers?

Overview

A few days ago, the Key Judgments of the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq were made public. Those judgments are contained in a nine-page document (which actually is eight and a half pages). One of those pages is the cover page, and the next four pages explain the process of how the NIE was produced and what some of the terminology means. That means that the Key Judgments comprise three and a half pages, or approximately 40% of the document.

At first I thought I would not discuss the other 60%, but I changed my mind. The explanations in pages 2-5 really underscore the gravity of the NIE’s Key Judgments--and those Key Judgments paint a grim picture. Recall that the NIE on Iraq before the war was used to justify the push to war. Recall also that that NIE was manipulated and twisted to support the Bush administration’s determination to go to war. Thus, it makes sense that the public version of the most recent Iraq NIE would go to lengths to try to show that it is an objective product.

Pages 2-5

Page 2 describes the office of the Director of National Intelligence--DNI ("serves as the head of the Intelligence Community") and the National Intelligence Council--NIC ("The NIC's key goal is to provide policymakers with the best, unvarnished, and unbiased information ."), then states that "NIEs are the DNI's most authoritative written judgments concerning national security issues. They contain the coordinated judgments of the Intelligence Community regarding the likely course of future events."

Page 3 describes the process by which NIE's are generated, with special emphasis on how the process has been improved since legislation in 2004 which 1) "new procedures to integrate formal reviews of source reporting and technical judgments," and 2) "more rigorous standards." This is significant given all the bullshit that occurred with the prewar NIE on Iraq.

Page 4 describes how this particular NIE was produced. In general, that process included "a thorough review of sourcing, in-depth Community coordination, the use of alternative analysis and review by outside experts." Also, "analysts had the opportunity to register “dissents” and provide alternative analysis. Reactions by the three outside experts who read the final product were highlighted in the text." These things were not done in the version of the prewar NIE that went to the full Congress.

Page 5 contains the explanations and definitions of terms (such as "we judge," "likely," "unlikely," "high confidence," "moderate confidence," and "low confidence"). Refer to the report for the specifics.

And then the "Key Judgments" start on Page 6.

The Key Judgments
  • Overall
Basically, the Key Judgments say that the situation in Iraq is extremely complex, that violence and general deterioration of security could increase, that even reduced violence might not improve the overall situation from a political standpoint, and that while there are some things that might stabilize the country, there are many things that could cause the country to descend into chaos. The key judgments also conclude that American forces are currently a stabilizing force in the country and that Iraq's neighbors--which include Syria and Iran--are not significant factors in the current instability.

With that in mind, let's take a look at some specifics.
  • Polarization and deterioration
The first judgment is as follows:
Iraqi society’s growing polarization, the persistent weakness of the security forces and the state in general, and all sides’ ready recourse to violence are collectively driving an increase in communal and insurgent violence and political extremism. Unless efforts to reverse these conditions show measurable progress during the term of this Estimate, the coming 12 to 18 months, we assess that the overall security situation will continue to deteriorate at rates comparable to the latter part of 2006.
(emphasis in original). Implicit in the foregoing is the judgment that if efforts to reverse these conditions are successful, there will be hope for the future--at least until one keeps reading to see this:
Nevertheless, even if violence is diminished, given the current winner-take-all attitude and sectarian animosities infecting the political scene, Iraqi leaders will be hard pressed to achieve sustained political reconciliation in the time frame of this Estimate.
(emphasis added). Besides showing just how precarious the situation is in Iraq, this nugget of joy shows why Bush's new plan to add troops is insufficient. Iraq is not going to stabilize until there is a political solution, and Bush's plan does not address that. The Bush theory is that once the security situation is better, the political solution will follow. Yeah--just like every other bullshit dead-ass wrong prediction Bush has made before. This assessment in the current NIE shows that a political solution is paramount AND that controlling the violence in Baghdad is not going to get the job done.
  • Challenges are daunting.
On October 26, 2006, I wrote a post about how invading Iraq was always a bad idea because facts known before the war showed that post-war Iraq was going to be a mess. Go read that post and then decide if these portions of the NIE sound familiar:
• Decades of subordination to Sunni political, social, and economic domination have made the Shia deeply insecure about their hold on power. This insecurity leads the Shia to mistrust US efforts to reconcile Iraqi sects and reinforces their unwillingness to engage with the Sunnis on a variety of issues, including adjusting the structure of Iraq’s federal system, reining in Shia militias, and easing de-Bathification.

• Many Sunni Arabs remain unwilling to accept their minority status, believe the central government is illegitimate and incompetent, and are convinced that Shia dominance will increase Iranian influence over Iraq, in ways that erode the state’s Arab character and increase Sunni repression.

• The absence of unifying leaders among the Arab Sunni or Shia with the capacity to speak for or exert control over their confessional groups limits prospects for reconciliation. The Kurds remain willing to participate in Iraqi state building but reluctant to surrender any of the gains in autonomy they have achieved.

• The Kurds are moving systematically to increase their control of Kirkuk to guarantee annexation of all or most of the city and province into the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) after the constitutionally mandated referendum scheduled to occur no later than 31 December 2007. Arab groups in Kirkuk continue to resist violently what they see as Kurdish encroachment.

• Despite real improvements, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF)—particularly the Iraqi police—will be hard pressed in the next 12-18 months to execute significantly increased security responsibilities, and particularly to operate independently against Shia militias with success. Sectarian divisions erode the dependability of many units, many are hampered by personnel and equipment shortfalls, and a number of Iraqi units have refused to serve outside of the areas where they were recruited.

• Extremists—most notably the Sunni jihadist group al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) and Shia oppositionist Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM)—continue to act as very effective accelerators for what has become a self-sustaining inter-sectarian struggle between Shia and Sunnis.

• Significant population displacement, both within Iraq and the movement of Iraqis into neighboring countries, indicates the hardening of ethno-sectarian divisions, diminishes Iraq’s professional and entrepreneurial classes, and strains the capacities of the countries to which they have relocated. The UN estimates over a million Iraqis are now in Syria and Jordan.
Simply put, not only are the pre-war circumstances still present, they have increased in complexity and intensity.
  • "'Civil war' does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict."
In case the foregoing does not convey what a mess exists in Iraq, the NIE puts the matter more succinctly:
The Intelligence Community judges that the term “civil war” does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq, which includes extensive Shia-on-Shia violence, al-Qa’ida and Sunni insurgent attacks on Coalition forces, and widespread criminally motivated violence. Nonetheless, the term “civil war” accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization, and population displacements.
In other words, in a typical civil war there are two forces fighting for one cause. The NIE is saying that there is that and oh so much more in Iraq today. There are not simply two sides fighting over one matter. There are multiple parties and multiple fights happening all at the same time. One common factor is that our troops are right in the middle of all of these sides and fights.

And leave it to the Bush administration to try to spin this assessment into sunshine. On February 2, 2006, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley held a press briefing in which he discussed this portion of the NIE. Hadley tried to show that while the situation is complex, it really is not as bad as a civil war.
Q: Mr. Hadley, the report also says, the term "civil war" accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict. Is the President ready to embrace that term, as well?

MR. HADLEY: One of the things that is helpful -- and this is on page two -- is a statement that the intelligence community judges that the term "civil war" does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq. And we think that is right. And one of the things that's good about the NIE is it describes the complexity. Iraq right now is a number of different conflicts, and it talks in that paragraph about Shia-on-Shia violence, al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent attacks on coalition forces, criminally motivated violence. I would add one more, and I don't think the analysts would object, and that is efforts by al Qaeda not just to attack coalition forces, but to attack Shia civilians in order to provoke them to attack Sunnis and to encourage the sectarian violence that we've seen.

So I think the thing I would say is, we would agree with the description in that paragraph of the realities on the ground. Now, you get to the issue of labels. Labels are difficult. And of course, everyone is looking at the label of "civil war." Let me read to you what Iraqis say. As we've talked about before, Iraqis do not describe it as a civil war. And it's very interesting -- in a recent interview, the Iraqi Prime Minister* [sic], Abd al Madhi, had the following statement, which I thought was an interesting, different perspective on this issue. He said first, "I don't think we are in a civil war. We are in a war on civilians. That's what Abu Musab al Zarqawi was trying to do. That's what the insurgents are trying to do. Otherwise, what is the meaning of a car bomb in a university or market? You're against a society, against civilians. Or when Sunni militias attack, some Shia militias attack in retaliation. They are not attacking as one army against another, but they are attacking civilians from the other community. That's why I say," and this is Abd al Madhi's comment, "we are in a war against civilians, not a civil war."

And finally he says, "Secondly, the government is still powerful, still feared by the population. Whenever it issues a curfew it is respected all over Iraq. No country in a civil war respects the decision of a government. We have to go and decrease the sectarian violence; we have to go and protect people from car bombs and from insurgent acts that target civilians and institutions."
See? Things aren't so bad because the Iraqi Prime Minister says so, and hey, it's not the Bush administration saying this. No, it's just the U.S. Intelligence Community saying that the situation is worse than a civil war.
  • American forces are currently a stabilizing force.
Here is something that surge supporters can point to:
Coalition capabilities, including force levels, resources, and operations, remain an essential stabilizing element in Iraq. If Coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly during the term of this Estimate, we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance to the Iraqi Government, and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.

• If such a rapid withdrawal were to take place, we judge that the ISF [Iraq Security Force] would be unlikely to survive as a non-sectarian national institution; neighboring countries—invited by Iraqi factions or unilaterally—might intervene openly in the conflict; massive civilian casualties and forced population displacement would be probable; AQI [Al Qaeda in Iraq] would attempt to use parts of the country—particularly al-Anbar province—to plan increased attacks in and outside of Iraq; and spiraling violence and political disarray in Iraq, along with Kurdish moves to control Kirkuk and strengthen autonomy, could prompt Turkey to launch a military incursion.
(bold type in original, italics added). I cannot dispute any of this. However, my focus is on "rapid." I am not in favor of an immediate or rapid withdrawal. I never have been (which is reflected in some comments somewhere on the blog). But here's the thing: all of the possible consequences of a rapid withdrawal described above are also likely consequences of any withdrawal in the future. And I am not talking about only the near future. We could wait several years, and a withdrawal could very well result in the same consequences. That's how messed up things are in Iraq. The only way to avoid such a result is for all kinds of political, diplomatic, and economic results to occur. And those matters are so much more difficult to achieve now than they would have been several years ago. These actions should have been undertaken as soon as the war was "over," and they should have been planned for before the war started. None of that happened. None of that has happened since, and Bush's "new plan" ain't making any of it happen now.
  • The role of Iraq's neighbors
This is the part of the NIE that really caught my eye.
Iraq’s neighbors influence, and are influenced by, events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely to be a major driver of violence or the prospects for stability because of the self-sustaining character of Iraq’s internal sectarian dynamics.
(emphasis added). In other words, Syria and Iran are not major factors. And why is this important? The first link provided in this post is to an April 17, 2006, post about the pre-war Iraq NIE. Given that that post came more than 3.5 years after that NIE, I followed with a post entitled "Why revisiting the Iraq NIE is important," which basically said that the same bullshit that the Bush administration pulled in selling the Iraq war--a large part of which was the pre-war NIE--was starting to be used in building a case for war with Iran. That is still going on (and that discussion will take place in subsequent posts), but the current Iraq NIE puts a big dent in part of the Bush administration's case, namely that Iran is one of the major causes of the violence in Iraq.
  • And now for the good news...
The NIE ends with this analysis:
A number of identifiable internal security and political triggering events, including sustained mass sectarian killings, assassination of major religious and political leaders, and a complete Sunni defection from the government have the potential to convulse severely Iraq’s security environment. Should these events take place, they could spark an abrupt increase in communal and insurgent violence and shift Iraq’s trajectory from gradual decline to rapid deterioration with grave humanitarian, political, and security consequences. Three prospective security paths might then emerge:


Chaos Leading to Partition. With a rapid deterioration in the capacity of Iraq’s central government to function, security services and other aspects of sovereignty would collapse. Resulting widespread fighting could produce de facto partition, dividing Iraq into three mutually antagonistic parts. Collapse of this magnitude would generate fierce violence for at least several years, ranging well beyond the time frame of this Estimate, before settling into a partially stable end-state.

Emergence of a Shia Strongman. Instead of a disintegrating central government producing partition, a security implosion could lead Iraq’s potentially most powerful group, the Shia, to assert its latent strength.

Anarchic Fragmentation of Power. The emergence of a checkered pattern of local control would present the greatest potential for instability, mixing extreme ethno-sectarian violence with debilitating intra-group clashes.
If we ever find the WMD, the candy and flowers the Iraqis were going to toss at us might be in the same place.

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