Commander guy is making a big deal about the supposed "success" of the surge in Anbar Province. Sure, he dropped by a
film set remote military base in the vast desert that makes up most of Anbar, and tried to claim that the surge was connected to the apparent defeat of Al Qaeda in Anbar:
You see Sunnis who once fought side by side with al Qaeda against coalition troops now fighting side by side with coalition troops against al Qaeda. Anbar is a huge province. It was once written off as lost. It is now one of the safest places in Iraq. (Hooah.) Because of your hard work, because of your bravery and sacrifice, you are denying al Qaeda a safe haven from which to plot and plan and carry out attacks against the United States of America. What you're doing here is making this country safer, and I thank you for your hard work. (Hooah.)
The surge of operations that began in June is improving security throughout Iraq. The military successes are paving the way for the political reconciliation and economic progress the Iraqis need to transform their country...
Earlier today I met with some of the tribal sheiks here in Anbar. It was a really interesting meeting. And at the table were the leaders of the central government, as well. They told me that the kind of bottom-up progress that your efforts are bringing to Anbar is vital to the success and stability of a free Iraq.
Almost everything in this statement is a lie.
First, as the recent GAO report demonstrates, Iraq’s government only fully met 3 of the 18 legislative, security and economic benchmarks, and Iraq is more dangerous now than it was last year. Our troops have done the job they’ve been asked to do, but the Iraqi politicians have not done theirs.
There’s also the question of who’s safe in Anbar, and why? There’s a rise of gangsterism in the heavily Shia south of Iraq, but for the most part, the real danger to Iraqis is sectarian conflict, mostly between Shia and Sunni. But as defense analyst Anthony Cordseman says, Anbar is an anomaly. The White House has made a big deal about the drop in violence in Anbar cities like Ramadi. But there was never much reason to expect sectarian violence within Ramadi, as it’s a city of 200,000 with a tiny—3,000—Shiite population. Just because there’s not much sectarian violence in Anbar doesn’t mean it’s safe for Shia; it probably means that in almost exclusively Sunni Anbar, there aren’t enough of both Sunni and Shia to have serious sectarian violence.
However, just because Anbar hasn’t had much Shia-Sunni conflict, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t rife with violence, including lots of violence by Arabs against Iraqi Sunni Arabs. This leads us back to Cordesman’s observation that Anbar is an anomaly: it’s the only place in Iraq where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq ever seriously threatened the control of the Sunni, pro-Baathist tribal leadership. In fact, Al Queda in Iraq was never concerned with attacking the United States. Instead, it was determined to exacerbate and escalate violence between Sunni and the supposedly apostate Shia, which would spur a conflagration throughout all the Middle East and Central Asia, eventually leading to the ultimate goal of eliminating unbelievers (which for Salafist fundamentalists like Al Qaeda in Iraq includes Shia) and the restoration of the Caliphate.
The Sunni tribal reaction to Al Qaeda is nothing new. First, the Sunni tribes Bush claimed once fought together with Al Qaeda never aligned with Al Qaeda in any tactical or strategic alliance. Rather, because of Al Qaeda’s tactic of targeting Sunnis in Anbar, over a year and a half ago the tribes in Anbar banded together to expel the largely foreign Al Qaeda fighters from Ramadi and the surrounding areas (which had the side-effect of sending the Al Qaeda radicals to places like Karbala, after Mecca the most holy city in Shia Islam, where they’ve committed atrocious acts of terrorism against Shia civilians). Zarqawi’s tactics became so extreme that it led Osama bin Laden’s number two, Ayhman al-Zawahiri, to issue a message telling Zarqawi to knock off the beheadings because they were damaging the Al Qaeda brand name. Sunni tribes in Anbar fighting Al Queda is nothing new, completely understandable, and is not evidence of any long-term cooperation with the United States.
The president’s comments about Anbar being evidence that the surge is working are ludicrous. But let’s go further back, and see if Anbar holds any hope of embracing an Iraqi democracy. In the February 2005 parliamentary election, only 2% of eligible voters in Anbar cast a ballot. In the election later that year, 97% of Anbar voters rejected the national constitution. And now we’re pinning out hopes for lasting stability in a baathist stronghold on heavily arming the same factions led by "tribal chieftains" who not long ago were ordering their followers to shoot at and blow up our soldiers and marines. As Juan Cole has put it, "tribal sheikhs are notoriously factional and fickle. I'd say that is a check that may well bounce."