Sakset/Fra hofta

Det er gjort betydelig fremskritt i Irak. The Surge virker, skriver forskerne Michael E. O’Hanlon og Kenneth Pollack etter en omfattende rundreise i landet. Inntrykket adskiller seg vesentlig fra slutten av 2005. Nå går det fremover, men merker Washington det?

Forfatterne er betenkt, – over pessimismen i USA. Det ville være tragisk om Kongressen og opinionen var så fed up av Irak at de ikke registrerte at utviklingen er snudd, og at det nå går fremover. For fremskrittet er skjørt. Hvis det settes en timeplan for prematur tilbaketrekning kan alt rase sammen på kort tid.

Hva er det som er blitt bedre? Trygghet, som irakerne har etterlyst i lang tid. For bare et halvt år siden var gatene i Ramadi, hovedstaden i Anbar-provinsen, kampsoner. Nå kan man spasere uten vest. Avgjørende var at USA forsto å velge riktig fiende: Al Qaida og andre salafist-grupper hadde terrorisert befolkningen i lang tid: drept lokaler ledere og røvet kvinner som koner til sine soldater. Sunniene var rede til samarbeid. Da amerikanerne kom med en ustrakt hånd, tok de den med iver.

Det er utvilsomt USAs største seier, som de nå forsøker å kopiere i Diyala-provinsen.

Også deler av Bagdad er blitt mye roligere.

Here is the most important thing Americans need to understand: We are finally getting somewhere in Iraq, at least in military terms. As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily «victory» but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.
..
In Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, which has seen some of the worst sectarian combat, we walked a street slowly coming back to life with stores and shoppers. The Sunni residents were unhappy with the nearby police checkpoint, where Shiite officers reportedly abused them, but they seemed genuinely happy with the American soldiers and a mostly Kurdish Iraqi Army company patrolling the street. The local Sunni militia even had agreed to confine itself to its compound once the Americans and Iraqi units arrived.

Avgjørende er at amerikanerne nå har en strategi som virker: soldatene går inn, rydder opp og blir værende. De samarbeider både med sivile irakere om gjenoppbygging, og med politi og hær om sikkerhet.

Det er kommet svært mange negative rapporter om sviktende moral og sekterisme i politi og hærstyrker. Men denne beskrivelsen er ikke lenger dekkende: det er større etnisk integrasjon, og moralen er høyere.

We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside. A local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American departure from Iraq. All across the country, the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark.

But for now, things look much better than before. American advisers told us that many of the corrupt and sectarian Iraqi commanders who once infested the force have been removed. The American high command assesses that more than three-quarters of the Iraqi Army battalion commanders in Baghdad are now reliable partners (at least for as long as American forces remain in Iraq).

In addition, far more Iraqi units are well integrated in terms of ethnicity and religion. The Iraqi Army’s highly effective Third Infantry Division started out as overwhelmingly Kurdish in 2005. Today, it is 45 percent Shiite, 28 percent Kurdish, and 27 percent Sunni Arab.

At amerikanerne følger en strategi som virker har slått ut på US Armys moral. Det er en merkbart mer optimistisk tone og høyere moral nå enn i 2005, skriver de to.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference.

Everywhere, Army and Marine units were focused on securing the Iraqi population, working with Iraqi security units, creating new political and economic arrangements at the local level and providing basic services — electricity, fuel, clean water and sanitation — to the people. Yet in each place, operations had been appropriately tailored to the specific needs of the community. As a result, civilian fatality rates are down roughly a third since the surge began — though they remain very high, underscoring how much more still needs to be done.

Vi har hørt mange skrekkhistorier om det nasjonale politiet. O’Hanlon og Pollack sier lokalbefolkningen har tatt konsekvensen: de oppretter sitt eget lokale politi.

For example, the Iraqi National Police, which are controlled by the Interior Ministry, remain mostly a disaster. In response, many towns and neighborhoods are standing up local police forces, which generally prove more effective, less corrupt and less sectarian. The coalition has to force the warlords in Baghdad to allow the creation of neutral security forces beyond their control.

Problemet er sentralregjeringen i Bagdad; den har ikke levert, men politikerne og fraksjonene fortsetter å krangle. Det koster dyrt i goodwill, i Washington og internasjonal opinion.

Flere militære og Bush-talsmenn har tatt til orde for at the Surge må forlenges inn i 2008. I kjølvannet av negative meldinger er det blitt oppfattet som et forsøk på å kamuflere og utsette sannhetens øyeblikk: at det ikke nyttet. Men nå sier de to forskerne at det virker. Mye bedre enn rapportert. Det har vært registrert visse forbedringer, men at fremgangen er såpass stor kommer som en stor overraskelse.

O’Hanlon og Pollack mener at the Surge må fortsette inn i 2008. For mye står på spill og Petraeus har vist at strategien virker.

How much longer should American troops keep fighting and dying to build a new Iraq while Iraqi leaders fail to do their part? And how much longer can we wear down our forces in this mission? These haunting questions underscore the reality that the surge cannot go on forever. But there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.

A War We Just Might Win

Michael E. O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Kenneth M. Pollack is the director of research at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings.