I believe that we are witnessing another turning point in the war in Iraq. A brief review of significant events since 2003 will serve to prove my point.
The exact nature and timing of so-called "turning points" in the Iraq war are subject to the collective judgment of the historians. In my view, the first big turning point occurred while I was in Iraq in November 2003. Ambassador Bremer negotiated an agreement with the Iraqi Governing Council they laid out a series of steps that would lead to an elected, representative government.
As we read the agreement when it was released we all immediately realized the significance of the planned turnover of power from the Coalition Provisional Authority to an interim Iraqi government. There were many who believed that June 2004 was too early for the transfer because the Iraqis weren't ready. While there were some significant issues with Iraqi capabilities for self-government, the Coalition wasn't exactly doing a superlative job in managing the country. In hindsight, and based on my experience in dealing with many of the economic, military and political problems that existed at the time, I believe that the handover decision was correct and might even have been better if executed earlier.
From November 2003 until December 2005 the agreement unfolded generally as written although events were not reported this way in the media. News reports focused instead on car bombs, U.S. casualties and the U.S. political reaction to these events. The enemy actions during this period (as they continue to be now) were focused on degrading the American political will to fight. These enemy actions were not military successes but had the intended political effect.
The second significant turning point occurred in February 2006 with the bombing of the important Shia mosque in Samarra. For over 30 months the Baathist holdouts and the Sunni Al Qaeda cells in Iraq had struck hard at the majority Shia population in an effort to generate a Shia response and create sectarian fighting between the Sunni and the Shia. The February attack pushed the Shia over the edge and elicited the ruthless and bloody attacks on the Sunni that the attackers desired.
The rise in sectarian violence and the concurrent dramatic increase in Iraqi civilian casualties had the desired impact on the U. S. populace during the period leading to the important American Congressional elections. This wave of negative news overshadowed the assumption of power by an Iraqi government elected with a broad mandate and operating under a new constitution. New Prime Minister Maliki, appointed in April 2006, did not really have his government in place and operating until the summer. Consequently, the ability of this new government to influence events has only been felt in the last few months.
The impact of this new government on the Iraqi populace, police and armed forces cannot be underestimated. For too many years the Iraqi security forces have been asked to risk their lives for either the ever popular Coalition Provisional Authority or the Coalition selected Iraqi Interim government. The training and equipment provided by the U.S. government to the security forces, while necessary, are not as important as the will to fight and this new government has been instrumental in providing this will.
The mislabeled and misrepresented "surge" strategy recently adopted by the U.S. government has had an immediate positive impact on the ground in Iraq. This new strategy is not merely an increase in the total number of U.S. forces in the country but a change in the location and manner of their employment. Two of the brightest and most capable generals in the U.S. Army, Petraeus and Odierno, have been installed to execute this new strategy.
I believe that the confluence of these two factors, the new strategy and an elected Iraqi government, will change the outcome on the ground. Prime Minister Maliki, by withdrawing his protection of Sadr and the Mahdi Army, has caused a dramatic reduction in the level of sectarian violence. The introduction of U.S. and Iraqi forces into Iraqi neighborhoods in the capital has offered the long suffering inhabitants of that city a level of security that they have not seen in quite some time.
The big question in my mind right now is: how will the enemy adapt to these new circumstances?