Good people can, and will, have honest disagreements over the reasons for the drop in violence in Iraq over the past year-plus. And that’s fine. The surge, the Sons of Iraq, the American embrace of counterinsurgency tactics, ethnic cleansing having done its work, Iraqi weariness with violence…all of these things have some part to play in the story.
But one thing you don’t often hear mentioned—or at least it comes far down on most people’s lists, is the performance of the Iraqi security forces. But that’s just the argument that Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffak al-Rubaie made yesterday afternoon at a gathering of the United States Institute for Peace in Washington, comments that prompted fellow panelist Zbigniew Brzezinski to smack him down.
al-Rubaie said that when trying to answer the question of what caused the drop in violence, the answer “depends on who you are asking.”
If you ask multinational forces they will tell you it is the surge and the change of tactics. But I would not start with that. I would start with the Iraqi security forces have reached a level of quantity and quality…the Iraqi security forces reached to a level whereby…they’re fighting and planning and performing security operations on their own.”
That’s one theory. But take a look at what else al-Rubaie thinks has worked, and see how far down the list the contribution of US forces comes.
“The second determining [factor] is the rejection of this alien ideology of al Qaeda,” he said, and third is the “aggressive policy of national reconciliation.”
Fourth on his list is the Maliki government’s “outreach” to regional players like Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, and fifth comes the contribution of American forces: “of course the surge, [though] it’s very difficult to assess how much the surge has done…”
al-Rubaie is right in naming a variety of factors as having contributed to the increased security in Iraq—the simplistic idea that “the surge has worked” is a little too neat and tidy to explain the complex web of factors at work that resulted in the events of 2007 and 2008. But still, Zbigniew Brzezinski wasn’t buying what al-Rubaie was selling.
In the question and answer period, in a response to a somewhat unrelated question, Brzezinski shot back that the drop in violence “is an accomplishment of U.S. forces. While I certainly respect the contribution made in more recent times by the Iraqi forces, the fundamental outcome is the product of the overwhelming power of the United States which deployed 150,000 troops with the most modern equipment, and engaged in intensive combat to achieve the results that we’re now beginning to witness.”