Keeping Track of Iraq

Yet another report on Iraq was released this week, this time by the Pentagon. DOD is required by Congress to release quarterly reports called “Measuring Security and Stability in Iraq.” The latest one (pdf file) released to the public Sept. 17, covers June, July and August.

The Washington Post report on the report focuses on the deteriorating situation in southern Iraq, “as rival Shiite militias vying for power have stepped up their attacks after moving out of Baghdad” in response to the “surge.” But the report featured both good and bad news:

Overall, the report detailed both progress and setbacks. It highlighted positive trends such as a recent nationwide drop in sectarian violence, high-profile bombings and total attacks — albeit from the record-high of approximately 5,200 “enemy initiated” attacks in May. Total monthly attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces and civilians fell to about 4,800 in July and to 3,500 in August, the report said, reflecting what it called “a substantial improvement in overall security.”

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal scored an interview with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and once again Gates seems to be out ahead of the president on making changes in Iraq. Here is the opening to that story:

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates sketched out a long-term vision for securing Iraq that includes a continuing American military force that is a fraction the size of the one there today, no permanent U.S. bases and a significant Navy and Air Force presence in the Persian Gulf region.

In an interview in the Pentagon, Mr. Gates also said part of the long-range security structure would be stronger military partnerships with some of America’s friends in the Gulf area, helping them build better counterterrorism forces as well as regional air- and missile-defense systems to check Iranian ambitions.

What was missing from his vision for Iraq and the broader region was talk about transforming the region and spreading democracy. Instead, the Pentagon chief seemed much more focused on transforming the debate in Washington so the next president inherits a long-term strategy for Iraq and the region that both Republicans and Democrats can support.

Elsewhere, the New York Times reports on data collected by the Iraqi Red Crescent Organization on internal migration in the country. Perhaps surprisingly, the data show migration patterns haven’t made partition an easier prospect:

BAGHDAD, Sept. 18 — A vast internal migration is radically reshaping Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian landscape, according to new data collected by thousands of relief workers, but displacement in the most populous and mixed areas is surprisingly complex, suggesting that partitioning the country into semiautonomous Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish enclaves would not be easy.

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