Sunday, August 03, 2008

Has the "Surge" Worked?

The question as to whether or not the "surge" in Iraq has "worked" or not is currently one of hot issues in the American presidential campaign.

If by "worked," one means significantly but temporarily reduced violence in Iraq by increasing troop presence, then maybe the surge has worked to some degree. However, the surge has not worked in the sense of actually solving the issues that cause the violence.

Basically the troop numbers have made if more difficult for sectarian fighters to carry out attacks. But even more importantly, even before the surge began Sunni strongholds had already seen a marked decrease in violence. This had nothing to do with the surge itself, but was related to an accord between the U.S. forces and the old Baath Party leadership.

Previous to this accord, the Baathists were forced to work with al-Qaeda, their old enemy, against the U.S. presence. The Baath Party was the organization that supported Saddam Hussein and the Americans apparently were bent on completely removing it from existence. However, once an agreement with the party was reached, Sunni strongholds were able to turn against al-Qaeda elements who were never present in these regions before the U.S. invasion.

Al-Qaeda is now forced to work in geographical areas where a power vacuum exists between Shi'a and Sunni, and in the Kurdish areas.

However, the sectarian strife between Iraqi ethno-religious groups is hardly settled. The violence while down significantly from pre-surge levels is still nowhere near acceptable levels. Indeed, if it were not for that fact that the previous situation was so horrendous, the current violence would still be viewed as extremely unstable.

For example, just last week women suicide bombers killed more than 60 people in one day. And just hours before the publication of this blog post, it was reported that at least 15 people were killed in a similar attack in Baghdad.

The surge has only put a lid on the numbers, by making it harder for groups to carry out attacks that they nonetheless are determined to carry out, and have succeeded but only at a slower rate. The underlying causes are still there and as bad as ever.

When Iraqi forces backed by Western aircraft, intelligence and electronics tried to crack down on the most volatile element in the country, the forces of Muqtada al-Sadr, they clearly failed.

The situation in Iraq is still one of a struggle between Shi'ites, the moderate government and the radicals of al-Sadr, and the Sunni. To a lesser extent, we also have to consider the Kurds and other groups.

Iran, of course, looms in the background as a strong supporter of the Shi'a element cassuing great concern and discontent among neighboring Arab and Sunni countries. The surge has done absolutely nothing toward solving these problems that lie at the foundation of Iraq's instability.

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