Spencer Ackerman is not a kneejerk Iraq correspondent. When he's seen signs of progress, he's reported it. When he found that soldiers weren't happy with Democratic promises to get out, he reported that. All of it makes his story on what's happening as surged forces leave the country awfully depressing.
March saw nearly 1000 civilians dead across Iraq—an increase of 30 percent over February. February, in turn, saw its own 30 percent increase in civilian casualties over January. And in January, statistics released to The Washington Independent by the U.S. military command in Iraq showed increases in insurgent and terrorist explosions and suicide attacks during the final weeks of 2006.
The trend toward increased violence in early 2008 does not rise to the level of the bloodshed Iraq experienced in mid-to-late 2006, before the surge began. But it does underscore the limits of what the surge achieved, according to U.S. government officials and outside experts, even on the security front where the Bush administration argued it was most successful. "The fact is, the ISF [Iraqi security forces] couldn't fulfill a major campaign against an insurgent group on its own," said a U.S. intelligence analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I personally think that's the real story. The ISF, despite the surge, and despite the [rhetoric from the Bush administration that] 'they'll stand up as we stand down,' couldn't fulfill their core requirement."
What's it mean?
The surge was never intended to bring violence down to 2005 levels—when, it's worth remembering, violence was so pervasive that the first wave of U.S. politicians reacted by calling for withdrawal—nor to give Iraqi security forces the opportunity to skirmish with militias.
On that front, some experts say, Sadr's victory over Maliki exposed the weakness of the U.S.'s partner. "In spite of holding de jure power, Maliki can't exert territorial control over even the Shiite regions of Iraq," said Robert Farley, a professor at the University of Kentucky's Paterson School of Diplomacy. "While the surge has reduced violence, it has failed utterly to create Iraqi state capacity. The Iraqi central government is as far as ever from exerting control over other armed groups within Iraq."
reason takes on Iraq here.