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A secret study urges that U.S. agencies at least agree on how to measure success or failure in Iraq.

 
Nerak
05/12/2005 10:39 AM
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A secret study urges that U.S. agencies at least agree on how to measure success or failure in Iraq.
A secret study urges that U.S. agencies at least agree on how to measure success or failure in Iraq.

By Scott Johnson and John Barry
NewsweekMay 16 issue - Don´t ask America´s top brass exactly how the Iraq war is going. They don´t know. The various U.S. services have never managed to agree on a unified system for gauging successes and failures in the counterinsurgency campaign. Instead, everyone uses a different yardstick. Recently the National Intelligence Council, the information clearinghouse for America´s spy services, produced a study of the problem. NEWSWEEK has learned that the document, which remains classified, urges that the present babel of war assessments be replaced with a coherent system, one that would help U.S. forces react faster and more effectively to shifting insurgent tactics and other challenges. The paper´s overall tone is "not uplifting," according to a source familiar with its contents. In blunt terms, things are looking grim. How grim? It´s anybody´s guess.

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Good luck finding someone in the administration to make that guess. America´s Iraq policy is like a ghost ship these days. The administration has tried to lower its profile in Iraq, hoping to keep the new assembly from looking like a U.S. puppet. But concern is rising that America may have retreated too far. The Pentagon´s three top civilians for day-to-day Iraqi affairs—Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and William Luti—are going soon or already gone. Now the State Department is in charge. Yet Baghdad has been without a U.S. ambassador for the past month, since John Negroponte left to become director of National Intelligence. The administration´s top diplomat in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, was named to succeed him, but as of last weekend his confirmation hearings had not even been scheduled. The embassy´s interim boss, Deputy Chief of Mission James Jeffrey, has already been handed his next assignment. In March, when Rice appointed career Foreign Service officer Richard Jones as her special envoy to Baghdad, State Department sources thought he would be assigned at least a half dozen aides. Now an official says Jones´s team is only half that size. "State is in charge of the game now," says a senior military official, "but it´s too much for them."

Nothing is going the way it was supposed to. Almost as soon as the formation of a new Iraqi government was announced on April 28, suicide bombings began again. By the end of last week, the death toll since then had passed 270. "The elections were held up as a milestone," says Tom Donnelly, a military expert at the think tank most closely aligned with the administration, the American Enterprise Institute. "And politically they were. But as regards the insurgency, they´re evidently not particularly relevant at all." Nevertheless, other analysts argue that the surge of attacks reflects a growing sense of desperation among the insurgents. Iraq´s Sunni Arabs—even some hard-liners who until recently wanted nothing to do with the U.S.-backed government—have grown increasingly eager to join the political process.

Hard-core Baathists and foreign jihadists are continuing the fight without the defectors. U.S. intelligence sources say an overwhelming percentage of the insurgency´s suicide bombers have come from outside Iraq—in particular, Syrians, Saudis, Pakistanis, Moroccans and Algerians. Newly arrived recruits are trained and prepared by a network under the control of Al Qaeda´s top man in Iraq, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, although local chapters of his group appear to have considerable autonomy in planning and carrying out missions. It´s not always easy to identify a bomber from what´s left afterward, but investigators sometimes gather clues by other means, and sometimes catch would-be bombers alive. An informed source says Coalition forces have recently intercepted three bombers who are suffering from Down syndrome.

There´s deep disagreement on how worried the insurgents are. A former administration official says they have been "rattled" since November, when U.S. Marines drove them out of Fallujah. Zarqawi and his friends in the Tawhid and Jihad ("Monotheism and Jihad") group no longer have a place where they can feel truly safe, the former official says. Some resistance fighters see things differently. "Before Fallujah, Tawhid and Jihad worked alone," one fighter told NEWSWEEK via intermediaries last week. "It´s true that we lost the battle of Fallujah, but that loss united the resistance groups." And Zarqawi´s men seem to have found a new home for themselves in Ar Ramadi, a major stop on the suicide express. U.S. forces have essentially locked down the city in recent months, making access difficult via the main roads. But local residents say the city center is controlled by Zarqawi´s followers. Turbaned morality patrols roam the streets, administering beatings to local women for supposed offenses against Islamic propriety. Townspeople don´t dare fight back. "You can´t stand against Tawhid and Jihad," says one city resident. "Even when you want to."
Nerak
12/08/2005 10:16 AM
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Re: A secret study urges that U.S. agencies at least agree on how to measure success or failure in Iraq.
Still, military sources say they see signs that support for the resistance is fading, even in Sunni areas. When insurgents shot down a civilian helicopter northwest of Baghdad in April, killing six Americans, three Bulgarians and two Fijians, local residents quickly turned in the alleged culprits. The accused kidnappers and killers of British relief worker Margaret Hassan are likewise under lock and key—again thanks to local tip-offs. Intercepted communications between terrorists suggest increasingly that they are under severe pressure.

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The question is how long the American people´s patience will hold out. In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released last week, 57 percent of respondents said Iraq hadn´t been worth the war´s cost. It was the lowest measure of support since the war began two years ago. A senior administration aide says the numbers have hovered near that level for some time. People will inevitably look for some semblance of progress, he says, whether it´s less bloodshed or a U.S. troop drawdown. Otherwise they´ll turn weary and frustrated. He speaks in a matter-of-fact tone, as if prepared for the prospect.

But that kind of progress seems out of reach at present. The insurgents appear to have an abundance of lethal explosives and aspiring martyrs. "The insurgents can keep car bombs going forever," says Donnelly. And military analysts are predicting no major U.S. withdrawals for at least a year. "The absolute best case is that we might—might—be able to see a substantial reduction in American forces starting in mid-2006," says Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official now at the Center for American Progress.

Meanwhile U.S. leaders are looking for hope wherever they can find it. Some intelligence officials even interpret the recent bombings of Iraqi police stations and military posts as a positive sign. Successful attacks are just dumb luck, they argue, and the high casualty figures merely reflect the fact that growing numbers of Iraqis are putting their lives on the line against the insurgency. That´s the way things look from a safe distance, anyway. "The administration can stomach television images of Iraqis getting killed," says a former administration official who had a key role in Iraq policy. Images of American dead in comparable numbers would be quite another story. The war´s approval rating is bad already. If it gets much worse, any other gauge of the counterinsurgency will seem irrelevant.

With Mark Hosenball, Tamara Lipper, Eve Conant and Richard Wolffe in Washington

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.





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