Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and General Casey sign documents returning operational control of Iraqi forces to government of Iraq, September 2006
AP Photo (Khalid Mohammed)
As I returned to Iraq at the end of June, I weighed our challenges and opportunities. After two governments in 2 years and a protracted government formation period for the third, we finally had an Iraqi constitution and a permanent and democratically elected Iraqi government based on that constitution. It was, at least nominally, a government of national unity, and it would need some time to establish itself, particularly with the sectarian tensions that it faced in the aftermath of the Samarra attacks. We continued to make progress with the ISF. The Iraqi army had held together fairly well through the sectarian violence, although we were starting to see the impact of political influence—political leaders threatening military leaders who took action against members of their factions—on the willingness of the army to take operational risks. The national police’s effectiveness had been limited by absenteeism, lack of leadership, and, in some cases, direct involvement in sectarian violence. They would have to be completely reorganized to be effective. The local police were a mixed bag and still lagged the army in development. The initial operation that we mounted in Baghdad with the new government, Operation Together Forward, had, from its mid-June start, reduced violence in general and in the five areas of Baghdad where the sectarian violence was the worst. Unfortunately, al Qaeda had lashed out in late June with a series of suicide attacks that would continue into July, driving retaliatory attacks by Shia death squads that further inflamed the situation. The combination of the two—suicide attacks and death squad executions—had led to a spike in violence against civilians that we would have to contain. The situation was further complicated by continuing evidence of Iranian training and equipment support to Shia militias.
Adjusting the Plan
The first session that I had with my staff on my return was my monthly intelligence update. It was a sobering brief on the security situation, particularly around the capital. My intelligence officer highlighted the recent attacks by al Qaeda and the Shia death squad backlash and assessed that the tit-for-tat violence had become self-sustaining. He stated that he was beginning to see an almost predictable cycle of al Qaeda suicide attacks, followed in a few days by Shia death squad attacks against Sunni areas in Baghdad. The sectarian violence was focused in Baghdad and southwest Diyala Province and, in those areas, focused more on civilians than on Iraqi and coalition security forces.§§§ The violence across the rest of the country remained relatively low, with the exception of Anbar Province where the violence was primarily directed against the coalition and not sectarian. In fact, around 80 percent of the violence in Iraq continued to remain centered in 4 of its 18 provinces: Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, and Ninewah. This finding was reinforced in the unit visits that I undertook in the first week following my return. The other disturbing finding was that my analysts were beginning to see a geographical component to the violence—that the Shia death squads may have been trying to drive Sunni families out of mixed neighborhoods to improve their control of Baghdad. If this were true, it would mark another worrisome shift in the conflict. It would bear careful watching. As I left this briefing, I began to rethink the plans to reduce our forces that I had discussed in Washington.
The other major focus in early July was to refine the Baghdad security effort that we had begun in mid-June. Because of the need to get the new government to act quickly in the face of rising sectarian violence and the late appointment of the security ministers, the new Iraqi leadership had not participated in planning the initial operation to the degree that they desired. As they gained more experience, they wanted more of a role. I saw this as a positive step in that they were willing to begin to take ownership over the plan to secure their capital.
So, while continuing with Operation Together Forward, we began working with the Iraqis to enhance our collective efforts in Baghdad to bring security to the capital by the end of the year. I told the MNC-I commander that Baghdad was our main effort and that he needed to develop a plan to secure Baghdad that was sufficiently weighted to ensure our long-term success. He began working with Iraqi military and police planners and crafted a plan based on an operational concept where joint (Iraqi and coalition forces) would clear areas of Baghdad of enemy control and then protect these areas while we improved the capacity of the ISF, and worked with the Iraqis to improve services (electricity, water, sewage) in the areas. MNC-I would simultaneously limit al Qaeda and death squad movement by creating a barrier around Baghdad linked to the canal system and channeling all traffic into Baghdad through checkpoints. In addition, the Iraqis would manage a system of fixed and mobile checkpoints around the city to further limit extremist mobility. MNC-I would also conduct targeted offensive operations against death squad and al Qaeda targets in Baghdad and in the surrounding support zones. This plan was worked painstakingly with Iraqi leaders to ensure that we had their buy in and strong commitment to its success. We had originally proposed beginning with clearing operations in Sadr City, but the prime minister did not support this action, and we began with a focus west of the Army Canal that divides Baghdad. The next phase of Operation Together Forward was approved for implementation by the prime minister and me in early August, and it began shortly thereafter.
As we worked through these adjustments, several conflicts that would hamper our efforts became clearer. I began to see that the prime minister and I had fundamentally different views of the threat. I felt that the Shia militias were the greatest threat to our ability to bring security to Baghdad and to long-term security in Iraq. I showed Prime Minister al-Maliki data that the casualties from death squads (largely Shia) far eclipsed the casualties from the more spectacular suicide attacks (largely al Qaeda). The prime minister believed that the “Ba’athists” (Sunni extremists) were the greater threat, and he expressed concern that we were putting all of our efforts against the militia and not enough against the Sunni extremists. I tried to counter this notion by having our special operations task force commander show him the scope of our significant effort against al Qaeda. He also believed that the Shia militia could be dealt with politically, but that the “Ba’athists” could only be dealt with by force. This was the reason he turned down our request for a major operation into Sadr City, where we thought the main militia threat was coming from. The prime minister also did not see the “geographical component” of the Shia violence, further impacting his reluctance to deal expeditiously with the militias. We would work on reconciling these views over time, but, as they were strongly held by both of us, they would cause increased friction between us as we wrestled with bringing security to Baghdad and Iraq. I note these conflicts to demonstrate the complexities of conducting military operations inside a sovereign country and the importance of political and military leaders having a common view of the threat to drive effective military operations.
Canceling the “Off-ramp.” By mid-July, we had concluded that our long-held assumption that the government of national unity would be seen as representative by most Iraqis and have a positive impact on the security environment was not going to hold true. The new government was seen as not representing the interests of a good portion of the population. The differences in threat view that I saw were also visible to Sunni leaders and only compounded their negative views of the government. It had also become clear that the Iraqis would not be able to secure their capital without more support from us.
In the weeks since my return from Washington, DC, given what had transpired in Iraq between mid-June and mid-July and the negative way the government was being perceived by the Sunni population, I realized that there would be no strategic payoff from drawing down coalition forces at this point, and that we needed to focus everything we had on securing Baghdad. This meant that we would have to forego the planned off-ramp of coalition forces that I had discussed in Washington in June.
As I was reversing myself from my June position, I wrote a personal, classified message to General Abizaid (whom I had kept abreast of my changing thinking), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Pace, and Secretary Rumsfeld. I described how the situation had changed since mid-June—the significant spike in violence against civilians that we saw in late June and early July, the reluctance of government leaders to limit the actions of militias and death squads, and the increasingly geographical nature of Shia death squad actions. I also related my discussions with the prime minister on the reductions—he was reluctant to see us take reductions now with the levels of violence so high.
I told them that I needed to keep more coalition troops in Iraq than I had expected to help the new Iraqi government contain the increasingly difficult situation, and that I needed a “full-court press” on the political side to jumpstart the reconciliation process as a complement to our security efforts. I asked to keep a brigade that I had intended to send home without replacement in order to reconstitute the reserve in Kuwait (we were bringing the current brigade forward to augment the Baghdad plan) and to establish a force ready to deploy on 30-days notice at home station in case of larger problems. I stated I would need these additional forces through the end of the year. I concluded by restating my belief that, while the extra forces would help the security situation in the short term, they would not have a decisive impact until Iraqi religious and political leaders committed to stop the sectarian killing.1 I was concerned that without a commitment by the Iraqis to a reconciliation process, our continuing resolution of the security problems would allow them to postpone the reconciliation that was essential to our collective long-term success.
The request was approved expeditiously. This effectively canceled any further plans to reduce our forces through the end of the year,¶¶¶ although we did continue with our plans to pass security responsibility to Iraqi provinces as their security capabilities and local security situations warranted. The first Iraqi province to assume responsibility for its own security, the southern province of Muthanna, did so on July 13, 2006.
After we canceled our plans to reduce our forces, and as we continued our planning to secure Baghdad, the MNC-I commander approached me with an option to request a 90- to 120-day extension for a redeploying Stryker brigade to give us a mobile strike capability in Baghdad. After initial reluctance because of the turbulence caused by extensions, I agreed that the potential operational benefit in Baghdad at this critical time would be significant and requested the extension.
In retrospect, I waited too long to make the decision to cancel the drawdown and to extend the Stryker brigade, and this caused substantial turbulence at the tactical level. We had a deliberate process in place that we went through in June with our commanders in which the recommendation to off-ramp three brigades in 2006 was made. What we did not have in place was a deliberate process to revisit the decision as the situation changed visibly. In the end, it was a combination of unit visits, interactions with Iraqi leaders, and conversations with my subordinate commanders and staff that led me to change my mind. Reversing yourself is hard to do, especially when you have publicly committed yourself to a course of action, but it is something that every leader in war will have to do. The sooner you do it, the better.
Looking Ahead. Over the course of my command, I tried to create an environment where we asked ourselves hard questions and challenged our assumptions. It was the only way to stay ahead of the complex and constantly changing situation.
So before I left for Washington in June, I had formed two Red Teams, one to examine ways to counter Iranian influence in Iraq and the other to see if we needed to rethink our strategic priorities in the face of rising sectarian violence. We had done reviews of the situation and our priorities in April with our commanders that led to our presentation at Camp David. These two Red Teams were designed to move our thinking beyond that level.
The team on Iranian influence concluded that the best way to counter Iranian influence was to counter the operations of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps–Quds Force, the action arm of Iranian interference in Iraq. We had good intelligence that they were providing training and modern equipment to Shia death squads, most notably the explosively formed penetrator, a particularly lethal IED that we had begun to see in large numbers in the Baghdad area in late 2005. What we did not have was targetable intelligence to go after their operatives. To rectify that, we established an Iran fusion cell, a multidisciplinary intelligence collection and analysis center exclusively dedicated to countering malign Iranian influence in Iraq. As with all new intelligence operations, it took some time before it was producing actionable targets. At that point, I aligned the cell with our special operations task force to action the targets. The effort paid off handsomely in December when we caught several Quds Force operatives and confirmed a lot of what we suspected about Iranian activity.
The second Red Team reviewed our 2006 action plan in light of the recent violence and noted that while our priority in Baghdad was the correct strategic priority, it was “inadequately resourced across all lines of operation” and that the new government did not have the capacity to secure Baghdad without significant coalition support over the next 6 months, conclusions which played in my decision to cancel our planned troop reductions.
I reviewed the second Red Team assessment with the staff in late July. They generally agreed with the findings of the team, and I directed them to look across all of the lines of operation and determine what additional resources should be moved to Baghdad. Our original plan called for us to prioritize Baghdad and nine key cities.**** We would keep moving forward outside Baghdad, but we would accept delays in other places in order to focus key resources on Baghdad.
In mid-August, the Ambassador and I convened our key staff and commanders to review the situation and to ensure that the new staff from the summer rotation understood the direction that we planned to head over the next 8 to 10 months. We laid out our priorities. Our first priority was to mass all of our efforts—military, political, economic, and informational—to secure Baghdad. Second, we had to sustain country-wide pressure on al Qaeda and the death squads to keep them out of Baghdad. Third, we needed to sustain progress “away from the ball”††††—continuing to develop the ISF, especially the police; continuing to transfer security to Iraqi provinces that were ready to assume security responsibility; continuing our work with the PRTs to build capacity at the provincial level; and continuing with economic development around the country. In short, we needed to continue to execute our campaign plan where security conditions permitted, while we worked with the Iraqis to secure Baghdad.
The plan to enhance security in Baghdad was christened Operation Together Forward II, and it began in earnest in early August with the planned addition of 12,000 Iraqi (unfortunately, the Iraqi troops failed to arrive) and coalition troops to the Baghdad mission. The additional troops included five military police companies that would work as transition teams with the Iraqi police to shore up their staying power and evenhandedness—the two major issues we had with the local police. The plan also began a retraining program for the national police where a brigade at a time was pulled offline, refitted with equipment and retrained, and its leadership purged of sectarian influence. The program produced positive results over time.
With Operation Together Forward II, we sought to make a demonstrable improvement in the Baghdad security situation by the beginning of Ramadan (September 23–October 22). We expected to see increased violence during Ramadan as we had every year.‡‡‡‡ This year the expected increase in violence was helped by a September 7 call by the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, to kill an American in the next 15 days.
Clearing operations in the focus areas, the areas of highest sectarian violence, proceeded well, and violence decreased from July levels through the end of August. We intended to maintain momentum by expanding efforts to additional focus areas, completing the Baghdad barrier to limit extremist freedom of movement, consolidating our gains in the focus areas by improving security and basic services there, and maintaining pressure on al Qaeda and death squad leadership. As we cleared the focus areas, the terrorists and death squads shifted their efforts outside of the cleared areas and continued their attacks. By Ramadan, the operation had kept attacks against civilians and civilian casualties below July levels, but had not stopped the sectarian killings.
We continued to make gradual reductions in the sectarian violence and to keep the pressure on the al Qaeda and death squad leaders through Ramadan, but coalition forces bore the brunt of the violence. Most of the casualties were the result of IEDs, and almost 85 percent were in Baghdad or Anbar provinces. September was a difficult month, particularly because we were beginning to see indications that the Iraqi security forces were not performing to standard. Moreover, in some cases, particularly in the national and local police, we found active collaboration with the militia. Additionally, we were seeing very slow responses by the Iraqi government to bring services into the Sunni areas that had been cleared and in moving Iraqi brigades into Baghdad in support of the plan. There was also little movement on the Iraqi political front in support of the security efforts.
The lack of Iraqi political support to security efforts continued to be disappointing. In the types of operations we were conducting in Iraq, political and military actions are irrevocably linked. I strongly believed that until the Iraqis began to resolve the political issues that were dividing them, the rationale for violence would not be eliminated, and Iraq would continue to struggle, requiring the continued presence of coalition forces. I believed that they were capable of resolving these issues because I had seen them work together in the tough days before the January 2005 elections.
Throughout the late summer and early fall, there was a concerted U.S. effort to get the Iraqi government to agree to a series of “benchmarks” designed to establish a timeline for the resolution of the difficult political issues dividing the country. Issues such as reviewing the de-Ba’athification process, establishing a timeline for provincial elections, reviewing the constitution as promised before the December elections, and completing the hydrocarbon law needed to be resolved in order to better align political and economic power in the country—the issue at the heart of the violence. We believed that equitable movement on these issues would cause the government to be seen as more representative of the entire Iraqi population and ultimately lead to a lessening of the violence. Unfortunately, we lacked sources of leverage to move the Iraqis to action. They were a sovereign country with a duly elected government, and their leaders intended to exercise that sovereignty. They tended to act on their timelines and assessments, and the leaders that I dealt with, while conscious of their security responsibilities, did not see the situation as being as serious as it was believed to be in the United States and coalition countries. These differing views created friction and tensions in our relationships that required continuous attention. They also caused some on my staff to wonder whether the current government of Iraq and the U.S. Government had a common vision for the future of Iraq—a troubling question.
I continuously worked to maintain a professional working relationship with all Iraqi political leaders. Building the relationship with Prime Minister al-Maliki was not easy for either of us, and it had its ups and downs because of our different cultural backgrounds, the inherent difficulty of civil-military interactions during war, and the fact that we were working on different timelines and responding to different constituencies. Going back to my earliest days in Iraq, I firmly believed that the Iraqi government had a better chance of being viewed as legitimate by Iraqis than the coalition, so we worked hard to make every prime minister successful. I felt that this was especially important with the new government, as they would be the ones who would ultimately guide their security forces to secure their country.
Prime Minister al-Maliki and I got off to a rough start when, in retrospect, I pushed too hard to get started on improvements to the Baghdad security plan in the early days of the new government. The prime minister came in with strong views on the ISF and the utility of force (he thought 3 years of coalition use of force had hurt more than it helped) that would take some time to reconcile, and events seemed to inject friction into our relationship almost daily. For example, at a meeting in August, he objected to reports in the U.S. media suggesting that he ordered attacks on Sunni but not Shia targets. He was concerned because it was not true and that it had reached President Bush. He wanted to know if it had come from me. It had not. I told him that I suspected that it had come from people below me who were upset with constraints on our operations in Sadr City.
At another meeting in September, where the deputy chief of the U.S. mission and I laid out the options for the next phase of operations to secure Baghdad, the prime minister told me that he thought I was second-guessing his decisions on military operations. I told him that I did not think that I was. He emphasized strongly that he made decisions based on his convictions about what was best for the country and not along sectarian lines. These were difficult sessions, but I was glad that he thought enough about the importance of the relationship to speak openly about what was on his mind. I came to realize that until we resolved our differing views of the threat—his seeing Ba’athists as the most dangerous threat, and my seeing the militia as the most dangerous—we would continue to be at odds. I continued to work to address those differences.
Toward the end of October, one of our soldiers was kidnapped in downtown Baghdad. The division commander reacted quickly and established checkpoints throughout the city to recover the soldier. We kept the checkpoints in place while we ran down every lead. We had kept these checkpoints in place for a week when we heard that the Sadrists were pressuring the prime minister to remove the checkpoints. I called the division commander and asked if the checkpoints were still necessary. He stated that they were no longer necessary for finding the lost soldier, but that they had seen a general drop in violence during the week that the checkpoints were in place. The prime minister called the next day and asked for a meeting.
The Ambassador and I went to his office, and he was clearly agitated. He felt that we were inconveniencing a city of 8 million people to find one soldier. I told him that one soldier was important to us. He stated he wanted us to remove the checkpoints. I told him that if we did that, he could be seen as not caring for coalition forces, caving in to the Sadrists, and caring more about Shia than Sunni Iraqis, who were benefiting from the increased security of the checkpoints. If he was willing to accept those consequences, I told him that I would remove the checkpoints during the day, but keep them in place at night. He said that he accepted the consequences, and I instructed the division commander to open the checkpoints during the day. All of the consequences I predicted happened, but I felt that it was important for the new prime minister to understand that there were second- and third-order effects of his decisions.
I highlight these tensions for future senior leaders. Interaction between military and civilian leaders is always difficult in war. It is even more difficult with leaders from other cultures and countries. Trust is the important commodity in these relationships, and frank and open dialogue is the only way to maintain it. While the frictions in our relationship would continue, the prime minister and I worked hard to maintain an open dialogue.
During this time, I also had significant civil-military interaction with my own government. In early October, I returned to Washington to discuss plans for the next year. My key concern was how we were going to stop the sectarian violence and move the country forward. I told different administration audiences that the violence was hardening sectarian divisions within the country and that we needed a political track along the lines of the benchmarks that were being worked to complement the security effort. There were “chicken-egg” discussions about whether the security situation had to improve before the political track could begin. I strongly argued that both tracks needed to move forward simultaneously to be effective, and that it was important to get the Iraqis to commit to a political timeline—the benchmarks.
I also laid out our projections for 2007 that were conditioned on getting movement on the political side. We projected having all 10 of the current Iraqi divisions in the lead and under the operational control of the Iraqi Ground Forces Command by the spring. We projected having all Iraqi provinces responsible for their security by the fall. We also projected completing the planned development of the ISF by the end of 2007, less the national police retraining and the completion of the prime minister’s initiative to expand the armed forces and police. Prime Minister al-Maliki’s initiative, which he directed shortly after taking office, added 50,000 soldiers to the army (an additional 2 division headquarters, 3 brigade headquarters, 12 battalions, and a 10 percent manning overage for existing units to offset absentee issues). It also included the reform of the national police mentioned previously and development of a national counterterrorism force. This would be a substantial enhancement to their capabilities. It would take until the late summer of 2007 to complete police reform and until the end of the year to complete the prime minister’s initiative. As I had informed the Service chiefs that I would need the forces I had through at least the spring of 2007, there were no discussions of additional troop reductions. I cautioned that we were in a difficult period and that the risks remained substantial.
On my return to Iraq, as we continued to address the security issues in Baghdad and contain the Ramadan surge in violence, I visited the coalition divisions and some of their brigades to get a first-hand view of how things were going on the ground. With the exception of the units in the Baghdad area, most were reporting continued progress. I was particularly pleased with a visit to Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, where the new unit had made significant progress since August, pushing al Qaeda out of the city and implementing the security force plan for the province that the previous prime minister had approved. The combination of our military actions against al Qaeda and the hiring of security forces from Anbar, vetted by their tribal leaders, was galvanizing the tribes in Anbar against al Qaeda.
At the end of October, President Bush and Prime Minister al-Maliki agreed to establish a working group to accelerate the pace and training of the ISF, the Iraqi assumption of command and control over the ISF, and the transfer of security responsibility to the Iraqi government. As we worked with the Iraqi security leadership and our subordinate units to operationalize this agreement in November, we were adamant that it had to be accompanied by an Iraqi-led reconciliation effort to be successful. I thought that might be our leverage—if the Iraqis wanted to advance the time when they would control their security forces, they would have to take the steps toward reconciliation that were essential for our collective, long-term success.
The Ambassador and I suggested an integrated political-military framework to demonstrate how political actions and security actions could be mutually reinforcing and lead to our long-term success (see figure 5-1). The framework began with the Council of Representatives (COR) debating and passing a series of laws that would codify the division of political and economic power—hopefully in a manner that represented the interests of all ethnic and sectarian groups. This would be followed by reconciliation and militia disbandment efforts that would culminate in an amnesty agreement that would be implemented over a period of time. This agreement would be followed by provincial elections and a referendum on amendments to the constitution to make it a truly national compact. The entire political process would be supported by security and stabilization operations that would establish security in Baghdad and nine other key cities and the ultimate assumption of security responsibility by the ISF. What we tried to replicate was the type of political timeline that we had through the end of 2005 that drove Iraqi actions. We were unsuccessful in gaining acceptance of it by the Iraqis.
Figure 5-1. Framework for Integrating Political-Military Efforts, Fall 2006
On November 8, the President accepted Secretary Rumsfeld’s resignation from his position as Secretary of Defense in the aftermath of the midterm election where Republicans lost control of both the Senate and House. While he agreed to stay on until his replacement was confirmed, this reinforced to all of us the deep dissatisfaction with how the war in Iraq was going. The administration’s Iraq Strategy Review that I had heard about in October kicked into high gear, leading to the most complex period of my command. In the last 2 months of 2006, we were simultaneously revising and intensifying our efforts in Baghdad, planning for 2007, working with the prime minister and his security team to eliminate malign political influences on the security forces and to build Iraqi political support for the Baghdad mission, dealing with Washington’s concerns about the direction of the mission, and managing the transition of a new corps.
Military Operations in Baghdad
In November, we began adapting the Baghdad security plan to deal with the evolving threat. With the exception of the Ramadan increase in violence, we had kept violence against civilians and casualties below July levels, and we were holding steady in the cleared areas, but the level of violence was still unacceptably high.
In one of our early November security meetings, the prime minister and security ministers had just returned from a closed session with the Council of Representatives on the security situation. It was a seminal meeting in that all of the Iraqi security team spoke their views forcefully and openly. Interestingly, the prime minister reported that the prevailing COR view was that the problem in Iraq was not security, but political. He stated that the COR agreed that the ISF were free to operate anywhere in Iraq and would issue a statement to that effect—good news if it held up. He claimed that there was increasing evidence that the Ba’athists were the greatest danger and expressed concern that they could influence the Iraqi army. I countered that there were two sides killing civilians in this fight and what was required was a balanced security effort against all the armed groups. The prime minister agreed that all threats should be attacked, but said that some could be better dealt with politically and others with force. Our different view of the threat was still there.
At the end of the meeting, the prime minister laid out a list of things he wanted his ministers to do, and clearly empowered them to conduct operations against all militant groups—the militia, Ba’athists, and terrorists—something that was sorely needed. He also authorized us to conduct operations into Sadr City against the indirect fire teams that were targeting the Green Zone and sections of Baghdad. It was good to see this sense of urgency.
The Iraqi leadership continued to frame their thinking over the intervening days, and when I met the prime minister 2 weeks later, he was clearer in his intent. He wanted to make a national statement that no one was above the law and that anyone acting against the government would be subject to swift action from the Iraqi security forces. He planned to obtain political support from all of the major parties for this in advance. He then wanted to follow this up with major Iraqi-led operations against both Sunni terrorists and Shia militia to demonstrate the strength of the ISF and the commitment of the government to end the violence. I was impressed with his energy and commitment.
Unfortunately, the next day six car bombs hit Sadr City killing or injuring more than 400 people, sending us into the crisis action mode. The security team responded quickly as they sought to limit retaliation and prevent another incident. As the crisis passed, work on the broader security plan for Baghdad continued.
As we were also in the throes of another MNC-I transition, I wanted to use the fresh eyes of the new leaders and the experience of the departing leaders to improve our efforts in Baghdad. Securing a city of 8 million people that was about the size of “inside-the-Beltway” Washington, DC, was no easy task, and we continually looked for ways to improve our security efforts. The Baghdad division changed out on November 15. I immediately sat down with the new division commander and his corps’s commander. We told the division commander to take a blank sheet of paper and craft a plan, in conjunction with the Iraqis, to secure Baghdad. We gave him 30 days to report back with a plan and what he would need to execute it.
I had also directed the outgoing MNC-I commander to put together a 120-day assessment of corps’s efforts in Baghdad. He gave us the assessment before he departed on December 14. While he pointed to the successful tactical efforts to clear areas of Baghdad and to target death squad and al Qaeda leadership that had mitigated but not substantially reduced the levels of sectarian violence in the city, he was clearly frustrated at our inability to sustain our tactical successes. He reported that, in general, the clearing operations were successful, but the Iraqis lacked the staying power and sometimes the will to hold the cleared areas after coalition forces left. The Iraqis were also very inconsistent in delivering services to the cleared areas. He pointed specifically to:
I had gotten the same sense of frustration from the Baghdad division commander and the Diyala brigade commander before they left. They did not see the Iraqi political support necessary for our security efforts to take hold. They felt as if we wanted Baghdad secure more than the Iraqi leaders. This was troubling as it threatened our partnership with the Iraqis, which was at the core of our efforts to secure Iraq. I resolved to address this with the prime minister before we launched the next iteration of our Baghdad efforts.
The report was not all negative. Curfews, driving bans, and Army Canal checkpoints proved effective. The Iraqi army was proving adept at holding areas, and the Iraqis were getting better at coordinating army, national police, and local police operations through a joint command center that they had established. All of these were necessary to move forward.
We blended our lessons with the proposals made by Prime Minister al-Maliki and the Iraqi security ministers. There was general agreement that there were too many stationary checkpoints tying up Iraqi forces and that these needed to be reduced to free up forces for offensive operations. There was general agreement that the ISF needed to be on a more offensive footing like the coalition, patrolling and conducting targeted operations against terrorists and death squads. The Iraqis also perceived a need for more joint operations—coalition, army, police—as a means of building trust between the Iraqi army and police forces and suppressing the likelihood that any Iraqi forces would succumb to sectarian influences. They suggested joint security stations across Baghdad, located in selected local police stations, where coalition, Iraqi army, and police forces would be based and operate out of to bring security to the surrounding areas. Finally, we worked with the Iraqi leaders to establish an Iraqi command structure for Baghdad. While I had originally envisioned a joint coalition/Iraqi command for Baghdad, the Iraqis convinced me that they were capable of taking command, still with our support. They were taking ownership of the mission to secure their capital, which was essential for our success.
The operational structure established for Baghdad was composed of two commands, one east and one west of the Tigris River that almost bisected Baghdad, under a Baghdad operational command, headed by an Iraqi three-star who would report directly to the prime minister. Each of the commands would be joint army/police commands, one (east of the river) commanded by an army division commander with a police deputy and the other (west of the river) commanded by a police two-star with an army deputy. Each of the nine Iraqi districts in Baghdad would come under the command of an Iraqi army or police brigade augmented by the local police assigned to the district and a coalition battalion. This structure made sense from a military perspective, and it allowed the prime minister to better fix responsibility on his Iraqi military and police leaders. It also lessened the likelihood of the Iraqi forces becoming involved in sectarian violence as everyone—army, police, and coalition forces—would be watching each other.
The plan called for five additional brigades to be moved to Baghdad (three Iraqi and two coalition) and the execution of a phased effort to establish long-term security. In the first phase, 35 joint security stations would be established and occupied by Iraqi and coalition forces. This was a significant logistical and construction effort that we estimated would take around 6 weeks to complete. In-place Iraqi and coalition forces would continue their security efforts to sustain pressure on the extremists during this phase. Then areas would be cleared, expanded, and held by the joint forces, and, over time as violence lessened, the ISF would assume full responsibility for the security of their capital. The fact that forces would flow into Baghdad over time actually helped us in that the new forces ensured that we could continue to hold and expand cleared areas—something that had eluded us in the previous efforts.
On December 23, the minister of defense briefed the plan to Prime Minister al-Maliki. He laid out the operational concept mentioned above, and recommended to the prime minister that the military operations be accompanied by robust media, political, and economic reconstruction campaigns to ensure sustained political support for the operations. He recommended closing Iraq’s borders for a period of time to limit the entry of external threats into the country during this critical period. He also recommended that the prime minister address a commanders’ conference to provide his intent directly to the army and police commanders who would be executing the plan. On the question of timing, always difficult in civil-military discussions, the MOD estimated that it would take about a month from the prime minister’s approval before the nine-district command structure would be up and functioning (which I thought was optimistic by a few weeks). He said that operations in two of the districts would begin right after the first of the year and that sustaining operations would also continue across Baghdad while the command structure and bases were established. We had jointly pressed to kick off offensive operations with the New Year. Unfortunately, the movement of forces and construction of the joint security stations would take longer than we had hoped. We agreed that we should not announce the start of a big operation early on, but rather to begin the operations, construct the joint security stations, flow in additional forces, and let the people see the accomplishments of the forces.
The prime minister approved the plan right before Christmas, and I clarified with him that he was also approving the deployment of two additional coalition brigades in support of the plan. He acknowledged that he was, but was clear that he wanted to downplay the significance of the deployment of additional coalition forces. This left two remaining issues—the appointment of the commander and the prime minister’s speech in which he would publicly empower the security forces to take action against “all who broke the law.” Both of these would be resolved after the first of the year.
For the commander, Prime Minister al-Maliki chose a relative unknown, at least to the coalition, Lieutenant General Qanbar Abud, who had worked directly for the prime minister, and was clearly someone whom he trusted. I was initially uncomfortable having someone so unknown to us responsible for our main effort, and I had several sessions with the prime minister where I expressed my concerns. In the end, he appointed him, telling me that if Abud proved that he was not up to the job, I should let him know and he would replace him. In the end, the general proved a capable choice.
In his Army Day speech on January 6, the prime minister laid out the key points we had been looking for from him to empower his security forces. He stated that the government would:
With respect to the Baghdad security plan, he reemphasized that the government would not tolerate political interference, that the security forces would pursue all “outlaws, regardless of the sectarian or political affiliation,” and that military commanders would be given “all authorities to execute the plan.” He closed by calling on the people of Baghdad to support and assist their armed forces. We, and our Iraqi military and police colleagues, finally felt that we had the political backing that had been lacking to pursue both the Sunni and Shia extremists who were fomenting sectarian violence. It was a good start.
Washington Policy Review
As we were wrestling with the tactical and operational challenges brought on by sectarian violence and the change in the nature of the mission, Washington was grappling with its strategic implications. I was informed about a review of the Iraq strategy in October by General Pace, but, from my perspective, it did not begin in earnest until after Secretary Rumsfeld’s resignation in early November.
As part of this process, I met with the Iraq Study Group, a congressionally appointed, bipartisan commission, by video teleconference in early November. I had spoken to the group in Iraq in August, and they asked to speak to the Ambassador and me again before they finalized their report. I made five points with them:
Their questions were good ones: Why wasn’t the Baghdad security plan having greater effect? Is the prime minister the right guy, and is he willing to go after the militias? Should we transition without reconciliation? I answered these questions and told them that we were in no danger of losing militarily, and that more coalition troops would have a temporary and local effect on the security situation. I also commented that more coalition forces at this point would give Iraqi leaders more time to avoid hard decisions on reconciliation and ultimately prolong our time there.
The report was released on December 6 and offered 79 recommendations advocating internal and external approaches to reverse what they called a “grave and deteriorating” situation. I was heartened to see the co-chairs note in their opening letter that there were no “magic formulas” to solve Iraq’s problems and that no one could “guarantee” that any course of action would work to stop the sectarian violence. Externally, they recommended a diplomatic offensive to build international consensus for stability in Iraq and the region. Internally, they recommended that the United States “adjust its role to encourage the Iraqi people to take control of their own destiny.” On the military side, they recommended accelerating the assumption of security responsibility by Iraqis and changing the primary mission of U.S. forces to one of “supporting the Iraqi army.” They also recommended that the United States work closely with Iraqi leaders “to support the achievement of specific objectives—or milestones—on national reconciliation, security and governance”—something that we had been trying to establish for months with the benchmarks.2
I also had visits from the National Security Advisor and his deputy at the end of October and early November, respectively. As I did with most visitors, I did not accompany them as I felt that through our frequent video teleconferences, they knew what I thought. I wanted them to hear from my subordinate leaders without any impression of influence. I did review their itineraries to ensure where they went enabled them to meet their trip objectives and I met with them to answer their questions.
In mid-November, shortly after my video teleconference with the Iraq Study Group, I was informed that the Deputy National Security Advisor was working to get the strategy review to the President before the end of November. A week later I sat through a video teleconference with the Joint Chiefs to discuss their independent strategy review to help General Pace shape his military advice for a meeting with the President later that week. Their proposal was to accelerate passing the security lead to the Iraqis. It was based on two big ifs—achieving unity of effort with the Iraqi government and the government making progress on reconciliation. It proposed shifting our main effort to training and partnering with the ISF, which was the approach that we were working.
While it did not seem to me to be connected to the proposed strategy, we also discussed sending five additional brigades to Iraq by mid-April for 3 to 9 months to help get the security situation under control. I told the Joint Chiefs that we could certainly put the additional forces to use and that they would have a temporary, local effect where we put them, but questioned the impact that the additional forces would have on the Iraqis’ incentives to resolve their differences. I felt that the longer we remained responsible for their security (the impact of the additional forces), the less incentive they would have to resolve their own differences, which was essential to our long-term success. I also cautioned that, if we did send them in, we should not accept any limits on their employment from the Iraqi government, and require progress on reconciliation as prerequisites for bringing in additional forces. We needed to get something substantial from the Iraqis for such a significant additional expenditure of U.S. forces. In his feedback from the session with the President, General Pace told me that there had been no decisions, but to expect a decision on the new way ahead by the third week in December.
On November 30, President Bush and Prime Minister al-Maliki met for the third time, this time in Amman, Jordan. In a video teleconference a few days before, Mr. Hadley discussed the objectives for the meeting with the prime minister, noting that it was an opportunity for al-Maliki to explain his intended direction for the unity government to the President so that he could support him in his efforts. Mr. Hadley proposed three topics for the delegation meeting: an update from the prime minister on the situation in Iraq, a U.S. update on the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, and a report on the joint committee for accelerating the transfer of security responsibilities that the prime minister and President Bush had agreed to the month before. The prime minister agreed to the proposed agenda and during the intervening days also had his staff draft a proposal for securing Baghdad that contained many of the proposals that we had been discussing with the ministers. The important element was that it was his plan. Although it was not what we would think of as a military plan, it was a good overview of the policies and principles that he saw as important to succeed in Baghdad, which we could incorporate into the ongoing, collective coalition and Iraqi military planning efforts.
I took advantage of a few minutes with the President before the meeting to update him on the three topics and encouraged him to reiterate that the prime minister must have militia reintegration and reconciliation strategies for us to proceed with the accelerated transition programs, and to support the prime minister’s proposed security plan for Baghdad. During the meeting, the two leaders exchanged views on the situation, and al-Maliki discussed his Baghdad plan and asked for the President’s support to help it succeed. The President agreed. They also discussed the work of the joint committee and agreed that any accelerated transition was dependent on the security situation, reconciliation, and militia reintegration. The meeting concluded with a joint press conference in which the President reiterated what he and the prime minister had talked about. President Bush went on to call the meeting with the prime minister “a key part of the assessment process”—the review of Iraq strategy.
The first week in December, the pace of the review picked up substantially. It began with a video teleconference with the NSC on December 1, in which I gave an update on the current situation. To demonstrate that the country was not “aflame,” I began with a slide that showed that only four of Iraq’s provinces (Anbar, Baghdad, Saladin, and Diyala) had averaged more than 10 reported attacks per day in the 6-month period from May through November, the height of the sectarian violence. I showed another slide showing that only two of Iraq’s provinces (Baghdad and Diyala) had averaged more than three sectarian casualties per day during that same period. The rest averaged less than one per day.
Our problem was Baghdad, and it was significant. Most striking was the fact that we were averaging more than 40 civilian casualties per day in Baghdad over that period and between 150 and 250 deaths per week as a result of sectarian violence. This was clearly unacceptable. I also showed that the vast majority of civilian fatalities were caused by the largely Shia death squads as opposed to the suicide attacks of the Sunni extremists. I closed with a slide that showed how we had substantially increased our operations against both Sunni extremists and the death squads since the summer to demonstrate the level of offensive action we were taking. In November alone, we had killed or captured over 800 extremists and death squad members in targeted operations.
In early December, General Pace called to say that my session to provide input to the President on the strategy review would be on December 12. It would be preceded by a session with outside experts on the 11th and followed on the 13th by a meeting with the President and Joint Chiefs. He expected a decision and the announcement of the results before Christmas. This was not my only session during the review. In the week of December 8–15, we had five video teleconferences with the NSC. The issues covered ranged from how to ensure the support of the Iraqis, to the potential size and composition of a “civilian surge” to accompany a surge in military forces, to how to deal with a confrontation with the Sadr militia, to how to enhance operations in Anbar Province. It was the policy process at work—a meeting with the NSC, questions, scrambling for answers, staff meetings to prepare for the next meeting of the NSC, another NSC meeting, and a repetition of the cycle. It was all focused on framing the issues and providing the best information possible to permit the President to make the most informed decision. In the end, there was general agreement that success in Iraq was essential to our national security and that, while reconciliation was essential, there would have to be a reduction in sectarian violence to allow reconciliation to take place, which would, in turn, provide for a more stable longer term outcome.
My session on December 12 included General Abizaid. I used the opportunity to lay out my proposed way ahead. I proposed an integrated political-military effort to stabilize the country and pass security responsibility to the Iraqis in 2007 as had been agreed in Amman. I was clear that the Iraqis would still require coalition support beyond 2007 and that the level of that presence should be negotiated with the Iraqis over the course of 2007. I stated that accomplishing what I proposed would require coalition forces to:
We would also continue to work with the Embassy to build Iraqi institutional capacity at the national and provincial levels and to continue economic development.
I also highlighted the risks involved, which were not insignificant, and more on the political than the military side. I worried primarily about the ability of the Iraqi leadership to take the necessary political steps to support our security operations—reconciling the interests of the different ethnic and sectarian groups, dealing with militia and illegal armed groups, giving our forces free rein to attack hostile targets, and eliminating political interference with the ISF.
I knew there was a push to move five U.S. brigades into Iraq to deal with the security situation. I had asked for two to meet the needs of the Baghdad security plan and two battalions of Marines to maintain our momentum in Anbar Province, so I offered my thoughts on bringing more forces than that into Iraq. I stated that additional forces:
After watching the impact on our Baghdad division of having to operate in such a complex, politically constrained environment, I was very concerned about bringing fresh U.S. troops into the middle of a sectarian conflict in an Arab country where there was not clear political support for their actions. I felt very strongly that I would not ask for one more American Servicemember than needed to accomplish our mission, especially in this environment.
This was an intense period as it was clear that Washington was looking for something different from what I was recommending to them. I worked hard to provide my military advice dispassionately, as I felt that I was providing the President only one of the many options he was reviewing. I believe that a President is best served by having a variety of options to choose from. I had said all along that success in Iraq would take patience and will and believed that what I was recommending—to accelerate the transition of security to capable Iraqis in exchange for their action to solve the core problem in Iraq, that is, reconciling the interests of the different ethnic and sectarian groups—offered the most effective way to accomplish our strategic objectives in Iraq. I believed that I had asked for the troops that I needed to accomplish our operational objectives, and that, if the prime minister delivered on his pledges to the President to allow our forces and the ISF to operate freely without political interference, we would bring security to Baghdad by the summer. I felt that additional troops beyond that would risk introducing them into a very confusing and difficult operational environment without a plan for how their introduction would contribute to the accomplishment of our strategic objectives. I remained adamantly opposed to that.¶¶¶¶
In retrospect, I believe that I should have directly offered the President a broader range of options for achieving our objectives in Iraq. I had discussed different options for improving the security situation with the Secretary of Defense and Chairman: accelerated transition of security responsibility; local (with in-country forces), small, and large coalition reinforcement; coalition withdrawal on a fixed timeline; and maintaining the status quo. Only the accelerated transition and reinforcement were actively considered. In the end, I only presented the President the course of action we selected—accelerated transition—and I believe that I should have offered him a wider range of options to meet his policy needs.
The pace kept up in the weeks before Christmas. MNC-I swapped out on December 14, bringing a new team into the complex environment. Secretary Rumsfeld departed on the next day after coming to Iraq earlier that month for a farewell visit. Secretary Robert Gates took over 3 days later and made his first visit to Iraq as the Secretary of Defense on December 20 with General Pace. General Abizaid and I met with them and laid out our views on the situation. Secretary Gates was familiar with the issues as he had been sitting in on the video teleconferences during the strategy review. We also continued to work with Iraqi leaders to finalize the plan to secure Baghdad until we received the prime minister’s final approval on December 23.
In the middle of all this, our efforts to target Iranian operatives paid off with the capture of six Iranians who appeared to be engaged with Iraqi militia in planning for the expansion of Shia-controlled areas in Baghdad. It was the first time that we had clear evidence of this. Four of the six had ties to the Iranian embassy and were released in a few days. We believed that the other two were Quds Force operatives who had entered Iraq under false names and had no right to diplomatic status, so they were held as we continued to evaluate the material that was discovered with them—maps, weapons receipts, and money. The most disturbing element was that they appeared to be working very closely with Badr Corps operatives. The Badr Corps was a militia with close ties to one of the main Shia political parties.
I continued my Christmas tradition of visiting the troops and thanking them for their work before heading back to Washington for some face-to-face discussions. During my session with General Pace at the end of December, he informed me of major pending decisions on the Iraq strategy by the President and his national security team. Specifically, he told me that our “2 + 2” proposal (two brigades for Baghdad and two battalions for Anbar) had been judged as “too modest,” and that, while there was not yet a final decision, he expected one by the end of the month that would add a total of five brigades and supporting forces. We took some time so he could be clear on the difference between my request and the likely Presidential decision.
I was asking for the two brigades that we needed to implement the Baghdad plan and two Marine battalions to maintain our momentum in Anbar Province, about 9,000 troops. We expected the first brigade to flow in by mid-January, the second by mid-February. The additional three brigades, if approved, would flow at the rate of one per month, if they were required. (I knew that I would be leaving shortly and wanted to give my successor as much flexibility as possible by having the option to turn off deployments if he decided he did not require the additional brigades.*****) A few days later, the Chairman informed me that the President had decided on the five-brigade surge and that the President intended to nominate LTG Dave Petraeus to replace me. I had provided the President my military advice on what I felt was the best approach to accomplish our strategic objectives in Iraq as rapidly as possible. He chose a different course of action. His decision was disappointing to me, to say the least, but I immediately set out to make it successful.
As Washington prepared for the rollout of the “surge” strategy, we were working hard to set the conditions for its success and to finalize the plans for securing Baghdad. This included a video teleconference between President Bush and Prime Minister al-Maliki on January 4 to ensure that they shared a common understanding of the new Baghdad security plan and that the prime minister was prepared to provide the political support for the coalition and Iraqi forces that was essential for the success of the plan.
During the video teleconference, the President informed the prime minister of his inclination to increase coalition troop levels provided that they reach “a common understanding.” The President was frank, stating that the additional coalition forces were meant to help the Iraqis break the back of terrorism to help accelerate the transfer of responsibility to the Iraqi government. He noted that the United States was willing to commit to help secure Baghdad, but that Iraqi commitment was also very important. He told Prime Minister al-Maliki that he needed him to publicly state his government’s commitment prior to the President’s planned address to the American public on January 10. The prime minister was cautious and judicious in his responses, noting that it was important they work together. He stated that his cabinet would start planning and would get back to him in several days. On January 6, Iraqi Army Day, Prime Minister al-Maliki gave his promised speech outlining the elements of his Baghdad security plan in which he strongly made the points that President Bush had requested.
On January 10, the President outlined his decision in a prime-time speech that announced a plan “to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad.” He announced the commitment of 20,000 more troops to Iraq and that the majority of them—five brigades—would be deployed to Baghdad. The remainder would go to Anbar Province to “work with Iraqi and tribal forces to keep up the pressure on the terrorists.” He couched the mission in Iraq in broader terms, calling our struggle against extremism in the Middle East “the decisive ideological struggle of our time,” and stating that the new plan would “change America’s course in Iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror.”3 It was a moving speech and a powerful statement of U.S. commitment to Iraq.
In a press conference that the Ambassador and I held in Iraq a few days later, I noted that the plan to secure Baghdad had several key advantages, most important of which was the strong commitment of the Iraqi government, including the will to act against all who broke the law and not to impose restraints on the ISF and coalition forces. I discussed how the plan allowed us to sustain the agreement in Amman between Prime Minister al-Maliki and President Bush to accelerate development of the ISF and the passage of security responsibility. The introduction of the additional forces allowed us to sustain momentum, reinforce success, and evaluate progress as we went. I emphasized the flexibility inherent in the plan and how it was a strong statement to the Iraqi people of our commitment to securing Baghdad and accomplishing our mission in Iraq.
My final task in Iraq was to ensure the conditions were set for the new Baghdad plan to succeed. We worked to establish joint security stations that would house Iraqi army, police, and coalition forces that would bring security to Baghdad’s neighborhoods. We worked with the Embassy to establish the funding and mechanisms for follow-on economic projects in both Baghdad and Anbar. We worked with the Iraqis to finalize command and control arrangements, finalize the selection of the Iraqi commander for the Baghdad operation, and establish the Baghdad operations center to give the new commander a headquarters. We also developed the logistical support plans to receive, equip, support, and base the incoming coalition forces. I met frequently with the Iraqi ministers to review their preparations and personally reviewed the final plan to ensure that it adequately incorporated the projected influx of forces.
In a January 20 video teleconference with President Bush and Secretary Gates, I updated them on the ongoing preparations. The first brigade to flow from the United States was closing in Baghdad and was beginning operations. Offensive shaping actions that we had begun in Baghdad after the first of the year—some 14 battalion or larger operations in 20 days—continued to put strong pressure on al Qaeda and the death squads through daily intelligence-based raids. The Iraqi command and control headquarters—Baghdad and the two sectors—were expected to be operational in about 2 weeks. About one-third of the joint security stations were operating, with almost 20 more projected to come on line by mid-February. Iraqi army brigades were being alerted and moved on the agreed timelines, but were arriving at between 55 and 65 percent strength, and the Iraqis were moving to address the shortfalls. In all I was pleased with the progress that we were making and the sense of energy that I was seeing in the Iraqis. I was also pleased that we had seen a 5-week decline in sectarian violence and civilian casualties in Baghdad and that we continued to make good progress in Anbar.
In the middle of all this, I returned to Washington on February 1 for my confirmation hearing to be the Army chief of staff. I flew straight into a Pentagon “murder board” and 2 days of office calls with the members of the committee. The hearing was a tough one as the Senators asked hard questions about my 32 months in Iraq. I was confirmed on February 8, 2007.
General Petraeus had been confirmed on January 27, and we set the date for our change of command for February 10. When I returned to Iraq after the hearing, I focused on our continuing preparations in Baghdad and on setting the conditions for a smooth turnover with General Petraeus.
At my final meeting with Prime Minister al-Maliki, I offered my thoughts to him on civil-military interaction with his military and police uniformed leadership. I had told him once, early on, that he and I were like two old men in a rowboat. If I pulled on the military oar and he did not pull on the political oar, we went around in circles (and vice versa)—but if we both pulled together, we moved forward together. I felt very strongly that effective political-military integration was the key to long-term success in Iraq, so I offered him eight tips for civilian leaders in providing guidance to military leaders that I had translated into Arabic:
Before we parted, the prime minister gave me a copy of the Iraqi constitution signed by him and his security ministers, and I gave him the pistol that I had carried throughout my 32 months in Iraq.
Two days later, on February 10, 2007, I relinquished command to General Petraeus. In my remarks, I commented on how far Iraq had come since it achieved its sovereignty over 2½ years ago and expressed my deepest gratitude to the Servicemembers and their families who had given up so much to build a new Iraq and bring liberty and democracy to 27 million Iraqis. I closed with the Arabic words, Iltizam Mushtarak (United Commitment), which had been the motto of Iraqi and coalition forces during my time in Iraq. I was very conscious of the difficult challenges still facing the mission, but I felt that I had done everything possible to set the conditions for our ultimate success.
It had been a long 32 months, but I believe that the efforts of the men and women who served in Iraq during that period drove a significant transformation in the U.S. military and established the conditions for the ultimate success of our mission in Iraq. The completion of the UN political timeline that led to an Iraqi constitution and the seating of an Iraqi government based on that constitution in just 24 months established Iraq as a democratic state after over 3½ decades of totalitarian rule—a significant historical accomplishment. The growth of the Iraqi security forces from a relative handful of army battalions and police forces to a force of over 325,000 that was actively participating in securing their country and had held together during difficult sectarian violence is a tribute to the men and women from over 30 countries who trained, mentored, and fought beside them. This growth established the necessary Iraqi security capabilities to begin the process of transferring the ISF and provinces to Iraqi control, our ultimate mandate from the United Nations. By the end of January 2007, the Iraqi ground force headquarters, 3 of 10 Iraqi divisions, and three provinces (Muthanna, Dhi Qar, and Najaf) had been returned to Iraqi control. The One Team/One Mission concept and the integration of the Embassy and MNF-I staffs enabled us to build a structure to integrate, synchronize, and assess the progress of the U.S. mission. Its success is a tribute to the professionalism, competence, and dedication of our Foreign Service officers, intelligence service professionals, and Armed Forces who worked hard to break down institutional biases to get the mission accomplished.
Men and women of our Armed Forces and our allies liberated Iraqis from decades of oppression. They succeeded and found themselves enmeshed in a conflict and an environment for which they were not prepared. They improvised, learned, adapted, shared their lessons, and, over time, improved our capability to operate effectively. From countering the IED threat to fundamentally reshaping detention and interrogation operations to revamping contingency contracting procedures to training the Iraqi army and police, they led a transformation of the way in which the U.S. military prepares for and conducts 21st-century conflict. Our success is a tribute to their courage, their perseverance in the face of adversity, and their professionalism.
§§§ From May to mid-July 2006, 40 percent of the violent incidents in the Baghdad area were against civilians, 32 percent against the ISF, and 28 percent against the coalition.
¶¶¶ In September, I revised this through the spring of 2007.
**** We had refined our list of 15 key cities to 9 after the first election.
†††† I used a basketball analogy—“play away from the ball”—to make the point that securing Baghdad was a long-term proposition, and, as important as that was, it was not the whole country. We had to keep making progress in the rest of the country—“away from the ball”—while we worked to improve security in and around Baghdad.
‡‡‡‡ Historically, we had seen violent incidents increase by 15 to 20 percent during Ramadan.
§§§§ I used the term Iraqi OK to make the point that we were trying to get Iraq to a level that was acceptable to Iraqis, and not imposing U.S. or European standards on them.
¶¶¶¶ While we did our own course of action analysis in December and studied the logistical implications of bringing in the additional forces, we had ideas, but no operational plans, for the additional three brigades. These would be developed by MNC-I in February and March before the forces flowed into Iraq.
***** Army Chief of Staff General Pete Schoomaker told me that I was being considered to replace him in the spring, and Secretary Gates confirmed this during his visit to Baghdad. Secretary Gates offered me the Army chief’s job, which I accepted before I returned to Iraq in early January.