For some Monday morning reading, take a look at an exclusive interview with counterinsurgency guru, Gen. David Petraeus, obtained by our friends over at the Op-For blog. Ive excerpted some of the interview - conducted by author and military historian Richard S. Lowry but you can read the entire article here
[The Iraqis] have endured a lot. They are a resilient people; its a nation of survivors. Its a nation of people that in many respects have endured enormous oppression.
You have to then say that every place in the country is different and that there are certainly nine provinces in the south that are relatively calm. Certainly there are challenges in various places at various times but they are ones that the Iraqis generally can solve if they have too. And, then of course there are the three Kurdish provinces that are very calm [and are] relatively progressive in the sense of free market economics within a still somewhat central governmentally run economy, but there is a lot of private investment.
Its a big competition right now among a variety of groups; and, again in an environment, in Baghdad in particular, [that is] very heavily colored by an influence of the sectarian violence.
Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of Iraqis have been displaced.
Most damaging of all, General Petraeus contends that the situation has reinforced suspicions or created suspicions where there werent any between Sunni and Shia in a country in which there is a fair amount intermarriage between the sects in the past and where sectarian violence was not a huge issue, perhaps partly because Saddam ruled with an iron hand and put down the Shia all the time.
In Anbar Province an encouraging development is the rise of Sheiks and tribes who want to fight against Al-Qaeda and to secure their own areas to contribute to the Iraqi Security Forces, in particular in there own areas.
Baghdad, a city the size of Los Angeles, is spread out and very diverse. What you have there is almost a tale of two cities to some degree. It is a tale of one city that is predominantly Shia, those areas in which security is pretty good. AlQaeda is trying to get in and blow them up periodically but the checkpoints are stopping a good bit of that. Where commerce has returned, the markets have reopened. We have hardened all the markets. And Im talking about enormous markets that have tens of thousands of people. Those areas have bounced back very, very well.
Then you have the mixed areas though that are still in the sense battlegroundsAll it takes is one death squad just to really literally ruin the neighborhood. They are fault line neighborhoods or they are Sunni Arab neighborhoods that are under threat from both Al-Qaeda, whos trying to retain them as logistical routes or safe havens, and by, in some cases, Shia extremists who are trying to expand into those areas or to push into another block or another neighborhood.
You have to have a national government. You have to have national direction. I think the army is one of the better stories. It is a mixed bag in some cases but, by in large, the army has some quite good units, quite heartening units. I was just up in Ninewa Province for example and there are two pretty good Iraqi Army Divisions up there. In fact, we have only a single battalion contributing to the security in Mosul, in large measure because there is a pretty good Iraqi Army Division, pretty good police chief and police force. It is not perfect. Its under threat. Al-Qaeda is trying to open a new front there. They did manage to break guys out of a prison. There are all kinds of pressures and challenges. But thats actually a place where you can see the future of a smaller coalition presence and Iraqis stepping up to the plate and taking over. I wouldnt say its easy there because you have some real ethnic challenges between Sunni Arabs and Sunni Kurds.
Hopefully, we can create a window for opportunity for the Iraqi leaders so that they can bridge some of the differences [and] achieve true national reconciliation. And if they cant, then we gotta look each other in the eye and say it's not gonna happen and say we need a Plan B.
And Plan B may come as a congressional mandate in March 2008, when U.S. forces are due to begin leaving a shattered Iraq.