McClatchy reports that the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq is almost complete and that it " warns that unresolved ethnic and sectaria
October 9, 2008

McClatchy reports that the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq is almost complete and that it " warns that unresolved ethnic and sectarian tensions in Iraq could unleash a new wave of violence, potentially reversing the major security and political gains achieved over the last year," directly contradicting John McCain's claims in Tuesday's debate that the Surge has been a success and victory has been attained.

That's not a major surprise to anyone who follows events in Iraq without neocon rose-tinted glasses. Deep conflicts between the central government and Kurdish region, Awakening groups and Sadrists have all been put on a knife-edge by expectations for the upcoming provincial elections, which have been gerrymandered to keep the existing incumbents in the Green Zone in power. The Turks are looking down a gunbarrel at the Kurds and the Awakening is looking at losing its source of income - being paid not to be insurgents - while even the Green Zone elites are falling out among themselves over Maliki's newfound Napoleon complex. The chances of Iraq lasting another year without another significant outbreak of violence are small to none.

All of those sources of conflict are outlined in the draft NIE, according to more than "a half-dozen officials" who spoke to McClatchy on condition of anonymity because NIE's are very restricted circulation documents.

The NIE findings parallel a Defense Department assessment last month that warned that despite "promising developments, security gains in Iraq remain fragile. A number of issues have the potential to upset progress.",

Trouble spots include whether the former Sunni insurgents, also known as the Sons of Iraq, find permanent employment; provincial elections scheduled for January; Kirkuk's status; the fate of internally displaced people and returning refugees; and "malign Iranian influence," the unclassified Pentagon report said.

The intelligence agencies' estimate also raises worries about what would happen if Sadr, the anti-U.S. cleric, attempts to reassert himself, according to senior intelligence officials familiar with its contents.

General Petraeus, who is the focus of an unholy amount of revered hype by John McCain, says the the situation is "fragile" and "reversible" and says he will never declare victory there. Not that even his Saint's words of caution have stopped Mccain doing so loudly and often, however. But Petraeus, in a talk to the neocon Heritage Foundation today, ruffled feathers by repeatedly seeming to back Obama's foreign policy prescriptions over McCain's.

Unbidden, Petraeus discussed whether his strategy in Iraq — protecting the population while cleaving apart the insurgency through reconciliation efforts to crush the remaining hard-core enemies — could also work in Afghanistan. The question has particular salience as Petraeus takes over U.S. Central Command, which will put him at the helm of all U.S. troops in the Middle East and South Asia, thereby giving him a large role in the Afghanistan war.

“Some of the concepts used in Iraq are transplantable [to Afghanistan] while others perhaps are not,” he said. “Every situation is unique.”

Petraeus pointed to efforts by Hamid Karzai’s government to negotiate a deal with the Taliban that would potentially bring some Taliban members back to power, saying that if they are “willing to reconcile,” it would be “a positive step.”

In saying that, Petraeus implicitly allied with U.S. Army Gen. David McKiernan, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan. Last week, McKiernan rejected the idea of replicating the blend of counterinsurgency strategy employed in Iraq. “The word that I don’t use in Afghanistan is the word ’surge,’” McKiernan said, opting against recruiting Pashtun tribal fighters to supplement Afghan security forces against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. “There are countless other differences between Iraq and Afghanistan,” he added.

... Petraeus also came out unambiguously in his talk at Heritage for opening communications with America’s adversaries, a position McCain is attacking Obama for endorsing. Citing his Iraq experience, Petraeus said, “You have to talk to enemies.” He added that it was necessary to have a particular goal for discussion and to perform advance work to understand the motivations of his interlocutors.

And, as McClatchy notes, whether the news is good or bad and no matter what the commanders might have to say about it, Republicans will always find an excuse to stay just a little bit longer.

The findings seem to cast doubts on McCain's frequent assertions that the United States is "on a path to victory" in Iraq by underscoring the deep uncertainties of the situation despite the 30,000-strong U.S. troop surge for which he was the leading congressional advocate.

But McCain could also use the findings to try to strengthen his argument for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq until conditions stabilize.

It's always a reason to stay. We've had countless variations on "the surge is working; we should stay until we've done the job," or "even if we can't maintain the surge, we're making progress, so we should stay" or "the Surge hasn't done what we thought it would but we can't leave - there will be a bloodbath when we leave" already. How about this instead? The Surge didn't do what it was supposed to, it never will because the irreconcilable faction fights behind the violence are beyond U.S. control, but it's the Iraqis country and they get to break it if they want to or fix it if they wish - their choice.

Not that we'll get a chance for that debate based upon this NIE, like the Afghanistan NIE which was comparably "grim" it will be buried, with not even the summary conclusions released to the public.

Crossposted from Newshoggers

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