Military and Political Success of Surge in Iraq Clear Despite Prior Criticism

By Kevin Mooney | October 13, 2008 | 5:35pm EDT
( - When the Democrats won control of Congress in 2006, many pundits attributed their victory to public anger over the war in Iraq and predicted that the war would be a paramount issue in the 2008 presidential election. But with U.S. policy beginning to succeed in Iraq, it has not turned out that way.
The war is not dominating the news pages going into the Nov. 4 presidential election, and the latest polls show that only 8 percent of Americans view the Iraq war as important in deciding their vote on Election Day. Further, as the data show, the United States is winning the Iraq war, militarily and politically.
U.S. monthly combat casualties, for example, were down 86 percent in September from where they were in the same month a year ago and are even down from where they were in August 2008, according to a analysis of U.S. Defense Department reports up through Sept. 30. See Chart
U.S. soldiers were more likely to die in non-combat incidents, such as vehicular accidents, helicopter crashes, illness and other non-hostile incidents than they were from enemy action over the past few weeks. There were six combat deaths in September compared with 43 last year and compared with 13 combat deaths in August 2008.
The database on Operation Iraqi Freedom includes a comprehensive list of U.S. casualties, from both combat and non-combat incidents, which spans the entire conflict. With the exception of this past July, when five combat casualties were recorded, September marked a historic low in U.S. losses from the Iraq war.
Another sign of success concerns the use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDS), which had been responsible for many U.S. casualties. As it turns out, IED-caused casualties have dropped 89 percent since the surge went into full force in June 2007.
The surge “officially” started in January 2007 and went into full operation in June of that year. The database shows that U.S. IED-caused casualties in Iraq peaked at 84 in May 2007, the month before the full surge was completed.
In June 2007, as Gen. David Petraeus – U.S. commander overseeing Operation Iraqi Freedom – launched his operations into al Qaeda sanctuaries, IED-caused casualties dropped to 71. In July 2007, they dropped to 36. By December, they were down to eight, the lowest number since August and September 2003 – the first year of the war.
Another sign of success in the war are the 18 benchmarks agreed to by Congress by which to measure military, political, and economic progress and victory in Iraq. The White House is now reporting that 15 of the 18 benchmarks have been satisfied.
Among those benchmarks, in February 2008, the central government of Iraq passed three pieces of legislation simultaneously: the Provisional Powers Law, the Amnesty Law and a national budget. (See Related Story)
Yet another sign of success concerns the 18 provinces that comprise Iraq. Eleven of those 18 provinces are now controlled by Iraqi security forces. The Anbar province, a former al Qaeda stronghold and one of the more violence-laden regions, was formally turned over to Iraqi forces from U.S. forces in September.
Furthermore, Petraeus told in an Oct. 7 interview that the progress in Iraq has made it possible to reduce the presence of U.S. troops there. He said plans for an additional reduction of 8,000 troops have already been approved.
While many critics in Congress, including Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and his running mate Sen. Joe Biden, opposed the surge and said it would not work, the data now show otherwise.
In addition, numerous foreign policy experts, Pentagon officials, and U.S. soldiers have detailed its success – and Obama, in a turnaround, said on Sept. 4 that the surge has “succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.” 
It was not just a question of additional troops but new tactics as well, Pete Hegseth, an Iraqi war veteran who served 101st Airborne in 2005 and 2006, told
“The year of 2007 will been seen as the year of counterinsurgency,” he said. “It was the year Americans figured out Iraq and learned how to protect the population. We are more prepared now because we have a doctrine – that’s how we train.”
On Sept. 11, 2007, Petraeus testified before Congress about the situation Iraq. “The progress is a result of many factors,” he said. “Coalition and Iraqi forces have dealt significant blows to al Qaeda in Iraq and have disrupted Shi'a militia extremists.
“Additionally, in a very significant development, we and our Iraqi partners are being assisted by tribes and local citizens who are rejecting extremism and choosing to help secure Iraq,” Petraeus added.
“Iraqi security forces have also continued to grow and to shoulder more of the load albeit slowly and amid continuing concerns about the sectarian tendencies of some elements in their ranks,” he said.
“Innumerable challenges lie ahead,” Petraeus added, “however, coalition and Iraqi security forces have made progress toward achieving sustainable security.”
When asked which was the “most important” issue going into the election, only eight percent of voters in a Newsweek (Princeton Survey Research Associates, Oct. 8-9) poll said the Iraq war. The same held for a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll from Oct. 8-9. In a CBS News/New York Times poll of Sept. 21-24, only nine percent of voters said the Iraq war was “most important” in determining their vote on Election Day.

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