Political realignment in Iraq’s volatile Anbar province was Exhibit A for President Bush’s argument Thursday that Iraq is a fight that the United States is winning.
A look at some of Bush’s assertions.
“Anbar province is a good example of how our strategy is working,” Bush said, noting that just last year U.S. intelligence analysts had written off the Sunni area as “lost to al-Qaida.”
Early Thursday, the most prominent figure in a U.S.-backed revolt of Sunni sheiks against al-Qaida in Iraq was killed by a bomb planted near his home.
The killing of a chief Anbar ally hours before Bush spoke showed the tenuous and changeable nature of success in Anbar and Iraq at large.
Although Sunni sheiks have defied al-Qaida and largely allied with U.S. forces in Anbar, the province remains violent and al-Qaida remains a threat.
Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha died 10 days after he met with Bush during a surprise visit the U.S. leader made to highlight the turnaround in Anbar. The charismatic young sheik led the Anbar Salvation Council, also known as the Anbar Awakening – an alliance of clans backing the Iraqi government and U.S. forces.
The Sunni revolt against al-Qaida led to a dramatic improvement in security in Anbar cities such as Fallujah and Ramadi. Iraqis who had been sitting on the sidelines – or planting roadside bombs to kill Americans – have now joined with U.S. forces to hunt down al-Qaida in Iraq, whose links to Osama bin Laden’s terror network are unclear.
Anbar is not secure, accounting for 18 percent of the U.S. deaths in Iraq so far this year – making it the second deadliest province after Baghdad.
Bush’s top military commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, told Congress this week that Anbar’s circumstances are unique and its model cannot be replicated everywhere in Iraq, but “it does demonstrate the dramatic change in security that is possible with the support and participation of local citizens.”
Progress in Iraq, including improvement in the performance of the Iraqi army, led to Petraeus’ recommendation that “we have now reached the point where we can maintain our security gains with fewer American forces.”
Bush said there is still work to be done to improve the Iraqi national police.
A new White House report on Iraq shows slim progress, moving just one more political and security goal into the satisfactory column. Efforts to let former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party rejoin the political process earned the upgrade, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.
The report largely tracks a comparable poor assessment in July on 18 benchmarks. The earlier White House report said the Iraqi government had made satisfactory gains toward eight benchmarks, unsatisfactory marks on eight and mixed results on two.
Although the benchmark list is the rubric that the White House and the Iraqi government proposed earlier this year, the Bush administration has recently said it offers a skewed or incomplete view of progress in Iraq.
Bush noted that the government has not met its own legislative benchmarks, but he pointed to limited political progress among Iraq’s national leaders. He said Iraq has passed a budget and is sharing oil wealth.
The General Accountability Office reported last month that Iraq has only partially met a test involving reformation of its budget process, although the State Department, Pentagon and White House disputed the finding.
Some proceeds from Iraq’s vast oil and gas resources are being shared among regions, but the country lacks a national framework agreement for the distribution of oil revenues.
A national oil law, which would also invite foreign investment, has been repeatedly promised by Iraq’s leaders and frequently mentioned by U.S. officials as a crucial marker of the country’s ability to reconcile its ethnic and religious groups.
Iraq’s main political parties are deadlocked over the law and the legislation has been sent back to party leaders to see if they can salvage it, an official involved in the talks said Thursday.
“We thank the 36 nations who have troops on the ground in Iraq and the many others who are helping that young democracy.”
There may well be 36 nations contributing to the cause, but the overwhelming majority of troops come from the United States. For example, Albania has 120 soldiers there and Bulgaria has 150 non-combat troops in Iraq. Bush visited both nations this summer as a thank you.
The United States has 168,000 troops in Iraq.