By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 24, 2007 - The latest National Intelligence Estimate update released yesterday reports a drop in violent attacks and measured progress in Iraq and suggests that, with continued robust counterinsurgency operations and mentoring by coalition forces, Iraqi security forces will continue to improve. "While the February NIE concluded that conditions in Iraq were worsening, today's key judgments clearly show that the military's counterinsurgency strategy, fully operational since mid-summer, has begun to slow the rapidly increasing violence and patterns of that violence we have been seeing in Iraq. This change is a necessary precondition to the stability and increased political reconciliation that we all seek," Deputy White House Press Secretary Gordon Johndroe said yesterday.
The report also concludes, however, that the overall level of violence remains high and points out that sectarian division remains and political progress is stalled. The latest intelligence estimate focused on only the past six months and primarily the central provinces of the country.
The report indicates a rough road ahead for Iraq's political leaders, stating that compromises required for sustained security, long-term political progress and economic development are unlikely to emerge without a fundamental shift in the factors driving political and security developments.
Still, President Bush remains supportive of current Iraqi leaders.
"The administration continues to support the efforts of Prime Minister (Nouri al-)Maliki, the presidency council, and Iraqi political leaders representing Sunni, Shiia, and Kurds as they meet in Baghdad now to reach agreement on how they will work together for a more stable and secure Iraq," Johndroe said.
The report recognized the latest trend in Sunni neighborhoods to join with coalition and Iraqi security forces to drive out al Qaeda in Iraq. "These trends, combined with the increased coalition operations, have eroded (al Qaeda in Iraq's) operational presence and capabilities in some areas," the report states.
It said "bottom-up" security initiatives are the region's best prospect for improved security in the next year, but added that the efforts need to be accepted and supported by Iraqi's government.
The report also stated that Iraqi security forces are improving and "performing adequately," but they are not yet ready for independent operations and are reliant on the coalition's logistics and combat support.
"This is all accurate and not unexpected, given where (Iraqi forces are in their) development. This suggests, of course, that there's more work to be done, but that this effort is headed in the right direction," Johndroe said.
The report gave high marks to Iraqi units that have been able to deploy throughout the region in support of Operation Fardh al-Qanoon and highlighted recent large-scale Iraqi operations involving the country's army and police force demonstrating improved capacity for operational command and control. Fardh al-Qanoon is an Iraqi phrase that means "enforcing the law."
It also acknowledged the government's plan to expand its security forces, but said that it would probably take the next year or longer to see any gain.
Iranian assistance to Iraqi Shiia militants has exacerbated violence within the country, according to the report. It predicts continued support with funding, weapons and training. The report also found that Syria has been attempting to infiltrate fighters into Iraq in an effort to increase Syrian influence. Both are concerned about a Sunni reemergence in Iraq and consider it a threat to their own country's stability.
Citing the reports findings, "the use of (explosively formed penetrators) supplied by Iran has risen dramatically, and it is taking an increasing toll on our troops," the deputy press secretary said.
White House officials point to the decrease in violence as a sign that the surge is working. The report stated that coalition forces, working with Iraqi forces, tribal elements and some Sunni insurgents have reduced al Qaeda in Iraq's capabilities, restricted its freedom of movement, and denied its grassroots support in some areas. It also, however, reported that al Qaeda in Iraq retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks.
"We have changed al Qaeda's trajectory in a short period of time, and we must now sustain the momentum we have already achieved against them," Johndroe said.