From Mark T. Kimmitt
For those who follow Iraq closely, one of the more anticipated government documents is the quarterly “9010” report. This report, colloquially named after the requirement established in section 9010 of the 2006-2008 DOD appropriations acts, has been produced quarterly since July 2005 and serves as a historical record for operations conducted over 90-day periods in Iraq. (All past issues are available here.)
The 9010 report maintains data and graphs that go back years, often to the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Trends are graphically portrayed across a wide spectrum of areas ranging from the number of security incidents to the “hours of power” delivered to each province. Accompanied by fifty or so pages of text, the report is comprehensively focused to provide “the details behind the numbers.” It leans heavily towards the security aspects of the mission, complimented by stability and reconstruction statistics, while its Department of State counterpart (the “1227” report), reverses the emphasis by focusing on non-security and stabilization aspects.
MESH proposed this post to me, based on my previous Iraq-related commentary and former position in DOD which involved responsibility for producing the 9010 reports in 2007 and 2008. With an interest in brevity, a quick examination of the graphs and selected commentary in the latest report provides room for optimism, but tempers that optimism by acknowledging that it’s far too soon to declare success. Much has been accomplished, but much work—and risk—remain. (Click on any graph or map to enlarge.)
Five sets of graphs from the report illustrate this point: Overall security trends and fatalities (pp. 19-24); handover/transition of responsibility to the Iraqis (p. 31); economic progress (pp. 13, 14, 15); delivery of services (p. 16); and public perceptions (pp. 28, 29).
Within the security graphs, one is struck by the reduction in violence in Iraq. Violent incidents and attacks are down as are fatalities. U.S. military, ISF, civilian, and even ethno-sectarian fatalities have plummeted. The reduction is dramatic: at the height of the violence in 2006 and 2007, there were well over 1,500 incidents weekly, which included attacks against Iraqi infrastructure and government organizations, IEDs, mines, grenades, sniper attacks, ambushes, and other small arms attacks such as mortar, rocket and surface-to-air missiles. Tragically, those incidents were accompanied by fatalities and these are displayed in graphs on pages 20, 21 and 23. For example, in the period May-July 2007, the ISF was losing nearly 275 soldiers per month and the United States was losing between 75 and 100 soldiers per month. Civilian fatalities in late 2006 numbered in the thousands and most of those were attributed to ethno-sectarian violence. This is in depressingly stark contrast to the halcyon days of early 2004, where a 300-incident week was normal, fewer than 20 U.S. troops lost their lives each month, and records for civilians and ISF fatalities were so small they did not exist.
While 2004 to 2006 saw a significant increase in violence, the decrease in violence over the next two years is equally dramatic. From numerical highs in 2007, the precipitous drop in all categories of violence is encouraging, but should be viewed with concern. Violence is not an end in itself (except for the nihilist) but a consequence of environmental conditions. Steady and consistent improvement in conditions is needed to institutionalize stability in Iraq and the efforts of the Iraqis and the United States is central to those improvements.
The next sets of graphs illustrate this point. One of the most important conditions leading to long term stability is economic progress, and in Iraq that means oil. Despite efforts to diversify the Iraqi economy, the country depends on the oil industry for the majority of government revenue and follow on private economic activity. The significance of oil production to economic progress is central, and is brought out in graphs on pages 13, 14 and 15.
Unfortunately, the graphs demonstrate near-flat production rates of 2.0 to 2.5 million barrels per day for the past few years, and the recent fall in oil prices has taken its toll. The lack of production growth coupled with the return of sub-$50 per barrel oil prices places significant pressure on government budgets and government services. The notes to the report highlight an improvement in infrastructure repairs, an increase in technical service contracts and the beginning of the long-awaited Southern Export Redundancy Project, all of which will improve consistency and quantities of oil production and could double (at least) oil output in years to come. The challenge, however, is whether that improvement in output and the realization of increased oil prices will be soon enough in the future so that the rising expectations of the Iraqi people are correspondingly met by a rising standard of living. If not, diminished expectations and standards of living could be a catalyst for renewed tension and corresponding violence.
Rising expectations are reflected in many ways, not the least in an expectation of employment opportunities and basic services. Our troops and diplomats know that one should never underestimate the importance of steady employment, clean water, dependable electricity, clean streets and safe kids. Existential debates regarding the optimal balance of power sharing between provincial and federal authorities may rage in the coffee houses, but rarely at home.
One measure in the 9010—electricity supply and hours of power per province—illustrates this point. While delivery of electricity is improving, it has not grown as fast as the expectations of the Iraqi people. These expectations are manifest in the comment, “Only 18% of Iraqis are somewhat or very satisfied by the amount of electricity they receive, down from 34% who felt satisfied in November of 2007.” Yet, during this same period the average citizen received more hours of electricity, more reliably, every day. Despite this, the average citizen feels shortchanged by the Iraqi government’s inability to deliver the goods. One wonders if the recent increase in violence can be traced to these and other similar perceptions as to the effectiveness of the Iraqi government.
The text in the report indicates similar trends in access to clean water, sewage disposal, and healthcare, and there is little to suggest that outside research would not find similar findings in other areas such as education and local governance. The report is candid about this challenge and notes: “The provision of essential services remains a key component of national reconciliation and a significant factor in building popular support for the GoI.” There is probably no better way to articulate this challenge, and demonstrates why these statistics remain so important to monitor.
Nonetheless, the citizens of Iraq appear optimistic about the current situation and the future. Perhaps it is because of the challenges of 2006 and 2007, perhaps it is a cultural norm, but despite rising (and generally unfulfilled) expectations, they remain upbeat on the future. Few doubt the improvement measured in security trends translates directly to improvements in perceptions shown in the graphs on page 28. The most striking observation is not the belief that neighborhoods are very safe (they can see that with their own eyes), but the belief that travel outside of their province is generally safe. While the second measure has much room to improve, the graph (or a similar measure) was consistently red (no travel is safe outside of my province) in earlier iterations of the 9010 report. This bodes well for a belief in a unified and national Iraq.
The second set of graphs is less sanguine: perceptions on government security efforts and overall stability. Here, the slides are far improved over previous years and reflect a measure of optimism that was absent in earlier polls. Nonetheless, as a referendum on the government, the numbers are not a rousing endorsement. This should be tempered by our own American experience: government officials and government rarely earn high numbers from the American population.
Nonetheless, the general sense one takes away from the graphs and the accompanying text is that the Iraqis feel better about their individual circumstances than any time in recent years. They remain fairly optimistic about the future, they have a higher regard for the military and police, but they still expect more from the government. Their patience is not everlasting and the Iraqi government, quite simply, needs to pick up its game. Time is not on its side and one can only hope that the referendum on the government will play out in the voting booth and not on the streets.
And here lies the rub. As President Obama has stated, it’s time for the Iraqis to make the hard choices and control their own destiny. The President is right, but one wonders about the timing. As shown in the 9010 report, much has been done in a short while, but there is much more to do. The report acknowledges this conundrum in the Executive Summary:
Despite the continued progress, these gains remain fragile and uneven throughout the country, and their durability has not been seriously tested. Iraq remains fragile, primarily because the underlying sources of instability have yet to be resolved—the nation’s major power brokers do not share a unified national vision, they disagree on the nature of the state, and they are reluctant to share power and resources. As security has improved, underlying political disputes have risen to the forefront, and political tension remains a problem.
The Iraqi government, its security forces and its own people should take great pride in the accomplishments outlined in this report. The Iraqis do need to control their destiny and they should be given as much responsibility as they can handle as quickly as they can handle it. That said, the success of the enterprise is in no small measure due to the blood and treasure provided by the American people, and that blood and treasure will be needed in 2009, in 2010, in 2011 and beyond to institutionalize that success. Perhaps our support need not be in the same amount or in the same mix as prior years, but we will need to support the Iraq enterprise for years to come. The latest 9010 report illustrates this point in detail. While it may give one pride in what has been accomplished, it also provides a clear-eyed appreciation of what remains to be done.
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