When someone tells you that the "surge" is working, you must walk them through this chain of events:
On August 7, 2007, near the end of America’s bloodiest summer in Iraq, the New York Times reported the following:
Attacks on American-led forces using a lethal type of roadside bomb said to be supplied by Iran reached a new high in July, according to the American military.
The devices, known as explosively formed penetrators, were used to carry out 99 attacks last month and accounted for a third of the combat deaths suffered by the American-led forces, according to American military officials.
"July was an all-time high," Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, said in an interview, referring to strikes with such devices.
Such bombs, which fire a semi-molten copper slug that can penetrate the armor on a Humvee and are among the deadliest weapons used against American forces, are used almost exclusively by Shiite militants.
The "Shiite militants" described by the New York Times were, in fact, members of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. And, as we all saw this past summer, Muqtada’s fighters were really doing a job on American forces—despite the troop increase which began earlier in the year.
That was on August 7th. And remember, this was during a summer throughout which we were bombarded with news of Iranian/Shia efforts to kill Americans and destabilize the Iraqi government.
Then, barely three weeks after the New York Times article ran, 50 Muslim pilgrims were slaughtered in sectarian fighting in Karbala. In response, Muqtada al-Sadr announced that he had
ordered his militia to suspend offensive operations for six months.
No one saw this coming.
The surprise statement regarding his notorious Mahdi army, which is responsible for much of Iraq's sectarian blood-letting, not only caught British and American commanders off-guard but appeared to have surprised Baghdad officials too. Mowaffak al-Rubbaie, Iraq's national security adviser, said Baghdad would only welcome the move if Sadr's lieutenants stop attacks and their attempts to "blow up" the Iraqi government.
"I will see on the ground what is going to happen," he said. "It is good news if it is true. If it happens it will reduce violence in the country a great deal."
When this news was reported on August 30th, no one really believed it, much less expected the implementation of an actual cease-fire on the part of Iraq’s Shia fighters.
On September 1st, even the U.S. military admitted that this could be an important—if not the important—development in the situation on the ground in Iraq. According to CNN,
"Muqtada al-Sadr's declaration holds the potential to reduce criminal activity and help reunite Iraqis separated by ethno-sectarian violence and fear," the U.S. military said.
An end to Mehdi Army "would also be an important step in helping Iraqi authorities focus greater attention on achieving the political and economic solutions necessary for progress and less on dealing with criminal activity, sectarian violence, kidnappings, assassinations, and attacks on Iraqi and coalition forces," the military said.
When that was said by the U.S. military on September 1st, the "surge" was never mentioned. It was all about an Iraqi decision that would succeed or fail on Iraqi actions. The U.S. military was only observing.
Lo and behold, U.S. troop deaths began plummet. American deaths dropped from 84 in August, to 65 in September, to 38 in October—the lowest tally for a single month in over a year and a half.
Having argued for months that Iranian-supplied Shia fighters were the most serious threat to U.S. forces in Iraq, those same forces had suddenly stopped fighting. And it showed.
On November 2nd, the Washington Post reported that
The number of explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) that have been detonated or found in Iraq has dropped by nearly half in recent months, from a peak of 99 in July to 53 last month, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander in charge of day-to-day military operations in Iraq, said yesterday in a videoconference with Pentagon reporters.
But rather than recognize this for what it was, notable Republicans and other right-wingers immediately began to spin the story as if this was the result of the "surge":
McCain told students at Coastal Carolina University that the United States has had "astonishing success" in Iraq as a result of the military strategy now in place.
Notice that Senator McCain never mentions the fact that our gravest enemy in Iraq--the Mahdi Army--has quit fighting. On November 3rd, the Los Angeles Times, reported of President Bush:
At the graduation ceremony, the president said that since the troop increase reached full strength in June, the number of roadside bombs had been cut by half. He said U.S. military deaths were at their lowest in 19 months.
Again, no mention of Muqtada al-Sadr, his Mahdi Army, or their decision to stop killing Americans. Instead, it was all about the "troop increase."
Even the London Times got in on the spin, stating explicitly:
This has not been an accident but the consequence of a strategy overseen by General David Petraeus in the past several months.
Unfortunately, no one seems to be calling our elected officials or the traditional media on this nonsensical idea that the "Petraeus strategy" should be credited with stanching the flow of blood. No one seems to notice that, as with everything else in Iraq, the Iraqis are going to do what they want, when they want. When al-Sadr lays down his arms, there will be relative peace. When he takes them up, Americans will die in dozens.
Regardless, the fortunes of Iraq will turn on Iraqi decisions made in Baghdad and Najaf, not in Washington, D.C. and the halls of Congress. As this situation shows, peace in Iraq lies in the hands of Iraqis. It cannot—and will not—be forced by Americans at the point of a gun.