About this blog...

I am a former leader of a Human Terrain Team in Iraq. My intent with this blog was to identify relevant, open-source materials on Iraqi culture, society, politics, religion and economics - just about anything on or about the Iraqi population in general.

I am continuing the blog now only sporadically, as a means of information distribution in support of efforts to improve a vital program hamstrung by failures in execution.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Assessments Galore

For some reason, a ton of assessments have come out in the last few weeks. Maybe they're trying to preempt next month's report from the administration/GEN Petraeus (which will apparently be on Sep 11). Whatever the reason, here they are:
  • First to the numbers:
    • The first one is just a rundown of lots of numerical indicators from Iraq. It's from a blog, but all of his numbers are from major media sources. (That doesn't add a ton to the credibility, but at the very least, it's what's being reported.) The numbers are never clear, though: Iraq Slogger recently discussed a GOI official suggesting that there are a lot more detainees in Iraq than reported.
    • A report from the Fund for Peace based an analysis of 12 economic, social and pol/mil indicators over the last 4 years concludes that the only viable option remaining is to break Iraq into a "Union of Iraqi States" divided by sect and independent in every facet but economics. Even if you don't agree with the conclusion, the quantitative assessment of variables and factors that are exceedingly difficult to quantify can still be useful. So much of the writing about what's happening (and what should happen) in Iraq is anecdotal and opinion-based. The rare attempt to rigorously quantify something more complex than "number of attacks" is always a worthwhile contribution. An abridged version of the report is also available.
  • The Government of Iraq (GoI):
    • This Congressional Research Service (CRS) report assessing the GoI's progress towards meeting political benchmarks concludes that "little progress has been made on the most significant political reconciliation benchmarks, but there has been progress on some of [the] minor political milestones as well as on several security benchmarks." The report goes on to list each benchmark, its original deadline, and the current status. (For all the frequency with which they're discussed, this is the first time I've actually seen the benchmarks in detail...) And remember, the CRS is a nonpartisan research body--it's the same researchers doing the same work, regardless of who's in power.
    • The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) just put out this report on the progress of governance and public management (GPM). Actually, the report is on how to monitor and disseminate information about programs working on GPM (mostly for the GoI and aid agencies to coordinate programs). Since the system largely relies on self-reporting and voluntary coordination, it's not surprising that there are many projects that go unreported, and potential areas for collusion or conflict that are never coordinated. Although the report is more interested in reporting methodology, there are a lot of good charts and graphs breaking down GPM programs, and the GoI's level of cooperation with them. (You have to wonder about some of these goals, though. Does someone out there actually believe that the Iraqis are just clamoring for E-governance?? (p. 22))
  • This RAND Report is actually focused on potential Iraq strategies for the US. The recommendations here are completely devoid of cultural considerations, with suggestions like "Iraq's own security forces must become less sectarian" and arguments that the US should be "supporting a functioning national unity government, preventing a Kurdish takeover of Kirkuk [and] forestalling the formation of new autonomous regions."
  • Another CRS report discusses Iran's influence in Iraq. Comments about Iran supplying weapons to some of the militias and religious and political ties between Iran and some Iraqi-Shia leadership are nothing new. However, the formal economic ties between the two countries (a free trade zone around Basrah, providing electricity, aid for infrastructure like a new airport in Najaf) are the types of ties that form a lasting and durable relationship. Iraq is now Iran's second largest non-oil export market (anyone know who's first?), with Iraq buying nearly $1.3 billion in Iranian goods annually. [And note, I am NOT NOT NOT saying these Iran ties are a bad thing; these two countries are each other's largest neighbor -- it is nearly inevitable that they either be close trading partners or end up fighting, and it's hard to call anything inevitable good or bad. Pragmatically, there's no point in judging something that will have to be accepted anyway. This relationship with Iran is simply something to be aware of, and planned for.]
  • Meanwhile, Iraq Slogger has a translation of an email allegedly making the rounds among Baghdad locals assessing the relative safety of each Baghdad neighborhood. If it is what they claim it is, these kinds of local perceptions are pretty critical, if a little vague.
I remain tremendously behind on reading, so I'm sure there's more to come soon. But I'm going to post what I've got now...

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