Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Next Stop Baghdad?
Iraq: The Logic of Disengagement
How to Win in Iraq
Why Air Strikes Might Not be Enough
The Price of the Surge
When to Leave Iraq
Today, Tomorrow, or Yesterday?
How to Leave a Stable Iraq
Building on Progress
Iraq, From Surge to Sovereignty
Winding Down the War in Iraq
It's Hard to Say Goodbye to Iraq
Why the United States Should Withdraw this December
The Problem With Obama's Decision to Leave Iraq
How to Salvage the Relationship Between Washington and Baghdad
The Iraq We Left Behind
Welcome to the World’s Next Failed State
Is Iraq on Track?
Democracy and Disorder in Baghdad
When the Shiites Rise
Why Separatism Could Rip the Country Apart—Again
Collateral Damage in Iraq
The Rise of ISIS and the Fall of al Qaeda
Kurds to the Rescue
How to Get the Kurdish Regional Goverment to Take on ISIS
The Fallacy of Iranian Leverage
Why the Turmoil in Iraq Will Weaken the Islamic Republic
Who Lost Iraq?
And How to Get It Back
Maliki Isn't the Problem
The Roots of Sectarianism in Iraq
Syria and the Violence in Iraq
WALK BEFORE RUNNING
Colin H. Kahl
In "The Price of the Surge" (May/June 2008), Steven Simon correctly observes that the Sunni turn against al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), known as the Sunni Awakening, has been a key factor in security progress during the period of "the surge." Simon is also on point when he notes that the Awakening, which began before the surge, was not a direct consequence of additional U.S. troops. But although Simon gets much of the past right, he ultimately draws the wrong lessons for U.S. policy moving forward.
Rather than unilaterally and unconditionally withdrawing from Iraq and hoping that the international community will fill the void and push the Iraqis toward accommodation -- a very unlikely scenario -- the United States must embrace a policy of "conditional engagement." This approach would couple a phased redeployment of combat forces with a commitment to providing residual support for the Iraqi government if and only if it moves toward genuine reconciliation. Conditional engagement -- rather than Simon's policy of unconditional disengagement -- would incorporate the real lesson from the Sunni Awakening.
The Awakening began in Anbar Province more than a year before the surge and took off in the summer and fall of 2006 in Ramadi and elsewhere, long before extra U.S. forces started flowing into Iraq in February and March of 2007. Throughout the war, enemy-of-my-enemy logic has driven Sunni decision-making. The Sunnis have seen three "occupiers" as threats: the United States, the Shiites (and their presumed Iranian patrons), and the foreigners and extremists in AQI. Crucial to the Awakening was the reordering of these threats.
When U.S. forces first arrived in Anbar, upending the Sunni-dominated social order, they were viewed as the principal threat. Because AQI fought the United States, it was seen by the tribes as a convenient short-term ally, despite deep distrust. This ordering of threats changed in 2005 and 2006. For one thing, U.S. forces became more effective and discriminating in their counterinsurgency activities.
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