Besides offering new details about the horrors that George W. Bush's invasion unleashed on Iraq where a severed head could be casually tossed into a busy intersection the nearly 400,000 pages of secret U.S. military records released by WikiLeaks show that a variety of factors beyond Bush's much-touted "surge" in 2007 contributed to the gradual drop in violence.
For instance, the records suggest that the sectarian slaughter of 2006 was burning itself out largely because brutal ethnic cleansing had separated the Shiites and the Sunnis. The indiscriminate violence also had turned many Iraqis against both the excesses of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the sectarian militias.
Also, in 2006, key insurgent leaders, such as al-Qaeda's Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, were killed and Sunni tribesmen in restive Anbar Province were signing up to accept American money in exchange for switching sides all of these key developments preceding the "surge."
Though the additional 30,000 U.S. troops in 2007 may have helped accelerate or consolidate these gains, the eventual drop in violence after the "surge" appears more coincidental than causal and thus may not justify the acclaim given to President Bush and Gen. David Petraeus or the claims by neoconservative war strategists that they were vindicated.
A New York Times analysis of the WikiLeaks documents lends support to the more skeptical view of the "surge," noting that the growing revulsion among Iraqis over the violence and a renewed hope for peace go a long way toward explaining why the killing slowed.
"A unique set of conditions had coalesced on the ground," Sabrina Tavernise wrote for the Times. "The warring communities were exhausted from the frenzy of killing. Mixed neighborhoods and cities were largely cleansed. The militias, both Sunni and Shiite, long seen as defenders of their communities, had begun to cannibalize them, making local residents newly receptive to American overtures.
"The war that emerges from the documents is a rapidly changing set of circumstances with its own logic and arc, whose fluidity was underestimated by the military, the media and Washington policy makers.
"The troop increase " came around the time that many Iraqis were so fed up with their local militias that they were ready to risk cooperating with the Americans by giving them information. Two years earlier, they were not."
In other words, the evidence supports analysts who stressed a mix of factors, rather than promoters of the simplistic Washington conventional wisdom of "the surge worked."
The significance of understanding these factors remains important today because "the surge worked" proponents in the media and policy circles largely carried the day politically. After that, influential neocons began demanding that a similar "surge" strategy be applied to Afghanistan where their "surge" hero, Gen. Petraeus, was put in charge.
The "surge worked" conventional wisdom also influenced President Barack Obama's review of the Afghan War policies in 2009, contributing to his decision to commit another 30,000 U.S. troops there, where a very different set of circumstances exist.
Challenging Conventional Wisdom
At Consortiumnews.com, we have long challenged Washington's "group think" about the Iraq War, including the pro-surge conventional wisdom. As we've reported previously, several other factors helped explain the eventual decline in violence, including:
--Vicious ethnic cleansing had succeeded in separating Sunnis and Shiites to such a degree that there were fewer targets to kill. Several million Iraqis were estimated to be refugees either in neighboring countries or within their own.
--Concrete walls built between Sunni and Shiite areas made "death-squad" raids more difficult but also "cantonized" much of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, making everyday life for Iraqis even more exhausting as they sought food or traveled to work.
--During the "surge," U.S. forces expanded a policy of rounding up so-called "military age males" and locking up tens of thousands in prison on the flimsiest of suspicions.