What was said and not said
Some of the slides accompanying Gen Petraeus' testimony on the situation in Iraq can be found at the Politico in PDF format. Here are the threats as Gen Petraeus sees them, disaggregated by internal and external sources and further broken down by internal party.
The conflicts are plainly an intersection of external interventions and internal civil strife. For instance, the AQI threat is joint result of both Sunni nationalism and external influences just as the anti-AQI movement is the product of US efforts and indigenous tribal structures. Although it is common to refer to "war in Iraq" as if it were a unitary conflict, it is really many wars as the combatant parties, both international and domestic, form and re-form alliances depending on the flow of events. As Petraeus put it, "The fundamental source of the conflict in Iraq is competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources. This competition will take place, and its resolution is key to producing long-term stability in the new Iraq. The question is whether the competition takes place more – or less – violently. This chart shows the security challenges in Iraq. Foreign and home-grown terrorists, insurgents, militia extremists, and criminals all push the ethno-sectarian competition toward violence. Malign actions by Syria and, especially, by Iran fuel that violence." Although Petraeus' slides don't explicitly address the political alignments within the Iraqi government in Baghdad the alliances those parties form reflects the conflicts on the ground.
The slide on page 8 depicts the decline, over time, of the Sunni insurgency centered in Anbar and along the towns of bordering the Euphrates river. In his testimony, Petraeus said, "In mid-June, with all the surge brigades in place, we launched a series of offensive operations focused on: expanding the gains achieved in the preceding months in Anbar Province; clearing Baqubah, several key Baghdad neighborhoods, the remaining sanctuaries in Anbar Province, and important areas in the so-called “belts” around Baghdad; and pursuing Al Qaeda in the Diyala River Valley and several other areas." By August of 2007 the density plot of insurgent attacks had shifted not only in intensity but location. The insurgent tentacle that once reached out nearly to the Syrian border following the line of the Euphrates had shriveled to a stump centered around the towns northwest of Baghdad. Bill Ardolino describes the what these declining attack numbers imply in his recent report on Fallujah.
Although news reports have emphasized the US military's recent ability to organize the tribes in Anbar and Diyala, there has been some success at reducing conflict within the capital itself.
But it's important to understand that Petraeus is claiming only a partial victory in some, but not all of the wars that raging inside Iraq. The successes have primarily been against al-Qaeda in Iraq and only secondarily against Shi'ite militias and Iranian proxies. "Our operations have, in fact, produced substantial progress against Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Iraq. ... Al Qaeda is certainly not defeated; however, it is off balance and we are pursuing its leaders and operators aggressively. ... In the past six months we have also targeted Shia militia extremists, capturing a number of senior leaders and fighters, as well as the deputy commander of Lebanese Hezbollah Department 2800, the organization created to support the training, arming, funding, and, in some cases, direction of the militia extremists by the Iranian Republican Guard Corps’ Qods Force."
Over the longer term US forces will be drawn down to 15 brigades and fewer as Iraqi Army Forces are available to replace them. If those plans materialize then Iraq as a theater of combat operations will begin to wind down. What is less clear is whether the War on Terror as a whole will similarly decline or whether the emphasis will simply shift to other areas of operation.
One of the questions Petraeus' report left out was a roadmap to dealing with the other major conflict in Iraq. That involving the Shi'ite militias and Iran. Iran's goal, even before OIF was to do to America what it did to Israel in Lebanon. Kimberly Kagan describes the Iranian War effort at the Weekly Standard. The essential idea was to drive the US out of Iraq and establish an Iranian sphere of influence a la Hezbollah, something Kagan called the "Lebanonization or Hezbollahzation of parts of the south". The successes against the Sunni insurgency does not directly bear this aspect of the conflict, except insofar as it frees forces to deal with it.
Just as in Lebanon, the Iranians have used Hezbollah-like tactics to undermine the Iraqi government and insinuate their own agents. Kagan describes the Iranian command and control system as well as their infiltration system in her article. The infiltration map is shown below.
One indication of how the campaign in Iraq, including the withdrawal, may be moving is this from this AFP article:
The US military said on Monday that it is to build a base on Iraq's border with Iran to stem what it charges is rampant smuggling of weapons and fighters. ... The province, currently the theatre of a massive US-led military crackdown targeting Shiite militiamen allegedly involved in weapons smuggling, shares a 200 kilometre (125 mile) border with Iran. ... The newspaper gave further details about the base, saying it will have living quarters for some 200 soldiers, will be built six kilometres (four miles) from the border and should be completed by November. It said the US military also plans to install X-ray machines and explosives-detecting sensors at Zurbatiya, the main border crossing between Iran and Iraq.