The Bush administration is increasingly touting the reduced violence in the Anbar province as evidence that the President’s escalation policies are working. Last week, President Bush made a surprise visit to the region and used it to argue that the troop buildup should not be cut short:
In Anbar you’re seeing firsthand the dramatic differences that can come when the Iraqis are more secure. … You see Sunnis who once fought side by side with al-Qaida against coalition troops now fighting side by side with coalition troops against al-Qaida.
But as the Washington Post outlines today, the escalation has nothing to do with Anbar’s success. The Sunnis in the region had developed a bottom-up plan to start fighting the al Qaeda insurgents in 2006, at least four months before Bush announced his escalation:
More striking was the emerging shift in Anbar; al-Qaeda and Sunni insurgents had grown so dominant in the western province that military intelligence had all but given up on the area months earlier. Bush benefited from good timing. As he introduced his new strategy, Marine commanders had already made common cause with local Sunni tribal leaders who had broken with the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq, also called AQI. [...]
The sheik who forged the alliance with the Americans, Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi, traced the decision to fight al-Qaeda to Sept. 14, 2006, long before the new Bush strategy, but the president’s plan dispatched another 4,000 U.S. troops to Anbar to exploit the situation. As security improved, the White House eagerly took credit.
Even Gen. Petraeus has acknowledged that Anbar “was the result, not of military actions, certainly, alone. It was the result of, really, a political shift where the population led by the sheiks of major tribes decided to reject al Qaeda and its Taliban-like ideology, and the extremist behavior that they have come to associate with it.” Similarly, Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently admitted that the successes in Anbar were initiated by Iraqis, not U.S. troops.
Last week, CNN correspondent Michael Ware also noted that the Sunni insurgency in Anbar offered to work with U.S. troops — but not the Iraqi government — to fight al Qaeda in 2003, but the United States rejected the offer. Only “after four years of bloodshed” was the United States “finally ready to accept those terms.”