Kerry Corrects McCain’s Surge Chronology

Our guest blogger is Peter Juul, research associate at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Speaking at the Center for American Progress Action Fund yesterday, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) laid out a new strategy for fighting terrorism by waging an information war” to politically isolate al Qaeda and other like-minded terrorist groups in the Muslim world. Key to success in this battle, Sen. Kerry noted, is drawing “the right lessons from the surge.” To do this, however, we need to get our facts straight first.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has claimed that the Anbar Awakening in some way, shape, or fashion was caused by the “surge” of 30,000-plus American troops into Iraq that began in January 2007. Indeed, McCain told CBS News anchor Katie Couric that “Because of the surge we were able to go out and protect that [Anbar] sheik and others. And it began the Anbar Awakening. I mean, that’s just a matter of history.”

Today, Sen. Kerry set the record straight:

Tensions between al Qaeda and local Sunnis existed for years before the surge: “…tensions between al Qaeda in Iraq and Sunni leaders in Anbar were already apparent nearly two years before the surge, culminating in the first reported battle between AQI and Sunni militias in the western town of Husaybah in May of 2005. The reason? Al Qaeda’s brutality, disrespect for local customs, insistence on marrying local women over the objections of tribal leaders, and disruption of local businesses.”

U.S. troops in Anbar reached out to tribal leaders in late summer-fall 2006: “When Colonel Sean MacFarland and his Ready First brigade arrived in Ramadi in June of 2006, al Qaeda was still fully in control. The Ready First immediately saw the need for a change in tactics and—on their own—they launched an extensive outreach campaign to win over the local population—starting with local tribal leaders, to whom they assigned an Arabic-speaking former special forces officer who grew a moustache to gain the locals’ trust. They emphasized getting local Iraqi forces out into neighborhoods by deputizing tribal militias.

“These efforts culminated on September 9, 2006 – some four months before the surge was even announced — when a young local sheik, Sittar albu-Risha, created a new Awakening Council and officially declared the Anbar Awakening underway.”

President Bush and Sen. McCain cited the Anbar Awakening to justify the surge in January 2007: “As security improved, a major campaign was launched to rebuild Ramadi, culminating in the Ramadi Reconstruction Conference in January 2007.

Sen. Kerry concluded “For those of you keeping score, this is the point in the story where the surge begins. President Bush announced the surge on January 10th, 2007. In fact, President Bush and Senator McCain both pointed to our success in flipping tribes in Ramadi against AQI as a reason to support the surge.”

In rewriting the history of the surge and the Anbar Awakening, John McCain is trying to present his support for the 2007 troop escalation as a sufficient cause of the drop in violence in Iraq. As Wonk Room has noted before, McCain has never evidenced much knowledge on the various factors — the Awakening, the Sadr freeze, and the completion of sectarian cleansing — that have contributed to the drop in violence, or the way that the surge worked to support, encourage, and consolidate these things.