We do know, however, that war opponents are spinning last week's fighting as proof that Iraq is irreconcilable, and that the Bush administration's surge strategy was doomed from its inception (for some initial flavor of the debate, see Memeorandum).
It's thus important to evaluate the knowns and unknowns of the battle, which is the goal of Frederick Kagan and Kimberly Kagan in their piece this morning, "The Basra Business":
MUCH OF THE DISCUSSION about recent Iraqi operations against illegal Shia militias has focused on issues about which we do not yet know enough to make sound judgments, overlooking important conclusions that are already clear. Coming days and weeks will provide greater insight into whether Maliki or Sadr gained or lost from this undertaking; how well or badly the Iraqi Security Forces performed; and what kind of deal (if any) the Iraqi Government accepted in return for Sadr's order to stand down his forces. The following lists provide a brief summary of what we can say with confidence about recent operations and what we cannot.One the points I've made in my posts on the offensive is that the central government's demonstrated its increasing autonomy and capacity in Basra, measures which are important in assessing continuing progress toward democratic regime consolidation.
Kagan and Kagan begin with what is known about indices related to capacity and consolidation:
* The legitimate Government of Iraq and its legally-constituted security forces launched a security operation against illegal, foreign-backed, insurgent and criminal militias serving leaders who openly call for the defeat and humiliation of the United States and its allies in Iraq and throughout the region. We can be ambivalent about the political motivations of Maliki and his allies, but we cannot be ambivalent about the outcome of this combat between our open allies and our open enemies.
* The Sadrists and Special Groups failed to set Iraq alight despite their efforts--Iraqi forces kept the Five Cities area (Najaf, Karbala, Hillah, Diwaniyah, and Kut) under control with very little Coalition assistance; Iraqi and Coalition forces kept Baghdad under control.
* Sadr never moved to return to Iraq, ordered his forces to stop fighting without achieving anything, and further demonstrated his dependence on (and control by) Iran.
* Maliki demonstrated a surprising and remarkable commitment to fighting Iranian-backed Special Groups, Sadr's Jaish al Mahdi (the Mahdi Army, or JAM), and even criminal elements of JAM. The Iraqi Government has loudly declared that "enforcing the law" applies to Shia areas as well as Sunni. Maliki has called Shia militias "worse than al Qaeda." These are things we've been pressing him to do for nearly two years.
* We've said all along that we did not think the ISF was ready to take care of the security situation on its own. Maliki was overconfident and overly-optimistic. But for those who keep pressing the Iraqis to "step up," here's absolute proof that they are willing. Are we willing to support them when they do what we demand? Can anyone reasonably argue that they will do better if we pull out completely?
Read the whole thing.
As I've pointed out as well, military commanders have been careful not to overstate American and Iraqi security gains, and officials continue to make the case for a pause in troop redeployments as the surge winds down. These are not unreasonable assessments and recommendations. Even former naysayers of a Democratic Iraq have conceded the high potential for the consolidation of Iraq's democracy.
Yet, those unwilling to look at both the plusses and minuses will continue to demonize the administration, military leaders, and the troops in their yearning for an American defeat in Mesopotamia.
While large issues remain, neither success nor failure is predetermined at this point, and there's hardly cause to argue quitting the deployment.
Note also that the Kagans' analysis calls into question some of Anthony Cordesman's coolly reasoned appraisal of the fighting, "A Civil War Iraq Can’t Win."