|"Let me whisper in your ear the secrets of counterinsurgency operations, baby. First, buy off the Shi'a militias (that's easy, 'cause they know they're winning and they also know that you'll be bugging out soon enough). Then buy off the Sunni militias (that's a little harder because they've got a lot of spilled blood to avenge). And then, declare the "surge" a success, accept the command of CentCom, go to Afghanistan to work the same magic there (except that didn't work out), and accept the directorship of CIA (until you get accused of passing classified intel to your lover -- that's you, baby)."|
"Petraeus had entered the war as something of a skeptic. In March 2003, as he led the 101st Airborne Division toward Baghdad, he posed a rhetorical question to the Post's Rick Atkinson: "Tell me how this ends." He added, "Eight divisions and eight years?" in a reference to the U.S. military's early, and dead wrong, assessment of the Vietnam War's costs. Two years later, he ended up at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where he ran the army's general staff college, which gave him distance from the declining war in Iraq and its ugly side-battles in Washington over blame and responsibility. He published on counterinsurgency, an idea that earned him some attention in D.C. policy circles – including some conservative think tanks with access to the White House – and would later guide his "surge" approach in Iraq.
In many ways, Petraeus's approach was more about helping Iraqis than it was about the American troops and their numbers, an idea not quite conveyed in the "surge" moniker. Iraqis "felt disrespected, dispossessed, and disgusted," Ricks quotes him as saying. Petraeus had troops move out of the giant bases into smaller outposts across the country; there were 75 just in Baghdad, which helped to fill the security vacuum that had allowed militant groups to run wild and shut down civilian life. He negotiated a ceasefire with the hugely influential Moqtada al-Sadr, a fiery Islamic figure who nominally ran a number of Shia militias in Iraq and today leads a political party with a number of seats in the Parliament. Separately, his team purged police and military forces thought to be riddled with Shia militiamen.
Controversially, he even started putting some Sunni groups – including some that had previously fought the U.S. – on the American payroll. The "Anbar Awakening" of Sunni groups willing to cooperate with the Americans had begun in 2005, but at a smaller scale. Petraeus recognized that the groups had real community influence and ability to bring security, whether he liked them or not, and brought them on board. At the program's peak in 2008, the U.S. had "contracted" 103,000 fighters who were now ostensibly paid to assist an American-dominated peace rather than the disrupt it. That same year, according to Ricks, the U.S. signed ceasefire deals with 779 separate Iraqi militias.
Petraeus also littered Baghdad with onerous blast walls and checkpoints, making it more difficult for car bombers and separating some Sunni and Shia neighborhoods. He was too late to stop much of the Sunni-Shia violence in the city, though, and the drop-off was due as much to Sunnis having fled or been killed as to any U.S. action. Still, the violence eased enough that American diplomats were able to start putting Shia and Sunni leaders in the same room and have them at least talk productively.
American casualties began dropping precipitously in the fall of 2007 and declined throughout 2008, ending that year one-third of what they'd been the year before. In September 2008, Petraeus handed over command to his successor. The New York Times' Dexter Filkins wrote that he left "Iraq a remarkably safer place than it was when he arrived. Violence has plummeted from its apocalyptic peaks, Iraqi leaders are asserting themselves, and streets that once seemed dead are flourishing with life." Petraeus was lauded in Congress and confirmed to head U.S. Central Command, responsible for all U.S. forces in the Middle East, which he ran until President Obama asked him to lead his own "surge" in Afghanistan in 2010. That effort was not nearly as successful, but he was nonetheless confirmed as CIA director the next year."