Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Recently, the columnist W. Thomas Smith wrote:
And despite what the cut-and-run crowd would have us believe, American troops on the ground are not deceptively recruited pawns in some unfortunate military adventure. U.S. soldiers and Marines in Al Anbar and elsewhere in Iraq know exactly what they are doing, and why. They also see the fruits of their labors, which, to their consternation, are rarely reported.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably here to see the things which are – unfortunately – rarely reported. But if those who should be doing this reporting are not doing it, then those who should be doing other things will have to fill the gap.
During the invasion of Tarawa in November 1943, Marine General Holland “Howlin’ Mad” Smith at one point reported an assessment of “Combat efficiency – we are winning.” If there’s one bottom-line at this point, it is that We Are Winning. This becomes obvious when, as Victor Davis Hanson has done, we examine things in terms of the key questions about the strategic and tactical situation:
First, are the metrics of this war in the terrorists’ or our favor? Are the
Iraqi security forces growing or shrinking? Are elections postponed or on
schedule? Are Europe, Jordan, Lebanon, and others more or less sympathetic to a
war against Islamic terrorism in Iraq? Are bin Laden, Zawahiri, and Zarqawi more
or less popular or secure after we removed Saddam? Is al Qaeda in a strengthened
or weakened position? Is the Arab world more or less receptive to democracy in
the Gulf, Egypt, Lebanon, and the West Bank?
One of the advantages of writing this column by simply noting news stories as they float by is that your humble and obedient servant does not have to “chase” the news – it just happens by and is archived. And since the last issue, back on 22 November, the good news from Iraq has turned into a mighty avalanche.
That’s the short summary of the big picture – we are winning. Here are the details, of which there are plenty.
As is often the case, we can count on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to provide a lucid overview of the situation:
Rather than thinking in terms of an exit strategy, the American people need to
focus on the U.S. and coalition strategy for victory, he said. That strategy
involves passing responsibility to the Iraqi people and helping them further
develop the capabilities needed to take control of their country. "It is their
country to lead, and increasingly they are doing so," Rumsfeld said.
"That strategy is working, and we should stick to it."
In a speech at Johns Hopkins University, Secretary Rumsfeld also noted a very curious poll result:
I'm not one to put much faith in opinion polls. But the other day, I came across
an interesting set of statistics that I want to mention. It seems that the Pew
Research Center asked opinion leaders in the United States their views of the
prospects for a stable democracy in Iraq.
Here were some of the
results: 63% of people in the news media thought the enterprise would fail. So
did 71% of people in the foreign affairs establishment and 71% in academic
settings or think tanks. Interestingly, opinion leaders from the U.S. military
are optimistic about Iraq by a margin of 64% to 32%. And so is the American
public, by a margin of 56% to 37%.
That speaks for itself! And finally, Secretary Rumsfeld also has noticed that our description of the enemy in Iraq should probably be altered to something more realistic:
"Insurgents" just seems like too positive a word to describe terrorists in Iraq
and implies a level of legitimacy they don't have and don't deserve, Defense
Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told Pentagon reporters Nov. 29.
Perhaps “filthy murdering terrorist scum” is a better moniker.
As Norman Podhoretz has observed, the aforementioned “cut-and-run crowd” is clearly in a desperate panic – a panic that this is all going to work out, leaving them permanently marginalized.
At the same time, the morale of American troops remains high, as described by Marine Lieutenant General James Conway:
The fact is, they get it. They are closest to the action, they feel the momentum
shifts, and they know when they have taken the best the enemy can dish out. They
know what victory looks like and smells like - and they know it's only a matter
This is despite having to battle a headwind of a hostile media, as Marine Sergeant David Karnes put it so nicely:
A lot of so-called experts back home who are far removed from this combat zone
like to say that the constant negative media reporting on the war has no effect
on the troops. It does have an effect and the effect is demoralizing.
However, even this headwind may finally be abating; as Anderson Cooper of CNN recently wrote:
Every soldier I talked to today said the media hasn't done a good job of telling
the full story from Iraq. It's a complaint I've heard before, and certainly
understand. I do think television tends to focus on the bombs and the bullets,
the most dramatic headlines. So much of what happens here never makes the
If this is a sign of what’s to come, then it’s long overdue.
American troops continue to carry out numerous successful operations, and the intelligence they are receiving – particularly tips from Iraqi citizens – continues to improve. Here are some recent stories.
A Nov. 17 raid near Ad Dawr by the 1st BCT, 3rd Infantry Division, resulted in
the capture of one terrorist, the death of another and the confiscation of
IED materials. The soldiers reportedly worked off tips provided by previously
captured detainees to conduct the raid.
Soldiers from the 2nd BCT, 101st Airborne Division, discovered three 120-millimeter
mortar rounds, 1,000 rounds of 7.62-millimeter ammunition, 60-millimeter mortar system, one
60-millimeter mortar and various homemade explosives during a Nov. 18
cordon-and-search operation in Baghdad. An Iraqi citizen then informed them that
terrorist forces planned to attack them at that site.
The soldiers responded by conducting a cordon-and search of a house identified by the
informant. This resulted in the capture of five suspected terrorists, who are
believed to have planned an attack on the cache site, officials say.
In another example,
While exploiting the site [in western Baghdad] Nov. 17, the soldiers received
information from an Iraqi citizen that insurgents planned to attack the American
forces securing the area. At 10:30 a.m. Nov. 18, B Troop, 1/75th Cavalry,
searched a house identified by the informant, and captured five individuals
suspected of being the insurgents planning to attack the cache site.
These are just a couple of samples of the readily-available avalanche of news of successful American military operations; they are small-scale successes, but at this point this is a “small-scale” war. The small successes adds up.
At the same time, the coalition continues to hold together – and to actually expand. During a recent visit to Japan, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshya Zebari asked the Japanese government to extend the mandate for Japanese troops to remain in Iraq:
Iraq's foreign minister asked Japan on Friday to extend its military mission of
600 troops in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah.
Hoshya Zebari asked Defense Chief Fukushiro Nukaga to keep the troops on beyond Dec. 14.
Recently, the Estonian parliament voted (overwhelmingly) to extend the mandate for the Baltic nation’s troops to remain in Iraq through the end of 2006; the governments of its Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania also have recently voted to extend their nations’ mandates – Latvia’s through the end of 2006 and Lithuania’s through the end of 2007. The Czech parliament has also approved a similar mandate extension.
Other coalition members continue to play an active role, and (as noted above) more nations are joining in. Macedonia has offered to double the size of its contingent in Iraq. Bosnia-Hercegovina joined the coalition this fall, and has sent personnel to Iraq. Moldova recently joined the coalition and will soon be sending personnel to Iraq for the first time. Other than the nations noted above, most of the remaining coalition member nations do not have any immediate need to extend time-limited mandates for participation in the coalition – and as an Associated Press roster of the coalition countries and their individual situations dryly states, these nations have “no immediate plans for withdrawal.”
However, the biggest story of the past few weeks has been the continuing progress that’s being made by the Iraqi military itself. The Iraqi military is growing in capability, it is increasingly conducting operations, and it is having no difficulty getting recruits despite (and contrary to constant “reports”) a variety of competing opportunities for young men in Iraq.
Once again, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld provided the most concise overview:
The secretary ticked off examples throughout Iraq, particularly within its security framework, that demonstrate progress:
· More than 212,000 Iraqi security forces are fully trained and equipped, up from about 96,000 a
· Ninety-five Iraqi army battalions are in the fight, compared to five in August 2004;
· Iraq's army has seven operational brigades and 31 operational brigade headquarters, up from zero in July 2004;
· Twenty-eight special police battalions are conducting operations, compared to zero in July 2004;
· U.S. forces have turned over control of 29 military bases to the Iraqis;
· Iraq forces have assumed responsibility for 87 square miles of Baghdad, an entire Iraqi province and 450 square miles of territory in other provinces;
· More than 5,000 Iraqi troops played a key role in recent operations in Tal Afar, where they helped liberate and secure a terrorist operational base.
This is (naturally) an under-reported story, but it is one of great success. The Iraqi military continues to grow in size and capability – even though young Iraqis have numerous alternative options, as Army Brigadier General Daniel Bolger has noted:
A young man can find many jobs in today's Iraq, including new ones like selling
cars; now widely available to most folks: or cell phones; a true post-Saddam
'must have' item.
And despite the “competition,” there is no shortage of recruits:
Indeed, when it comes to recruiting for the Iraqi military, U.S. Colonel Peter
Mansoor, former commander of the First Brigade of the First Armored Division in
Iraq from 2003 to 2005, says, "We don't have to convince Iraqis to show up . . .
they show up in droves.
Marine General Conway strikes the same theme:
Since May 2004, a period of just 17 months, they [American troops] have seen the
Iraqi Army grow from one battalion with the courage and determination to fight
in Fallujah, to over 88 battalions that are trained, equipped, and engaged in
counterinsurgency operations. In spite of the deadly explosions and attempts at
intimidation by insurgents, there is no shortage of young Iraqi males seeking to
join the armed forces.
Some 2,500 years ago, the Greek historian Herodotus noted of classical Athens that
… how noble a thing freedom is, not in any one respect only, but in all; for
while they [the Athenians] were oppressed under a despotic government, they had
no better success in war than any of their neighbors, yet, once the yoke was
flung off, they proved the finest fighters in the world.
General Bolger describes a strikingly similar situation with the new Iraqi military:
A year ago, they [the insurgents] freely attacked the Iraqi military, but now
the Iraqi troops dominate the killing ground," says Gen. Bolger. "So the
hostiles have resorted to remote bombings because they can't stand and fight the
Iraqi soldiers anymore. Their worst nightmare is to confront an Iraqi rifleman
in the dark, face-to-face. That will only go one way.
And the new Iraqi military leadership is well aware of this – and of why this is all coming to pass:
The highest-ranking military officer in Iraq said over the past year his
country's armed forces have accomplished "almost a miracle."
Speaking through a translator, Army Gen. Babakir Shawkat Zebari said only one battalion was capable of operating with coalition forces when he became the Iraqi military's chief of staff. Now dozens are taking the lead in the counterinsurgency fight, and many more are operating with coalition forces.
The Iraqi military has had success in training and recruiting. The training establishment is
self-sustaining. There are plenty of volunteers for the military, and Iraqi instructors are training
"Look at Germany and Japan and South Korea. Look at the turnaround in those countries, and it is all because of America's help and support."
Like their American colleagues, the Iraqi troops also continue to receive numerous intelligence tips from ordinary citizens – and their increasing battlefield-effectiveness is becoming more and more evident. For example,
In a Nov. 15 cordon-and-search operation, a platoon from the 1st Battalion, 2nd
Iraqi Army Brigade nabbed five members of a terrorist who had been planning an
attack on the Italian Embassy in Baghdad. The Iraqi soldiers also seized two
vehicles, which the terrorists had planned to use in the attack.
In another example,
Acting on tips from local residents, Iraqi soldiers confiscated a large number
of terrorist weapons and bomb-making materials Nov. 20 in western Baghdad,
military officials reported.
Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, discovered the weapons cache during a follow-up search of an area where an improvised explosive device was discovered and destroyed last week.
In yet another example,
Acting on information provided by Iraqi citizens, soldiers from 2nd Battalion,
1st Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division, discovered explosives, weapons, improvised
explosive device components and numerous other devices used by terrorists to
attack Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces and coalition forces, officials
More recently, the Iraqi 2nd Army Brigade has taken over complete control of Babil province.
These are just a few examples from the growing avalanche of news describing the improving effectiveness of Iraq’s new military.
While coalition and Iraqi capability and effectiveness continue to grow (and produce one success after another), enemy capability continues its steady degradation.
The fallout from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s disownment by his own family, clan, and tribe continues unabated:
Seventy-five members of the Al-Khalayilah tribe placed full-page ads in
Jordanian newspapers with a letter to the King stating that Ahmad Fadil Nazzal
(Zarqawi's real name) was banished. Being a man without a country is one thing,
but being a man without a tribe is much worse in that part of the world.
Due to the degradation of enemy capability – and despite disingenuous attempts to invert the facts and state otherwise – the number of terrorist attacks in Iraq continues to decrease. The commanders in the field are naturally well-aware of this development:
After nearly a year since their posting in southwestern Iraq, a U.S. Army commander today said he and his 4,200 soldiers have witnessed decreased terrorist activity in their area of operations.
Brig. Gen. Augustus L. Collins commands the 155th Brigade Combat Team. Since February, his
unit has been responsible for security and stability operations in Babil, Karbala and Najaf provinces, with a detachment in eastern Anbar province.
"Actually, the attacks that we have now compared to attacks we had when we first got here and took over our battlespace in February are at least down by 50 percent," Collins told Pentagon reporters during a satellite teleconference.
It’s the same story for the entire country, and over more recent spans of time:
Attack levels across Iraq have been decreasing in recent months, [Army Major
General Rick] Lynch said, and the U.S. and Iraqi militaries control the supply
routes, limiting the movement of terrorists.
In another sign of degraded enemy capability, troops conducting recent operations in western Iraq have noted a change in the enemy personnel they are facing:
But what makes Steel Curtain different from previous actions is that an
increasing number of al Qaeda senior leaders are being captured or killed (a
sign that the number of insurgent junior leaders and foot soldiers is
decreasing), more outlaw towns and villages are being liberated (thanks to
human-source intelligence from residents disgusted by what the insurgents are
doing to their country), and a greater number of Iraqi soldiers are taking the
lead in both scouting operations and offensive actions.
The enemy is running out of cannon fodder, while coalition and Iraqi accomplishments continue – one right after another. In addition, the enemy is proving to be increasingly cowardly:
In more than one instance — and to the delight of American and Iraqi troops —
insurgents have been caught attempting to flee the battlefield dressed as women:
Considered a particularly disgraceful act among Iraqis."
"They've proven to be cowards," says [Marine Captain Patrick] Kerr. "We found a number of
them skulking among a flock of sheep trying to escape in Ubaydi, and there have
been several instances of insurgents dressing up as women trying to escape."
And as “the thing is pressed,” leading enemy honchos continue to be killed or captured.
A leading enemy commander was recently killed in a raid:
A family member and coalition sources have confirmed that Oct. 14 raids killed a
close confidant of fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of
al Qaeda in Iraq, military officials reported today."
"Bilal Mahmud Awad Shebah, also known as Abu Ubaydah, reportedly met weekly with Zarqawi,
Furthermore, a major terrorist kingpin was captured by Iraqi citizens and turned over to Iraqi and American military authorities:
The terrorist known as "the Butcher of Ramadi" was detained today, turned in by
local citizens in the provincial capital of Iraq's Anbar province, U.S. military
officials in Iraq reported.
Amir Khalaf Fanus -- listed third on a "high-value individuals" list of terrorists wanted by the 28th Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team -- was wanted for criminal activities including murder and kidnapping. Ramadi citizens brought him to an Iraqi and U.S. forces military base in Ramadi, where he was taken into custody.
Iraqi citizens turned over a high-ranking Al Qaeda member known as "the Butcher" to U.S. forces in Ramadi Friday a military statement said.
Amir Khalaf Fanus was No. 3 on the 28th Infantry Division's High Value Individual list for Ramadi, wanted for murder and kidnapping in connection with his affiliation with Al Qaeda in Iraq.
"He is the highest ranking Al Qaeda in Iraq member to be turned into Iraqi and U.S. officials by local citizens," Capt. Jeffrey S. Pool said in a statement released from Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi. "His capture is another indication that the local citizens tire of the insurgents' presence within their
And indeed, there is a positive feedback effect – since nothing succeeds like success. Combining cause and effect, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld recently noted that
… tips to authorities from ordinary Iraqis have grown from 483 to 4,700 tips in a month.
At the same time, other aspects of Iraqi society continue to improve rapidly. The economic aspects of the Iraqi revival are clearly to be found in the important and emerging equities market:
The Iraqi Stock Exchange was an even bigger eye opener. On the day we were there
the single trading room was packed with brokers shouting out their buy and sell
orders. Investors and company owners look on from the sidelines and bark out
comments. If anybody thought the Iraqi economy was stuck in the insurgent mud,
all they need to take is 10 minutes in this place to change their mind.
Capital and liquidity are key cornerstones of a modern economy; Iraq is clearly well on its way on those counts.
The northern Kurdish region of Iraq had a head-start due to a unique status as a “protected zone” during the 1990s; that head-start is now very evident, and it bodes well for Iraq in general:
As for Kurdistan: Wow! I had been there several times and it had always been a
pretty relaxing break from the ugliness of Saddam and post-Saddam Iraq. Now it
is nothing short of a boom town with construction cranes everywhere and shops
and restaurants doing sizzling business.
Another report from the Kurdish region notes an important fact which has been badly neglected in recent years:
No American soldier has been killed in the Kurdish safe haven in the north since
Saddam was toppled in the spring of 2003.
Not surprisingly, in the Kurdish region the issues in the impending election are rather prosaic – which is an encouraging sign:
… in autonomous northern Iraq, it is about the economy, electricity and government reform.
Sa'edi Barzdinji, a professor of law at Irbil's Salahaddin University and a member of the Iraqi National Assembly, explained that while Kurdistan is no democracy, "the issues here are ones that normal
Western countries deal with. Kurdistan is safe."
… the streets are relatively orderly, imported goods from Turkey and Iran spill out from store
fronts, and almost everyone feels safe.
Of course, nothing will ever be perfect:
Asked what else he wants, Namatullah, now in the barber's chair, added, "We also
want our politicians to keep their promises."
Alas, there are some goals that are unlikely to be reached, anytime or anywhere.
More significantly, change is occurring in the Sunni areas of Iraq; Sunni Iraqis have realized that their earlier refusal to join the political process was a disastrous decision. Now, however, they are joining the political process, and are increasingly cooperating with coalition and Iraqi troops in the battle against the terrorists:
After keeping their distance for months, Iraqis in this Sunni Arab city
[Samarra] suddenly began cooperating with U.S. troops, leading them to
insurgents and hidden weapons caches. The reason: anger over the assassination
by insurgents of a local tribal chief.
"That's when they decided to make a stand," said Capt. Ryan Wylie of Lincoln, Neb., commander of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment. "They definitely had an idea of the terrorists and where they hang out."
Those fears vanished when one of their own leaders was slain. All of a sudden, Iraqis began
coming forward with information about insurgent hideouts and weapons caches.
Sunni Iraqis are enthusiastically joining in the upcoming election campaign:
As befits the holder of a doctorate in classical Arabic, Adnan al Duleimi is
known as one of the more polished orators among Iraq's aspiring politicians. Yet
his popularity in volatile Sunni districts is based on the stubborn repetition
of a single word: La, or No.
It was No to taking part in Iraq's historic elections last January and No in the constitution referendum. He is a firm No man on the continued presence of American troops. Such is his
rejectionist record that the joke among Iraqis is that he would automatically
decline a dinner invitation. But now, the man nicknamed Dr No is saying Yes.
Defying expectations, he has ended his boycott of the
US-fostered political process and is campaigning in this week's elections for a
new Iraqi government. The stern, grey-haired septuagenarian is one of a clutch
of influential Sunni figures who, after more than two years of favouring the
bullet rather than the ballot, have decided to seek office.
It is also a tacit admission by some Sunnis that their previous tactic of boycotting
the elections in the hope of derailing the process entirely was a mistake,
leaving the group that ruled absolutely under Saddam Hussein virtually
Sunni Iraqis are also fully intent on providing good security, to allow voting and to prevent terror groups from interfering with that voting:
Saddam Hussein loyalists who violently opposed January elections have made an
about-face as Thursday's polls near, urging fellow Sunni Arabs to vote and
warning al Qaeda militants not to attack.
In a move unthinkable in the bloody run-up to the last election, guerrillas in the western insurgent
heartland of Anbar province say they are even prepared to protect voting
stations from fighters loyal to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.
Graffiti calling for holy war is now hard to find.
Instead, election campaign posters dominate buildings in the
rebel strongholds of Ramadi and nearby Falluja, where Sunnis staged a boycott or
were too scared to vote last time around.
"We want to see a nationalist government that will have a balance of interests. So our Sunni
brothers will be safe when they vote," said Falluja resident Ali Mahmoud, a former army officer and rocket specialist under Saddam's Baath party.
"Sunnis should vote to make political gains. We have sent leaflets telling al Qaeda that they will face us if they attack voters."
This is progress.
With all of the progress on all fronts in Iraq, the Iraqi government has begun to discuss when coalition troops will be able to reduce their numbers in Iraq:
Talks on withdrawing U.S.-led foreign troops from Iraq can begin as early as at
the end of next year, Iraq's president [Jalal Talabani] said Monday, adding that
British troops likely could start a "step-by-step" exit in 2007.
"We think that in the next two years we will have come so far
and our police forces will have been sufficiently trained that it will be
possible to begin talks about pulling out foreign troops, either during next
year or after next year," he said.
All of this progress has been so strong that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to deny it. Following a Thanksgiving visit to Iraq, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman penned an astonishing piece – which justly received very wide attention. Excerpts and commentary cannot possibly do this piece justice, so it is reproduced here in its entirety:
I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the past 17 months and can
report real progress there. More work needs to be done, of course, but the Iraqi
people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive, killing
tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood--unless
the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected
opportunity is prematurely withdrawn.
Progress is visible and
practical. In the Kurdish North, there is continuing security and growing
prosperity. The primarily Shiite South remains largely free of terrorism,
receives much more electric power and other public services than it did under
Saddam, and is experiencing greater economic activity. The Sunni triangle,
geographically defined by Baghdad to the east, Tikrit to the north and Ramadi to
the west, is where most of the terrorist enemy attacks occur. And yet here, too,
there is progress.
There are many more cars on the streets,
satellite television dishes on the roofs, and literally millions more cell
phones in Iraqi hands than before. All of that says the Iraqi economy is
growing. And Sunni candidates are actively campaigning for seats in the National
Assembly. People are working their way toward a functioning society and economy
in the midst of a very brutal, inhumane, sustained terrorist war against the
civilian population and the Iraqi and American military there to protect it.
It is a war between 27 million and 10,000; 27 million Iraqis who
want to live lives of freedom, opportunity and prosperity and roughly 10,000
terrorists who are either Saddam revanchists, Iraqi Islamic extremists or al
Qaeda foreign fighters who know their wretched causes will be set back if Iraq
becomes free and modern. The terrorists are intent on stopping this by
instigating a civil war to produce the chaos that will allow Iraq to replace
Afghanistan as the base for their fanatical war-making. We are fighting on the
side of the 27 million because the outcome of this war is critically important
to the security and freedom of America. If the terrorists win, they will be
emboldened to strike us directly again and to further undermine the growing
stability and progress in the Middle East, which has long been a major American
national and economic security priority.
Before going to Iraq last
week, I visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Israel has been the only
genuine democracy in the region, but it is now getting some welcome company from
the Iraqis and Palestinians who are in the midst of robust national legislative
election campaigns, the Lebanese who have risen up in proud self-determination
after the Hariri assassination to eject their Syrian occupiers (the Syrian- and
Iranian-backed Hezbollah militias should be next), and the Kuwaitis, Egyptians
and Saudis who have taken steps to open up their governments more broadly to
their people. In my meeting with the thoughtful prime minister of Iraq, Ibrahim
al-Jaafari, he declared with justifiable pride that his country now has the most
open, democratic political system in the Arab world. He is
In the face of terrorist threats and escalating violence,
eight million Iraqis voted for their interim national government in January,
almost 10 million participated in the referendum on their new constitution in
October, and even more than that are expected to vote in the elections for a
full-term government on Dec. 15. Every time the 27 million Iraqis have been
given the chance since Saddam was overthrown, they have voted for
self-government and hope over the violence and hatred the 10,000 terrorists
offer them. Most encouraging has been the behavior of the Sunni community,
which, when disappointed by the proposed constitution, registered to vote and
went to the polls instead of taking up arms and going to the streets. Last week,
I was thrilled to see a vigorous political campaign, and a large number of
independent television stations and newspapers covering it.
these remarkable changes would have happened without the coalition forces led by
the U.S. And, I am convinced, almost all of the progress in Iraq and throughout
the Middle East will be lost if those forces are withdrawn faster than the Iraqi
military is capable of securing the country.
The leaders of Iraq's
duly elected government understand this, and they asked me for reassurance about
America's commitment. The question is whether the American people and enough of
their representatives in Congress from both parties understand this. I am
disappointed by Democrats who are more focused on how President Bush took
America into the war in Iraq almost three years ago, and by Republicans who are
more worried about whether the war will bring them down in next November's
elections, than they are concerned about how we continue the progress in Iraq in
the months and years ahead.
Here is an ironic finding I brought back from
Iraq. While U.S. public opinion polls show serious declines in support for the
war and increasing pessimism about how it will end, polls conducted by Iraqis
for Iraqi universities show increasing optimism. Two-thirds say they are better
off than they were under Saddam, and a resounding 82% are confident their lives
in Iraq will be better a year from now than they are today. What a colossal
mistake it would be for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this
moment in history to lose its will and, in the famous phrase, to seize defeat
from the jaws of the coming victory.
The leaders of America's
military and diplomatic forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey and Ambassador Zal
Khalilzad, have a clear and compelling vision of our mission there. It is to
create the environment in which Iraqi democracy, security and prosperity can
take hold and the Iraqis themselves can defend their political progress against
those 10,000 terrorists who would take it from them.
have a good plan for doing this, a strategy for victory in Iraq? Yes we do. And
it is important to make it clear to the American people that the plan has not
remained stubbornly still but has changed over the years. Mistakes, some of them
big, were made after Saddam was removed, and no one who supports the war should
hesitate to admit that; but we have learned from those mistakes and, in
characteristic American fashion, from what has worked and not worked on the
ground. The administration's recent use of the banner "clear, hold and build"
accurately describes the strategy as I saw it being implemented last week.
We are now embedding a core of coalition forces in every Iraqi
fighting unit, which makes each unit more effective and acts as a multiplier of
our forces. Progress in "clearing" and "holding" is being made. The Sixth
Infantry Division of the Iraqi Security Forces now controls and polices more
than one-third of Baghdad on its own. Coalition and Iraqi forces have together
cleared the previously terrorist-controlled cities of Fallujah, Mosul and Tal
Afar, and most of the border with Syria. Those areas are now being "held" secure
by the Iraqi military themselves. Iraqi and coalition forces are jointly
carrying out a mission to clear Ramadi, now the most dangerous city in Al-Anbar
province at the west end of the Sunni Triangle.
American military leaders estimate that about one-third of the approximately
100,000 members of the Iraqi military are able to "lead the fight" themselves
with logistical support from the U.S., and that that number should double by
next year. If that happens, American military forces could begin a drawdown in
numbers proportional to the increasing self-sufficiency of the Iraqi forces in
2006. If all goes well, I believe we can have a much smaller American military
presence there by the end of 2006 or in 2007, but it is also likely that our
presence will need to be significant in Iraq or nearby for years to come.
The economic reconstruction of Iraq has gone slower than it should
have, and too much money has been wasted or stolen. Ambassador Khalilzad is now
implementing reform that has worked in Afghanistan--Provincial Reconstruction
Teams, composed of American economic and political experts, working in
partnership in each of Iraq's 18 provinces with its elected leadership, civil
service and the private sector. That is the "build" part of the "clear, hold and
build" strategy, and so is the work American and international teams are doing
to professionalize national and provincial governmental agencies in Iraq.
These are new ideas that are working and changing the reality on
the ground, which is undoubtedly why the Iraqi people are optimistic about their
future--and why the American people should be, too.
I cannot say
enough about the U.S. Army and Marines who are carrying most of the fight for us
in Iraq. They are courageous, smart, effective, innovative, very honorable and
very proud. After a Thanksgiving meal with a great group of Marines at Camp
Fallujah in western Iraq, I asked their commander whether the morale of his
troops had been hurt by the growing public dissent in America over the war in
Iraq. His answer was insightful, instructive and inspirational: "I would guess
that if the opposition and division at home go on a lot longer and get a lot
deeper it might have some effect, but, Senator, my Marines are motivated by
their devotion to each other and the cause, not by political debates."
Thank you, General. That is a powerful, needed message for the
rest of America and its political leadership at this critical moment in our
nation's history. Semper Fi.
In a similar way, columnist James Wilson produced the text of a “suggested speech” – “suggested” for President Bush. However, it is such a good summary of recent events that it is also reproduced here in its entirety:
My fellow Americans: We are winning, and winning decisively, in Iraq and the
Middle East. We defeated Saddam Hussein's army in just a few weeks. None of the
disasters that many feared would follow our invasion occurred. Our troops did
not have to fight door to door to take Baghdad. The Iraqi oil fields were not
set on fire. There was no civil war between the Sunnis and the Shiites. There
was no grave humanitarian crisis.
Saddam Hussein was captured and
is awaiting trial. His two murderous sons are dead. Most of the leading members
of Saddam's regime have been captured or killed. After our easy military
victory, we found ourselves inadequately prepared to defeat the terrorist
insurgents, but now we are prevailing.
Iraq has held free elections
in which millions of people voted. A new, democratic constitution has been
adopted that contains an extensive bill of rights. Discrimination on the basis
of sex, religion or politics is banned. Soon the Iraqis will be electing their
An independent judiciary exists, almost all
public schools are open, every hospital is functioning, and oil sales have
increased sharply. In most parts of the country, people move about freely and
According to surveys, Iraqis are overwhelmingly opposed to
the use of violence to achieve political ends, and the great majority believe
that their lives will improve in the future. The Iraqi economy is growing very
rapidly, much more rapidly than the inflation rate.
places, the terrorists who lost the war are now fighting back by killing Iraqi
civilians. Some brave American soldiers have also been killed, but most of the
attacks are directed at decent, honest Iraqis. This is not a civil war; it is
terrorism gone mad.
And the terrorists have failed. They could not
stop free elections. They could not prevent Iraqi leaders from taking office.
They could not close the schools or hospitals. They could not prevent the
emergence of a vigorous free press that now involves over 170 newspapers that
represent every shade of opinion.
Terrorist leaders such as
Zarqawi have lost. Most Sunni leaders, whom Zarqawi was hoping to mobilize, have
rejected his call to defeat any constitution. The Muslims in his hometown in
Jordan have denounced him. Despite his murderous efforts, candidates
representing every legitimate point of view and every ethnic background are
competing for office in the new Iraqi government.
The progress of
democracy and reconstruction has occurred faster in Iraq than it did in Germany
60 years ago, even though we have far fewer troops in the Middle East than we
had in Germany after Hitler was defeated.
We grieve deeply over
every lost American and coalition soldier, but we also recognize what those
deaths have accomplished. A nation the size of California, with 25 million
inhabitants, has been freed from tyranny, equipped with a new democratic
constitution, and provided with a growing new infrastructure that will help
every Iraqi and not just the privileged members of a brutal regime. For every
American soldier who died, 12,000 Iraqi voters were made into effective
Virtually every American soldier who writes home or
comes back to visit his family tells the same story: We have won, Iraqis have
won, and life in most of Iraq goes on without violence and with obvious
affection between the Iraqi people and our troops. These soldiers have not just
restored order in most places, they have built schools, aided businesses,
distributed aid and made friends.
To take their places, Iraq has
trained, with American and NATO assistance, tens of thousands of new troops and
police officers. In the last election, there were more Iraqi soldiers than
American ones guarding the polling places.
We know that much
remains to be done. Sunni and Shiite leaders must work together more closely. We
know that for centuries Sunni leaders, including Saddam, ruled Iraq even though
the Sunnis are only a minority of its population: The terrorists began by
killing Shiites but now have killed Sunnis as well, all without the slightest
moral justification. But we know from America's own experience that when
different groups work together constructively, they learn to trust one another.
That must happen, and will happen, in Iraq.
Our success is not
confined to Iraq. Libya has renounced its search for nuclear weapons. Syria has
pulled out of Lebanon. Afghanistan has produced a democratic government and
economic progress for its people. Egypt has had the beginnings of a democratic
vote. In an area once dominated by dictatorships, the few remaining ones are
either changing or worrying deeply about those that have changed.
We know now that some of our information about the existence of
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was wrong. But we also know now what we have
always believed: That Saddam Hussein, who had already invaded both Iran and
Kuwait, had the money, authority and determination to build up his stock of such
weapons. When he did, he would have become the colossus of the Middle East, able
to overwhelm other countries and rain rockets down on Israel.
have created a balance of power in the Middle East in which no regime can easily
threaten any other. In doing this, we and our allies have followed a long
tradition: We worked to prevent Imperial Germany from dominating Europe in 1914,
Hitler from doing the same in 1940, and the Soviet Union from doing this in
1945. Now we are doing it in the Middle East.
And we are winning.
Soon Iraqi forces will be able to maintain order in the few hot spots that still
exist in Iraq. We will stay the course until they are ready. We made no mistake
ending Saddam's rule. We have brought not only freedom to Iraq, but progress to
most of the Middle East. America should be proud of what it has accomplished.
America will not cut and run until the Iraqis can manage their own security, and
that will happen soon.
Thank you, and God bless you.
And so we find that progress and good news continue in Iraq. The theme of this entire year has been the construction – from scratch – of a viable and open political system, and the Iraqis so far have proven themselves up to the challenge. The constitutional assembly was elected in January, the constitution was finished late in the summer, and it was approved in October. Now, the final act in the drama will be performed as Iraqis elect and install a permanent parliament.
And once again, we will be treated to scenes of Iraqi voters jubilantly displaying their purple-inked index fingers.
The rowers of Salamis would be proud.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
“Most of the news in Iraq is positive.”
Recently, Iraq’s Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi was in Washington D.C. for a few days; during that time, he gave several interviews, including this remarkable one on “The Journal Editorial Report.” One of the questioners was the indispensable Fouad Ajami; Prof. Ajami asked the question which might be most prominent in many minds lately, and he received a serious and forceful reply:
FOUAD AJAMI: I'm just curious. As you know, Dr. Chalabi, that you come to a country which is in the middle of an intense debate about this war. What's the biggest misperception that Americans have about Iraq, about what's really playing and what's really playing out in Iraq?
AHMED CHALABI: Well, the biggest misperception is that there is no good news out of Iraq. Most of the news in Iraq is positive. We have met all the deadlines on the timetable, on the political timetable we have established. We have improved the income of Iraqis tremendously, manyfold. Iraqis have freedom to move and to travel like they never did before, and they have freedom to organize politically. And they have a freedom to express their faiths and to practice their religions and to organize and form political parties. All these are positive things in Iraq, and they are not reported. There are many details, and I think that there is this misperception that there is no good news. There is good news in Iraq.
It is moments like this that serve to remind us that Iraq is not “occupied.” The Iraqi government and the Iraqi people are now our allies in the war against terrorism. To even consider abandoning an ally to a horrid fate would be beneath the dignity and integrity of a great nation.
And, indeed, there is much good news in Iraq. One doesn’t even have to seek it out; bits and pieces of it float by every day and can be found without even expending great effort. Here are just a few stories which have appeared over the past few weeks.
It has gone virtually unnoticed that the Coalition has been holding together without any problems. Recently, the Latvian parliament voted to extend (through 2006) the mandate for their troops to remain in Iraq:
Parliament voted to extend Latvia’s peace-keeping troops’ mandate, continuing their mission in Iraq one more year.
The 100-member Parliament passed the motion with 51 votes for and 27 votes against.
Earlier in the fall, the Estonian parliament voted a similar extension for that country’s contingent in Iraq.
Indeed, it must be remembered that the force in Iraq is a multinational force composed of 27 nations, including Albania, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-and-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Georgia, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Mongolia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States. Our allies continue to contribute to the mission - and to meet their commitments.
At the same time, the size and ability of the Iraqi military continues to grow:
In a Pentagon press briefing on Sept. 30, Gen. George Casey, the U.S. ground-forces commander in Iraq, pointed out that the number of U.S.-Iraqi or independent Iraqi operations of company-size or greater had increased from about 160 in May to over 1,300 in September, and that US-Iraqi or independent Iraqi operations now constituted some 80 percent of all military operations in Iraq.
That progress continued in October:
Iraqi security forces are shouldering more of the security burden, said Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, director of operations for the Joint Staff. "Iraqi security forces continue to grow in capability and confidence," he said.
The Iraqi army and police have more than 210,000 members trained and equipped. This breaks into 90 battalions. "One division headquarters, four brigades and 24 battalions actually own battlespace (in Iraq)," Conway said.
And they are conducting operations. In October, Iraqi security forces conducted 35 percent of the operations in the country, he said.
Ordinary Iraqi citizens continue to provide valuable tactical information on terrorist activity, as noted by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld during an interview with the German magazine Spiegel:
Lately we put in a tip line, so that Iraqis can call in anonymously. They don't get any money for it, but they can call and say "Look, down the street two doors, there are some guys making bombs." And the number of tips being called in is increasing.
As is often the case, we can count on Secretary Rumsfeld to provide proper perspective about events:
In Iraq, a couple of years ago, there were mass-graves in that country; they are going to be talked about in the trial of Saddam Hussein. Today they have a constitution, it's an Iraqi constitution; it's theirs. They are going to have an election on December 15th. Clearly, the Iraqi people are engaging in a political process. They are arguing, tugging and pulling.
He also reminded us of the value of his own clarity of thought:
It is hard for people to become convinced of something they don't want to be convinced of.
(On a lighter note, when the final part of the interview turned to the topic of Iran, we are treated to vintage Rumsfeld:
SPIEGEL: The US is trying to make the case in the United Nations Security Council.
Rumsfeld: I would not say that. I thought France, Germany and the UK were working on that problem.
SPIEGEL: What kind of sanctions are we talking about?
Rumsfeld: I'm not talking about sanctions. I thought you, and the U.K. and France were.
SPIEGEL: You aren't?
Rumsfeld: I'm not talking about sanctions. You've got the lead. Well, lead!
SPIEGEL: You mean the Europeans.
Rumsfeld: Sure. My Goodness, Iran is your neighbor. We don't have to do everything!
SPIEGEL: We are in the middle of regime change in Germany...
Rumsfeld: ... that's hardly the phrase I would have selected. )
The state of Iraqi civil society continues to improve, as the nature of the real enemy becomes clearer:
A cleric close to Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has called on Iraqis to unite and fight al-Qaida during prayers being held to mark the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr.
Iraqis must "unite to fight terrorism and to get rid of people like al-Qaida," said the cleric Hazem al-Araji.
These groups "sometimes act in the name of Ansar as-Sunna (partisans of the Sunnis), but they are enemies of the Sunnis," he said on Thursday.
"You who call yourselves Qaida al-Jihad (base of the holy war), you are the base of apostasy," he said, referring to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group.
In Jordan, members of al-Zarqawi’s family and tribe have condemned and disowned him, and may even try to eliminate him themselves:
"A Jordanian doesn't stab himself with his own spear," said the statement by 57 members of the al-Khalayleh family, including al-Zarqawi's brother and cousin. "We sever links with him until doomsday."
The statement is a serious blow to al-Zarqawi, who no longer will enjoy the protection of his tribe and whose family members may seek to kill him.
On December 15th, Iraqis will return to the polls to elect a fully-functioning parliament for the country. According to Deputy Prime Minister Chalabi in the interview cited earlier, the tenor of the impending elections is rather “normal”:
The first election [in January] was about identity politics. Now, the election will be increasingly about issues that have to go beyond political correctness, beyond identity, about issues which are related to the things that are facing the Iraqi people as they move forward to the future -- issues of security, issues of economic development, issues of providing services, issues of fighting corruption, and also the veracity and faith in the people who are going to deliver on these issues.
If this is indeed true, Iraq is reaching political maturity rather quickly – and the Iraqi people are quickly realizing that much of democratic, electoral politics is about managing what Pericles (2500 years ago) referred to as handling “the balance of dissatisfaction.”
(Bill Crawford also offers a collection of several dozen items of good news from Iraq here – all of which are worth reading.)
At the same time, the security situation in Iraq continues to improve – both in general, and in the obvious shifting of the “theatre” of action away from the major cities and toward the Syrian border in western Iraq. Col. James "Red" Brown, commander of the 56th Brigade Combat Team of the Texas National Guard, which is wrapping up an 11 month deployment in Iraq, recently stated that
Except in western Iraq, roadside-bomb incidents are down, he said. "In the normal routes that we travel, we have seen a dramatic drop since the election in the number of IEDs that we have encountered," he said. "I don't think there's any doubt that this country is more secure."
Col. Brown also notes a heartening trend as the security situation improves:
But progress also is evident in trends that might go unnoticed by many, he said. Unescorted commercial traffic - which in turn, is boosting the Iraqi economy - has increased dramatically since the brigade arrived in Iraq in early January, the colonel noted.
In an eloquent and moving letter to family and friends, Lt. Cameron Chen, a member of the Navy’s 8th Engineer Support Battalion who recently returned home from a deployment in Fallujah, describes how
Fallujah looks completely different from when we first arrived. The progress in the city has been frustratingly slow but impressive nonetheless. A steady stream of people flow in to re-inhabit its neighborhoods. The new police force is on every street corner.
Among American troops in Iraq, morale and confidence remain very high. Columnist Mark Steyn receives copious e-mails from troops in Iraq, and he notes that
…the only things I hear from American servicemen in Iraq are technical points. They don't like the M-16, for example, because they think it jams with the very fine sand they have over in Western Iraq, while the AK-47 seems to perform better there. They've got technical criticisms like that, but their morale is incredibly high. And all the mail I get from servicemen in Iraq emphasizes how much they're winning this thing, and how disgusted they are at the media coverage back home.
Army reservist Steven Kiel, currently serving in Iraq, notes that the support for his men, their Iraqi colleagues, and for Iraqi civilians has continued unabated:
The generosity of people back home didn’t end with this initial flurry of support. Throughout the year I’ve been nearly overwhelmed with packages of things for the soldiers in my platoon, for the Iraqi soldiers, and for the locals. In fact, my platoon and I received more than 160 care packages from an ongoing donation drive organized by a single cousin of mine during the course of the year. These acts of generosity deserve to be reported just as much as an IED explosion (italics mine).
Lt. Chen concludes his aforementioned letter by noting that
We have been incredibly fortunate to have the privilege of serving here in Iraq. This has been one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. We have done all we could possibly do. We cleared innumerable roads of hazards and prevented countless loss of life. We were in the right place at the right time.
Everyone is grateful for the assignment and thankful for having survived to tell the stories. I want to thank everyone for your continuous support and encouragement regardless of political persuasion and opinion of the war. We couldn't have done it without you.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad eloquently describes the ongoing challenge posed by Iraq, and the larger implications for regional and American security:
What's happening in Iraq is not only important in terms of Iraq itself, which is an important country, but also it's a struggle for the entire region and, of course, it's not only Iraqis that are engaged but also people from across the region and countries, such as Syria and Iran, are also engaged. So the outcome in Iraq will have a strategic effect on the future shape of this region. Whatever one thought of the circumstances that got us into Iraq, I think right now, given the stakes, there is no other option but to prevail because the alternative of al Qaeda taking over part of Iraq and from there expanding to the rest of Iraq or beyond the region and the world would be a huge challenge and will make Afghanistan under the Taliban with al Qaeda child's play given Iraq's resources, the geopolitical location, and the capabilities of its population.
Having spent most of 2005 in Iraq, Col. Brown also clearly understands what has been accomplished and what is at stake:
"Physically here on the ground, our job is not done," he said. "We have to finish the job that we began here. It is important for the security of this nation. It is important for the security of this region, and certainly it is important for the vital interest of the United States of America."
And when that job is completed successfully, as the historian Victor Davis Hanson recently put it so nicely,
When this is all over, and there is a legitimate government in the Middle East that represents the aspirations of a free people, the stunning achievement of our soldiers will be at last recognized, the idealism of the United States will be appreciated, our critics here and abroad will go mute…
In early April of 1865, General Ulysses Grant’s Union Army had finally dislodged General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army from Petersburg, Virginia. The remnants of Lee’s army fled westward, hotly pursued by Grant. Particularly aggressive in the pursuit was the corps led by General Philip Sheridan, who continued to send cavalry past Lee’s army to make its retreat nearly impossible. On the evening of April 6th, Sheridan wired a telegram to Grant describing the tactical situation – a message which ended by offering the opinion that “If the thing is pressed, I think Lee will surrender.” As a matter of routine, copies of these communications were forwarded to the White House; the following morning, Sheridan’s opinion caught the attention of President Abraham Lincoln. Focusing on Sheridan’s comment, President Lincoln wired a simple message to General Grant:
Gen. Sheridan says 'If the thing is pressed I think that Lee will surrender.' Let the thing be pressed.
This is not the time to go wobbly or to give up. To the contrary.
Let the thing be pressed.