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.