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« Reply #400 on: November 08, 2007, 11:19:49 AM »

Power User
Posts: 42521

« Reply #401 on: November 20, 2007, 06:27:58 AM »

OMG!   wink  This from the NY Times-- I bet it hurt them to have to write it:

BAGHDAD, Nov. 19 — Five months ago, Suhaila al-Aasan lived in an oxygen tank factory with her husband and two sons, convinced that they would never go back to their apartment in Dora, a middle-class neighborhood in southern Baghdad.

Today she is home again, cooking by a sunlit window, sleeping beneath her favorite wedding picture. And yet, she and her family are remarkably alone. The half-dozen other apartments in her building echo with emptiness and, on most days, Iraqi soldiers are the only neighbors she sees.

“I feel happy,” she said, standing in her bedroom, between a flowered bedspread and a bullet hole in the wall. “But my happiness is not complete. We need more people to come back. We need more people to feel safe.”

Mrs. Aasan, 45, a Shiite librarian with an easy laugh, is living at the far end of Baghdad’s tentative recovery. She is one of many Iraqis who in recent weeks have begun to test where they can go and what they can do when fear no longer controls their every move.

The security improvements in most neighborhoods are real. Days now pass without a car bomb, after a high of 44 in the city in February. The number of bodies appearing on Baghdad’s streets has plummeted to about 5 a day, from as many as 35 eight months ago, and suicide bombings across Iraq fell to 16 in October, half the number of last summer and down sharply from a recent peak of 59 in March, the American military says.

As a result, for the first time in nearly two years, people are moving with freedom around much of this city. In more than 50 interviews across Baghdad, it became clear that while there were still no-go zones, more Iraqis now drive between Sunni and Shiite areas for work, shopping or school, a few even after dark. In the most stable neighborhoods of Baghdad, some secular women are also dressing as they wish. Wedding bands are playing in public again, and at a handful of once shuttered liquor stores customers now line up outside in a collective rebuke to religious vigilantes from the Shiite Mahdi Army.

Iraqis are clearly surprised and relieved to see commerce and movement finally increase, five months after an extra 30,000 American troops arrived in the country. But the depth and sustainability of the changes remain open to question.

By one revealing measure of security — whether people who fled their home have returned — the gains are still limited. About 20,000 Iraqis have gone back to their Baghdad homes, a fraction of the more than 4 million who fled nationwide, and the 1.4 million people in Baghdad who are still internally displaced, according to a recent Iraqi Red Crescent Society survey.

Iraqis sound uncertain about the future, but defiantly optimistic. Many Baghdad residents seem to be willing themselves to normalcy, ignoring risks and suppressing fears to reclaim their lives. Pushing past boundaries of sect and neighborhood, they said they were often pleasantly surprised and kept going; in other instances, traumatic memories or a dark look from a stranger were enough to tug them back behind closed doors.

Mrs. Aasan’s experience, as a member of the brave minority of Iraqis who have returned home, shows both the extent of the improvements and their limits.

She works at an oasis of calm: a small library in eastern Baghdad, where on several recent afternoons, about a dozen children bounced through the rooms, reading, laughing, learning English and playing music on a Yamaha keyboard.

Brightly colored artwork hangs on the walls: images of gardens, green and lush; Iraqi soldiers smiling; and Arabs holding hands with Kurds.

It is all deliberately idyllic. Mrs. Aasan and the other two women at the library have banned violent images, guiding the children toward portraits of hope. The children are also not allowed to discuss the violence they have witnessed.

“Our aim is to fight terrorism,” Mrs. Aasan said. “We want them to overcome their personal experiences.”

The library closed last year because parents would not let their children out of sight. Now, most of the children walk on their own from homes nearby — another sign of the city’s improved ease of movement.

But there are scars in the voice of a ponytailed little girl who said she had less time for fun since her father was incapacitated by a bomb. (“We try to make him feel better and feel less pain,” she said.) And pain still lingers in the silence of Mrs. Aasan’s 10-year-old son, Abather, who accompanies her wherever she goes.

Page 2 of 2)

One day five months ago, when they still lived in Dora, Mrs. Aasan sent Abather to get water from a tank below their apartment. Delaying as boys will do, he followed his soccer ball into the street, where he discovered two dead bodies with their eyeballs torn out. It was not the first corpse he had seen, but for Mrs. Aasan that was enough. “I grabbed him, we got in the car and we drove away,” she said.

After they heard on an Iraqi news program that her section of Dora had improved, she and her husband explored a potential return. They visited and found little damage, except for a bullet hole in their microwave.

Two weeks ago, they moved back to the neighborhood where they had lived since 2003.

“It’s just a rental,” Mrs. Aasan said, as if embarrassed at her connection to such a humble place. “But after all, it’s home.”

In interviews, she and her husband said they felt emboldened by the decline in violence citywide and the visible presence of Iraqi soldiers at a checkpoint a few blocks away.

Still, it was a brave decision, one her immediate neighbors have not yet felt bold enough to make. Mrs. Aasan’s portion of Dora still looks as desolate as a condemned tenement. The trunk of a palm tree covers a section of road where Sunni gunmen once dumped a severed head, and about 200 yards to the right of her building concrete Jersey barriers block a section of homes believed to be booby-trapped with explosives.

“On this street,” she said, standing on her balcony, “many of my neighbors lost relatives.” Then she rushed inside.

Her husband, Fadhel A. Yassen, 49, explained that they had seen several friends killed while they sat outside in the past. He insisted that being back in the apartment was “a victory over fear, a victory over terrorism.”

Yet the achievement remains rare. Many Iraqis say they would still rather leave the country than go home. In Baghdad there are far more families like the Nidhals. The father, who would only identify himself as Abu Nebras (father of Nebras), is Sunni; Hanan, his wife, is a Shiite from Najaf, the center of Shiite religious learning in Iraq. They lived for 17 years in Ghazaliya in western Baghdad until four gunmen from Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown Sunni extremist group that American intelligence agencies say is led by foreigners, showed up at his door last December.

“My sons were armed and they went away but after that, we knew we had only a few hours,” Abu Nebras said. “We were displaced because I was secular and Al Qaeda didn’t like that.”

They took refuge in the middle-class Palestine Street area in the northeastern part of Baghdad, a relatively stable enclave with an atmosphere of tolerance for their mixed marriage. Now with the situation improving across the city, the Nidhal family longs to return to their former home, but they have no idea when, or if, it will be possible.

Another family now lives in their house — the situation faced by about a third of all displaced Iraqis, according to the International Organization for Migration — and it is not clear whether the fragile peace will last. Abu Nebras tested the waters recently, going back to talk with neighbors on his old street for the first time.

He said the Shiites in the northern part of Ghazaliya had told him that the American military’s payments to local Sunni volunteers in the southern, Sunni part of the neighborhood amounted to arming one side.

The Americans describe the volunteers as heroes, part of a larger nationwide campaign known as the Sunni Awakening. But Abu Nebras said he did not trust them. “Some of the Awakening members are just Al Qaeda who have joined them,” he said. “I know them from before.”

With the additional American troops scheduled to depart, the Nidhal family said, Baghdad would be truly safe only when the Iraqi forces were mixed with Sunnis and Shiites operating checkpoints side by side — otherwise the city would remain a patchwork of Sunni and Shiite enclaves. “The police, the army, it has to be Sunni next to Shiite next to Sunni next to Shiite,” Abu Nebras said.

They and other Iraqis also said the government must aggressively help people return to their homes, perhaps by supervising returns block by block. The Nidhal family said they feared the displaced Sunnis in their neighborhood who were furious that Shiites chased them from their houses. “They are so angry, they will kill anyone,” Abu Nebras said.

For now, though, they are trying to enjoy what may be only a temporary respite from violence. One of their sons recently returned to his veterinary studies at a university in Baghdad, and their daughter will start college this winter.

Laughter is also more common now in the Nidhal household — even on once upsetting subjects. At midday, Hanan’s sister, who teaches in a local high school, came home and threw up her hands in exasperation. She had asked her Islamic studies class to bring in something that showed an aspect of Islamic culture. “Two boys told me, ‘I’m going to bring in a portrait of Moktada al-Sadr,’” she said.

She shook her head and chuckled. Mr. Sadr is an anti-American cleric whose militia, the Mahdi Army, has been accused of carrying out much of the displacement and killings of Sunnis in Baghdad. They can joke because they no longer fear that the violence will engulf them.

In longer interviews across Baghdad, the pattern was repeated. Iraqis acknowledged how far their country still needed to go before a return to normalcy, but they also expressed amazement at even the most embryonic signs of recovery.

Mrs. Aasan said she was thrilled and relieved just a few days ago, when her college-aged son got stuck at work after dark and his father managed to pick him up and drive home without being killed.

“Before, when we lived in Dora, after 4 p.m., I wouldn’t let anyone out of the house,” she said.

“They drove back to Dora at 8!” she added, glancing at her husband, who beamed, chest out, like a mountaineer who had scaled Mount Everest. “We really felt that it was a big difference.”
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« Reply #402 on: November 30, 2007, 04:55:59 AM »

Caveat Lector: NY Times

BAGHDAD, Nov. 29 — As Iraqi refugees begin to stream back to Baghdad, American military officials say the Iraqi government has yet to develop a plan to absorb the influx and prevent it from setting off a new round of sectarian violence.

Skip to next paragraph
A New, Sectarian Map
Enlarge This Image
Michael Kamber for The New York Times
A mother led her daughter to a car waiting in Baghdad’s Mansour neighborhood Sunday after arriving from Damascus, Syria.
The Iraqi government lacks a mechanism to settle property disputes if former residents return to Baghdad only to find their homes occupied, the officials said. Nor has the Iraqi government come forward with a detailed plan to provide aid, shelter and other essential services to the thousands of Iraqis who might return. American commanders caution that if the return is not carefully managed, there is a risk of undermining the recent security gains.

“All these guys coming back are probably going to find somebody else living in their house,” said Col. William Rapp, a senior aide to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, speaking at a two-day military briefing on measuring military trends for a small group of American reporters in Baghdad.

“We have been asking, pleading with the government of Iraq, to come up with a policy so that it is not put upon our battalion commanders and the I.S.F. battalion commanders to figure it out on the ground,” he added, referring to the American and Iraqi security force commanders.

When sectarian violence soared in 2006, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis fled to Syria and Jordan, or moved to safer areas in Iraq. But now that the American troop reinforcement plan and a new counterinsurgency strategy have helped reverse a rising tide of car bombings and sectarian killings, there are signs that Iraqis are starting to return.

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has hailed the development as an indication that security is beginning to improve. As if to underscore Mr. Maliki’s point, 375 Iraqi refugees arrived Thursday in a convoy of buses from Damascus, Syria, escorted by heavily armed policemen. After the lengthy journey, the tired Iraqis were ushered into the white marble affluence of the Mansour Melia Hotel in Baghdad to receive a promised government payout to people returning to the capital.

Many neighborhoods in Baghdad have become largely Shiite or Sunni, as one group drove the other out in calculated sectarian cleansing. Sunnis have moved into Shiite homes, and Shiites into Sunni ones. This segregation has contributed to the decline in violence. But what would happen if the original residents insisted on moving back into their homes?

Ahmad Chalabi, a Shiite politician and former Iraqi exile who made common cause with the Americans against Saddam Hussein, has been charged with developing a plan to provide services.

American officers discussed estimates of the displaced Iraqis at a seminar here on the military’s metrics of assessing violence in Iraq held at Camp Victory.

Recent American military data indicates that for the fourth week in a row, the nationwide weekly number of attacks is at its lowest level since January 2006. The number of civilians killed, as measured by the American and Iraqi governments, continued to decline in November. The number of weekly casualties, wounded as well as killed, suffered by Iraqi civilians, Iraqi forces and American forces, increased last week by 56 percent but was still below the level for most of 2006 and 2007.

The military also lowered its tally of how many Iraqis had joined neighborhood watch groups. The new figure for Concerned Local Citizens, as the military calls the volunteers, is 60,321. The previous estimate of 77,000 erroneously combined the number of volunteers who are currently serving with those who had expressed a willingness to join.

Col. Martin Stanton, who oversaw the count, said he told General Petraeus about the new figures this week.

Military officials said that they were seeking to make greater use of some Iraqi government data to provide a more comprehensive portrayal of the situation in Iraq. Though there are concerns about the reliability of some Iraqi reports, American military data generally understates Iraqi civilian deaths, since American units only report what they observe, officials said. At General Petraeus’s recommendation, the Pentagon is expected for the first time to include the Iraqi government data on civilian deaths in its report next month on security trends in Iraq.

While there is no question that large numbers of Iraqis have left their homes, American officials said that the exact number is not available. The International Organization for Migration has reported that the number of internally “displaced” Iraqis — those who have fled their homes but still live in Iraq — has grown to more than one million since the February 2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra. Among those displaced Iraqis, more than 350,000 live in Baghdad Province, according to estimates by humanitarian organizations.

Estimates by the Iraqi Red Crescent of the number of displaced Iraqis run much higher, but are marred by the double and triple counting of Iraqis who move from one area to another, American officials say. One difficulty in fixing an accurate count is that many displaced Iraqis do not register their migrant status with Iraqi authorities, American officials said.

Skip to next paragraph
A New, Sectarian Map In addition, more than two million Iraqis are also estimated to have left Iraq altogether for neighboring counties like Syria and Jordan and other nations.

Col. Cheryl L. Smart, who tracks the data on displaced Iraqis for General Petraeus’s command, said that the American military had been “very vocal” with the Iraqi government about the need to establish a system to adjudicate claims about property rights and to avoid using Iraqi troops to carry out “forced evictions.”

Colonel Rapp voiced the hope that confrontations might be avoided by building new homes for returning Iraqis instead of forcing all of the squatters to leave. “It is probably going to be resolved with new housing construction as opposed to wholesale evictions and resettlement,” he said.

“Whether they will remix is probably a multiyear, decade kind of issue,” he added, referring to the possibility of sectarian reintegration.

“The immediate return of I.D.P.’s will create tensions in that system, and we are concerned about it,” he said, referring to the internally displaced people in Iraq.

A senior Sunni official said that the government was not doing nearly enough. “There are many missing links,” said an Iraqi vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni. “We don’t have a comprehensive plan. We have a ministry of migration, but the problem is the bureaucracy.”

Speaking at his home in the Huriya neighborhood in northwest Baghdad, Mr. Chalabi said he was aware of the issue of returnees’ lingering fears. “I don’t think that people who have committed crimes or transgressions against their fellows in those areas would come back,” Mr. Chalabi said. “But the fear of, for example, the Sunnis here, is that the people who did the transgressions on the other side continue to be here and that they may threaten them.”

He said that he had put forward proposals for large-scale new housing developments, but that they should not be on a sectarian basis. “Baghdad is an integrated city and we should try to get it back to an integrated city,” he said.

Col. J. B. Burton, commander of the Second Brigade Combat Team of the First Infantry Division, which controlled northwest Baghdad until this month, said that some neighborhood leaders had made efforts to allow displaced Iraqis to return to their residences, but that their programs were hampered by the lack of a national plan.

“Displacement is a national issue,” Colonel Burton said Thursday in an e-mail exchange. “The government has got to establish policies which are not focused on sects.”

Most of the Iraqis who returned to the Mansour Melia Hotel on Thursday said they were returning voluntarily after hearing reports that the security situation had improved, but some said they had been forced to return because they had no jobs or money in Syria.

Some said their houses were long ago destroyed by Shiite militias or Sunni insurgents, or still occupied by people on the other side of the sectarian divide. Others said that it was still too unsafe to go back to areas like Dora, Jihad and Mansour, and that they would have to stay with relatives.

Abdul Kadim Mohammed, 58, a Shiite from Abu Ghraib, said he would be staying with relatives for now. “I feel more comfortable in Baghdad but still can’t go to Abu Ghraib, which is not completely good,” he said. “The next step that the government needs to work on is how to get back to our homes.”

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« Reply #403 on: December 08, 2007, 12:06:42 PM »

Subject: Fw: CO, 1/7  Battalion Task Force, USMC Reports

Saturday, October 20, 2007 6:40 PM
Subject: Report from USMC - Al Anbar Province, Iraq
From: Dill LtCol Jeffrey J ( 1/7 Bn Co )
Sent: Friday, October 05, 2007 3:45 PM

Classification: UNCLASSIFIED

Family, friends, and Fellow Marines,

               As promised, here is my first 'update' from this tour in Iraq . I will try and get one of these out  about every month. I hope this finds you all doing well. It has been a  very fast moving month and a half as we moved the 1,000+ Marines from 1/7  and literally tons of equipment and material half way around the world  through Kuwait and eventually into Iraq . We have inventoried and signed  for well over a hundred p ieces of rolling stock, thousands of pieces of  electronic equipment and computers, joined a few hundred more  reinforcements to 1/7 (making us now 'Task Force 1/7') and then we put  everyone in their new positions, spreading us out over 500 square kilometers.  Needless to say, the Marines of the First Team have been busy!

               Here is the million dollar question I have been asked repeatedly since I have arrived, 'How is it compared to the last time you  were in Iraq ?'  Well, I was in Hit, the main city within our AO, last  October and daytime operations were limited to tanks and BFVs driving  around the outskirts of the city because to venture inside meant a  certain attack by an IED, RPG, small arms, or all of the above. Recently,  I went on a 3 hour dismounted patrol through town in the middle of the  afternoon, and my biggest worry was h aving enough candy for all the children that came up to me to say hello and shake my hand.

               I  stopped in stores and talked to the merchants to see how business is  doing. They told me business is good and improving everyday. I even went  to a few shops to look for a carpet for my office and enjoyed myself as I  tried to get the price lowered from 'rich'
American prices to normal Iraqi prices.  I wasn't successful but will keep trying!

               I stopped in one of the police stations in the city so I could make plans with the  Station Chief to remove a number of the cement barriers on the street in  order to open traffic back up. Those barriers were a must before as there  was a constant threat of a suicide vehicle ramming into the station in an attempt to kill as many of th e police
officers as  possible.  While that threat still exists, the security provided by the police and my Marines has allowed us to take risks in certain areas as we try and balance security needs and normalcy.

               I spend many hours working with the numerous city counsels and Mayors in my AO to  address and solve many issues, problems, and to plan for the future. A year ago, the city councils would not show up to work because if they did, they were killed as they were seen as 'agents' of the Americans by AQI.  Now, they look forward to my arrival so issues
like schools, rubble  removal, water treatment plants, sewage repairs, repairs of the electrical  grids, infrastructure modernization, and an assortment of other issues can  be worked out, prioritized, and assets allocated for them to begin work.

        ;  ;       I also spend a great deal of time with the major Sheiks in my AO.  They are some of the most gracious hosts you have ever met. My Marines and I are treated liked royalty every time we arrive.  Delicious lamb, goat, sheep, kabobs, fresh fruits and vegetables are  served in amounts we could never finish, and we always eat first and get  the seats of honor closest to the Sheik. We then adjourn for Chi tea and discuss issues that require my attention such as security, economic stimulation, tribal reconciliation, local government issues, and of course stories of past battles and fights...all embellished but they
make great stories anyway.

               Three brothers in the town of Baghdadi , one of whom who happens to be the Police Chief and is known as the 'Lion of Al Anbar', are particularly gracious hosts. They were some of the first to&nbs p; sta nd up against AQI and to stand with the Marines. They have suffered  greatly for choosing to fight AQI and for freedom. The Police Chief,  Colonel
Shab'an , has had no less then 7 direct assassination attempts  against him.  I was here last year and saw him after one attack against him  was nearly successful. One of his brothers was killed, a brother-in-law  was tortured and beheaded, and one of his younger brothers lost his legs in a mortar attack. Yet, he remains committed to a free and independent
Iraq . His talks to me about freedom, democracy, and his loyalty to Iraq and justice are inspiring.

               Colonel Shab'an has become a sort of  folk hero to his community, and his willingness to stand up for their  freedom and safety has inspired thousands of Iraqis. His two brothers, one  a Sheik and the other a local businessman, are also serv ants t o their community.  The Sheik is the City Council Chairman and has almost single handedly
reorganized the local government from a board of obstructionists to a functioning and effective governing body who work almost non-stop to improve the lives of the people within their area.

               The other brother is a very successful businessman who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to fix water treatment plants, to pay of the salaries of the police before the national government could or  would, and his source network has led to the successful capture of many terrorists and criminals.  The nights in their neighborhood are
particularly enjoyable as we sit outside to eat, and the children in the neighborhood run around, laughing, and sneaking up to listen to me talk or  to try and get some more candy from me. They are so proud of the security they have established for th eir fa milies, their tribe, and the people in their community. I am proud just to be considered their friend.

               Overall, the folks I have met are good people who want to raise their families, farm their land, and just have the ability to choose their own future for one of the few times in their country's history. Their admiration and appreciation to us and to the American people for the opportunity we have offered them is genuine and heartfelt.

               While there has been a great deal of progress, there is still much to do. While  most of the terrorists have been forced from the population centers, there are still secret cells. We have found and been attacked by a number of IEDs already. We have found a good number of buried caches along the river  banks that were planted there for future
use again st us. Iraq is far from  a peaceful land; there are many political issues above my level that must  be worked out. The rifts between the religious sects are as tough a  problem to figure out as anything else ever has been...think Catholics and Protestants in
Northern Ireland .

               The bottom line is this...we are winning the counter-insurgency fight here in Al Anbar .  We are winning  as a result of the past 5 years of work by thousands of Marines, Sailors,  and Soldiers who worked tirelessly to get us where we are today. This didn't happen overnight, and we lost many good men and women to achieve it. We have put the enemy on the run, and we are not letting the pressure  off. We continue to hunt him down and provide him no rest. My Marines,  actually your Marines, are patrolling in the cities, in the desert, and on the river to find the enemy and destro y him. And the Marines do not patrol alone. Almost every operation we do has Iraqi Police, Army, or both  with the
Marines.  They are brave, committed to winning, and they try as hard as they can to emulate the Marines they are serving with.  At the same time we continue to build our relationships with the  local leaders, Sheiks, and most importantly the Iraq people. I am  optimistic that, if given the time and support of the American people, we  can help create a country whose vast natural resources and potential will make it one of the strongest and most powerful nations in the region.

               Iraq will be our Ally, and they will not forget the sacrifices the American people have made on their behalf. I realize  and understand that many back home are tired of this conflict and want it  to end. I will not provide any argument there, but I will offer that&n bsp; ' wishing' away this problem is not reality. The Islamic extremists that  wish to destroy us are not going away; they cannot be 'talked' to, and they will not negotiate.

               I have been here three years in a row  now, and I can see the progress. I can see the improvement in the  capabilities and potential in the Iraqi Security Forces, I can see the  willingness and desire of civic and local leaders to build a better future for their people, and I can see that most of the civilian population has  turned its back on AQI because of their empty promises. I can see hope, a  hope that many Iraqis have never known before, and a hope they do not want to lose. Your Marines are doing exceptionally well. They are focused, they are disciplined, and they continue to attack each day with vigor and enthusiasm.  I am continually inspired by their courage, dedication, and w illing ness to sacrifice for others. I am truly blessed for the privilege to lead them.

               I would like to thank all of you for your continued prayers and support.  It means the world to us to know you  are all still behind us and that you want us to successfully complete this  mission. Please remember all the 1/7 families and all the families of  those serving here in Iraq that have been left behind in your prayers as well.

Semper Fidelis and God Bless,

LtCol JJ Dill, Commanding Officer
Task Force 1/7
Hit ,  Iraq

Classification:  UNCLASSIFIED
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« Reply #404 on: December 17, 2007, 07:15:03 AM »

Al Qaeda No. 2 blasts 'traitors'

(CNN) -- Osama bin Laden's top lieutenant warned in a video statement released Sunday that Iraqi tribal leaders who side with U.S. troops against al Qaeda fighters would face reprisals when Americans leave Iraq.
 An image of al-Zawahiri taken from an earlier videotape.

"I warn those individuals from among the armed factions who have been involved in cooperation against the Mujahedeen that history is recording everything, and that they will lose both their religion and life," Ayman al-Zawahiri said.

"The Americans will soon be departing, God permitting, and won't keep defending them forever. And let them look at the fate of America's agents in Vietnam and the fate of the Shah of Iran. Intelligent is he who learns from other's mistakes," he added.

Al Qaeda's No. 2 called such Iraqi leaders "traitors" and "scum."


So what happened to the mighty Iraqi army standing on its own?

Iraq sees need for foreign troops for 10 years
1 hour, 28 minutes ago

Iraq will need foreign troops to help defend it for another 10 years, but will not accept U.S. bases indefinitely, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

"Of course we need international support. We have security problems. For 10 years our army will not be able to defend Iraq," Dabbagh told the state-run al-Iraqiya television in an interview broadcast late on Sunday.
"I do not think that there is a threat of an invasion of Iraq, or getting involved in a war. (But) to protect Iraqi sovereignty there must be an army to defend Iraq for the next 10 years," he said.

"But on the other hand, does Iraq accept the permanent existence of U.S. bases, for instance? Absolutely no. There is no Iraqi who would accept the existence of a foreign army in this country," he said. "America is America and Iraq is Iraq."

The United States now has about 155,000 troops in Iraq, formally operating under a U.N. Security Council mandate enacted after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Iraq has asked the Security Council to extend the mandate for what it says will be a final year to the end of 2008, and conditions for U.S. troops to stay on beyond that date are to be negotiated in the next few months.
Violence has subsided after the United States dispatched 30,000 additional troops to Iraq this year, and Washington now says it will bring about 20,000 home by mid-2008. Troop levels for the second half of the year are to be decided in March.

(Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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« Reply #405 on: January 12, 2008, 09:43:33 AM »

This article indicates that Kurd-Sunni live and let live may be a while off , , ,


Omar was a Sunni Arab from a village outside Mosul; he was a short and weedy man, roughly 30 years old, who radiated a pure animal anger. He was also a relentless jabberer; he did not shut up from the moment we were introduced. I met him in an unventilated interrogation room that smelled of bleach and paint. He was handcuffed, and he cursed steadily, making appalling accusations about the sexual practices of the interrogator’s mother. He cursed the Kurds, in general, as pig-eaters, blasphemers, and American lackeys. As Omar ranted, the interrogator smiled. “I told you the Arabs don’t like the Kurds,” he said. I’ve known the interrogator for a while, and this is his perpetual theme: close proximity to Arabs has sabotaged Kurdish happiness.

Omar, the Kurds claim, was once an inconsequential deputy to the now-deceased terrorist chieftain Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Omar disputed this characterization. By his own telling, he accomplished prodigies of terror against the pro-American Kurdish forces in the northern provinces of Iraq. “You are worse than the Americans,” he told his Kurdish interrogator. “You are the enemy of the Muslim nation. You are enemies of God.” The interrogator—I will not name him here, for reasons that will become apparent in a moment—sat sturdily opposite Omar, absorbing his invective for several minutes, absentmindedly paging through a copy of the Koran.
During a break in the tirade, the interrogator asked Omar, for my benefit, to rehearse his biography. Omar’s life was undistinguished. His father was a one-donkey farmer; Omar was educated in Saddam’s school system, which is to say he was hardly educated; he joined the army, and then Ansar al-Islam, the al-Qaeda–affiliated terrorist group that operates along the Iranian frontier. And then, on the blackest of days, as he described it, he fell prisoner to the Kurds.

The interrogator asked me if I had any questions for Omar. Yes, I said: Have you been tortured in this prison?

“No,” he said.

“What would you do if you were to be released from prison right now?”

“I would get a knife and cut your head off,” he said.

At this, the interrogator smacked Omar across the face with the Koran.

Omar yelped in shock. The interrogator said: “Don’t talk that way to a guest!”

Now, Omar rounded the bend. A bolus of spit flew from his mouth as he screamed. The interrogator taunted Omar further. “This book of yours,” he said, waving the Koran. “‘Cut off their heads! Cut off their heads!’ That’s the answer for everything!” Omar cursed the interrogator’s mother once again; the interrogator trumped him by cursing the Prophet Muhammad’s mother.

The meeting was then adjourned.

In the hallway, I asked the interrogator, “Aren’t you Muslim?”

“Of course,” he said.

“But you’re not a big believer in the Koran?”

“The Koran’s OK,” he said. “I don’t have any criticism of Muhammad’s mother. I just say that to get him mad.”

He went on, “The Koran wasn’t written by God, you know. It was written by Arabs. The Arabs were imperialists, and they forced it on us.” This is a common belief among negligibly religious Kurds, of whom there are many millions.

“That’s your problem, then,” I said. “Arabs.”

“Of course,” he replied. “The Arabs are responsible for all our misfortunes.”

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Posts: 9481

« Reply #406 on: January 25, 2008, 12:38:55 AM »

...through the FBI interrogator who debriefed him for seven months, George Piro. Piro has been interviewed by 60 Minutes; the interview will air on Sunday. This preview is interesting, but not surprising.

As many have believed, Saddam misjudged the Bush administration. He expected another "four-day bombardment," which he was willing to wait out. At some point, though, it became apparent that an invasion was inevitable. Why didn't Saddam come clean and admit that he had run out of WMDs? Piro says that Saddam told him he didn't dare let the world know that his WMDs were gone, because he would then be unable to deter an Iranian attack:

    Saddam still wouldn't admit he had no weapons of mass destruction, even when it was obvious there would be military action against him because of the perception he did. Because, says Piro, "For him, it was critical that he was seen as still the strong, defiant Saddam. He thought that [faking having the weapons] would prevent the Iranians from reinvading Iraq," he tells Pelley.

Of course, there was something else going on too: Saddam had been telling the world for years that Iraq had no WMDs, and no one believed him. In fact, Saddam didn't want to be believed; he wanted the world (particularly Iran) to take his obvious non-cooperation with U.N. inspectors as evidence that he was concealing active biological and chemical programs. So Saddam would have been in the position of saying, "No, no--I really mean it this time!" It's doubtful whether anyone would have believed him.

Piro reinforces another point that was emphasized in the Duelfer report; that is, that Saddam was biding his time, and had the personnel and resources he needed to restart his weapons programs when the time was right:

    He also intended and had the wherewithal to restart the weapons program. "Saddam still had the engineers. The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there," says Piro. "He wanted to pursue all of WMD…to reconstitute his entire WMD program." This included chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, Piro says.

Putting it all together, it appears that liberals should adopt a new slogan: "Saddam lied, people died!"
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Posts: 42521

« Reply #407 on: January 25, 2008, 01:08:06 AM »

Exactly so Doug!

I would add that the French/Chirac were telling him that they would keep us muzzled and leashed in the UN and that this too explains his behavior.
prentice crawford
« Reply #408 on: January 25, 2008, 01:59:17 AM »

 Yeah Iraq, whatever happened to Iraq, do we still have troops there? I haven't heard anything in the news lately but I did hear that Brittany Spears farted. grin
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« Reply #409 on: January 27, 2008, 07:35:01 AM »

Don't Short-Circuit the Surge
January 26, 2008; Page A11

The Iraq debate in 2007 focused on whether the new strategy and troop increase could stem violence in Iraq. It did. The Iraq debate in 2008 will probably focus on how much the United States can reduce force levels in Iraq this year in the wake of its success.

Many in these discussions give troop numbers and brigade counts almost casually, without ever explaining how they derive the figures. That's a problem. Any realistic evaluation suggests that returning to pre-surge levels by July 2008, as some are suggesting, carries considerable risk.

Ethno-sectarian attacks and deaths in Baghdad security districts decreased more than 90% from January to December 2007. Iraqi civilian casualties have dropped 75% from their peak, and the number of IED attacks has fallen to the lowest level since October 2004. One brigade of U.S. troops returned home in December without replacement. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates believes that Gen. David Petraeus will recommend continuing the drawdown to 15 brigades.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff, CENTCOM commander Adm. William Fallon, and Gen. Petraeus are now assessing whether to recommend in March a further reduction in troop levels later in 2008. Mr. Gates stated recently that he hopes conditions will permit the U.S. to reduce its combat forces in Iraq by a brigade a month from August to December 2008, leaving a footprint of 10 brigades at the end of the president's term -- the lowest American force level in the country since the 2003 invasion.

In contrast, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, who commands combat forces for Gen. Petraeus, has stated that he is uncomfortable committing to any further reductions below 15 brigades before commanders can assess the effect of the decrease to that force-size. Gen. Petraeus recently said that March 2008 might be too soon to make that determination. War critics have insisted on reductions to 100,000 troops or fewer.

The brigade combat team, commanded by a colonel and consisting of around 3,500 soldiers (5,000 or so counting the support elements that normally deploy with it) is the building block of the U. S. Army (its equivalent, the Regimental Combat Team, is the building block of the Marine Corps). There are currently 42 BCTs in the active force. Those who speak of an absolute number of troops that they desire in Iraq show their ignorance of the military planning process.

American brigades in Iraq oversee combat, training, and governance missions in their sector, whether a quadrant of Baghdad or an entire outlying province. Each brigade oversees an area with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. Brigades plan and execute military operations that prevent extremists from returning to cleared areas. They also gather intelligence about enemy groups in their areas of operations, and thus determine where new threats are emerging.

Since the end of 2006, brigades have overseen the Military Transition Teams that train and advise the Iraqi security forces operating in their area, dramatically improving the coordination of Iraqi and American forces. Now, most American brigade headquarters are partnered with an Iraqi division headquarters, helping the Iraqis to plan and sustain increasingly complex operations.

Since spring 2007, the brigades have housed the Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams that have jumpstarted local and provincial Iraqi government. The brigade helps these teams move through the area. The brigades have been instrumental in the Iraqi population's rejection of al Qaeda. Brigade commanders and their staffs and subordinates have negotiated ceasefires with leaders of tribes, villages and urban neighborhoods; identified Concerned Local Citizens; and integrated these Iraqi civilians with the Iraqi Security Forces. Brigade commanders in 2008 may distribute their own troops between combat and training missions, rather than relying on a centrally-directed policy untailored to local circumstances.

The brigade has thus become much more than a fighting unit. The development of the Iraqi Security Forces and Iraqi civilian institutions, which has been a hallmark of Gen. Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy and a pillar of its success in 2007, rests upon the American brigade headquarters. Maintaining security essential to drawing down the American force levels requires the presence in Iraq of enough brigade headquarters to conduct the combat, training and governance missions essential to success.

The way to determine the number of brigade headquarters suitable for Iraq is by determining the number of brigade-sized missions in the country. This is a challenging but not insuperable task.

There were too few brigades in 2006 to monitor the enemy and oversee the new government institutions in poor security situations. There were enough brigades by mid- 2007 to perform those tasks, although not equally in all areas. The "surge" was never intended to secure all of Iraq -- only to stabilize Baghdad and Anbar. Its unexpected success has also placed unanticipated strains on U.S. forces. We won more than we had hoped, and now we may need to defend it more than we had planned.

The "surge" posture from June through December 2007 included five BCTs in Baghdad; four in the southern "belt" (from Mahmudiyah on the Euphrates to Nahrawan east of the capital); three in Anbar (including 2 Marine Regiments); four in the northern belt (Taji; Tarmiyah; and Diyala, where a Quick Reaction Force spent much of the summer along with the dedicated brigade); and one each in Salah-ad-Din, Kirkuk, Ninevah, and on convoy protection duty.

Gen. Odierno recently shifted two brigades within Iraq to conduct his third major offensive against al Qaeda, Operation Phantom Phoenix, to disrupt and pursue the enemy in northern Iraq. The December reduction to 19 BCTs has left only one brigade headquarters in Diyala. General Odierno intends to thin the headquarters and the troops on the ground in Anbar and Baghdad in order to achieve the remaining four-brigade reduction back to pre-surge levels by July.

The decision to draw down the surge is predicated not only on current security gains, but on the assumption that security will continue to improve in areas where the reductions are programmed to occur. Gen. Petraeus, testifying before Congress in September, attributed the downturn in violence, then 12 weeks old, to three factors: the summer offensives against al Qaeda and militias, the Iraqi population's rejection of extremists, and the slowly increasing capabilities of the Iraqi security forces.

"Based on all this and the further progress we believe we can achieve over the next few months, I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer, withdrawing one quarter of our combat brigades by that time without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve." Gen. Odierno confirmed in a November press conference that he had recommended that Gen. Petraeus reduce the force to 15 brigades by July, "because I believe that we will be able to continue to move forward with the progress."

Achieving the complement of 15 brigades by summer rests upon Gen. Odierno's judgment that he can withdraw not only the headquarters from Diyala, but also others from Anbar and parts of Baghdad this spring. His assumption is that security will continue to improve at about the rate our commanders think is feasible between now and July, and that the Iraqi Army will grow as predicted.

There is considerable risk in this assumption. Coalition and Iraqi forces have not finished clearing Ninevah province, Salah ad-Din and parts of Babil. Major operations continue against al Qaeda remnants in Ninevah, Salah-ad-Din, Diyala, Kirkuk and Wasit provinces. Fighting between Iraqi Security Forces (aided by coalition special forces and our Georgian, Polish and British allies) and Mahdi Army militias continues in the south.

The withdrawal to 15 brigades already assumes that these operations will be successful. It provides no cushion for unexpected developments or unforeseen enemy responses. There is thus no military basis at all at the present time to recommend additional reductions in 2008.

One year ago, Gen. Petraeus testified before Congress: "I was assured . . . by the secretary of Defense . . . that if we need additional assets, my job is to ask for them. If they're not provided in some case, my job is to tell my boss the risk involved in accomplishing the mission without the assets that are required. And at some point, of course, you may have to go back and say that you cannot accomplish the mission because of the assets that have not been provided."

By the best estimates now available, 15 brigades is the absolute minimum force required to accomplish the mission that has brought us success in 2007. Any further reductions -- even by a single brigade -- may make that mission impossible.

Ms. Kagan is an affiliate of Harvard's John M. Olin Institute of Strategic Studies and the president of the Institute for the Study of War in Washington.
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« Reply #410 on: February 29, 2008, 08:04:58 AM »

I am usually skeptical of celebrities who speak out about foreign affairs but I have to say that Jolie has won me over with this piece.  I wonder if she wrote it or had someone else write it but I guess it doesn't matter since it is her name on it.
It certainly speaks of the insanity it would be for the US to pull out immediately or in any short time frame:
Power User
Posts: 42521

« Reply #411 on: February 29, 2008, 10:02:18 AM »

What a pleasant surprise!

In case the WP takes it down, I print it here:

]Staying to Help in Iraq
We have finally reached a point where humanitarian assistance, from us and others, can have an impact.

By Angelina Jolie
Thursday, February 28, 2008; 1:15 PM

The request is familiar to American ears: "Bring them home."

But in Iraq, where I've just met with American and Iraqi leaders, the phrase carries a different meaning. It does not refer to the departure of U.S. troops, but to the return of the millions of innocent Iraqis who have been driven out of their homes and, in many cases, out of the country.

In the six months since my previous visit to Iraq with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, this humanitarian crisis has not improved. However, during the last week, the United States, UNHCR and the Iraqi government have begun to work together in new and important ways.

We still don't know exactly how many Iraqis have fled their homes, where they've all gone, or how they're managing to survive. Here is what we do know: More than 2 million people are refugees inside their own country -- without homes, jobs and, to a terrible degree, without medicine, food or clean water. Ethnic cleansing and other acts of unspeakable violence have driven them into a vast and very dangerous no-man's land. Many of the survivors huddle in mosques, in abandoned buildings with no electricity, in tents or in one-room huts made of straw and mud. Fifty-eight percent of these internally displaced people are younger than 12 years old.

An additional 2.5 million Iraqis have sought refuge outside Iraq, mainly in Syria and Jordan. But those host countries have reached their limits. Overwhelmed by the refugees they already have, these countries have essentially closed their borders until the international community provides support.

I'm not a security expert, but it doesn't take one to see that Syria and Jordan are carrying an unsustainable burden. They have been excellent hosts, but we can't expect them to care for millions of poor Iraqis indefinitely and without assistance from the U.S. or others. One-sixth of Jordan's population today is Iraqi refugees. The large burden is already causing tension internally.

The Iraqi families I've met on my trips to the region are proud and resilient. They don't want anything from us other than the chance to return to their homes -- or, where those homes have been bombed to the ground or occupied by squatters, to build new ones and get back to their lives. One thing is certain: It will be quite a while before Iraq is ready to absorb more than 4 million refugees and displaced people. But it is not too early to start working on solutions. And last week, there were signs of progress.

In Baghdad, I spoke with Army Gen. David Petraeus about UNHCR's need for security information and protection for its staff as they re-enter Iraq, and I am pleased that he has offered that support. General Petraeus also told me he would support new efforts to address the humanitarian crisis "to the maximum extent possible" -- which leaves me hopeful that more progress can be made.

UNHCR is certainly committed to that. Last week while in Iraq, High Commissioner António Guterres pledged to increase UNHCR's presence there and to work closely with the Iraqi government, both in assessing the conditions required for return and in providing humanitarian relief.

During my trip I also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has announced the creation of a new committee to oversee issues related to internally displaced people, and a pledge of $40 million to support the effort.

My visit left me even more deeply convinced that we not only have a moral obligation to help displaced Iraqi families, but also a serious, long-term, national security interest in ending this crisis.

Today's humanitarian crisis in Iraq -- and the potential consequences for our national security -- are great. Can the United States afford to gamble that 4 million or more poor and displaced people, in the heart of Middle East, won't explode in violent desperation, sending the whole region into further disorder?

What we cannot afford, in my view, is to squander the progress that has been made. In fact, we should step up our financial and material assistance. UNHCR has appealed for $261 million this year to provide for refugees and internally displaced persons. That is not a small amount of money -- but it is less than the U.S. spends each day to fight the war in Iraq. I would like to call on each of the presidential candidates and congressional leaders to announce a comprehensive refugee plan with a specific timeline and budget as part of their Iraq strategy.

As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part of the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.

It seems to me that now is the moment to address the humanitarian side of this situation. Without the right support, we could miss an opportunity to do some of the good we always stated we intended to do.

Angelina Jolie, an actor, is a UNHCR goodwill ambassador.
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« Reply #412 on: March 10, 2008, 01:55:22 PM »

Iraq: The Long-Term al-Sadrite Threat
Stratfor Today » March 10, 2008 | 1848 GMT

Iraqi Shia carry a poster of Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr during a rallySummary
Rumors surfaced over the weekend of March 8-9 that radical Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr is comatose in an Iranian hospital. While the sources for this information are dubious and the rumors have not been verified, the announcement comes as al-Sadr’s movement is under pressure to demonstrate its cohesion. If al-Sadr were to die, the repercussions for his movement — and for the United States — would be tremendous.

Rumors surfaced over the weekend of March 8-9 that radical Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr is in a coma in an Iranian hospital after consuming poisoned food. The sources for this information are dubious and Stratfor has not yet found any evidence to support these claims. Meanwhile, there have been a number of mainstream media reports citing top al-Sadr aides as saying that the maverick Shite leader is still very much in charge of his movement despite a sabbatical in Iran, where he is trying to shore up his religious credentials, and an acknowledgement that many of his erstwhile followers had gone rogue.

Clearly, al-Sadr’s movement is under immense pressure to demonstrate that it is very much a cohesive force despite the massive internal problems in the past couple of years. Al-Sadr has seen many commanders and fighters from within his militia, the Mehdi Army, go rogue and many political figures from within his al-Sadrite bloc also break orbit in the wake of U.S. and Iranian attempts to control the movement. Indeed, since the rise of the al-Sadrite movement after the regime change in Baghdad in 2003, both Washington and Tehran have also encouraged factionalization within the movement, in keeping with their respective objectives.

At the same time, the group needs to compete with rival Shiite groups — especially Iran’s principal proxy, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) led by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim; Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawah party; and al-Fadhila, an al-Sadrite offshoot. Its opponents have always tried to marginalize the al-Sadrite movement, calling it politically and religiously amateurish. Considering how rival Iraqi Shiite groups accuse one another of being Iranian agents, al-Sadr’s spending a disproportionate amount of time in Iran is hurting the credibility of his group, which has actually tried to promote itself as an Iraqi/Arab nationalist movement to differentiate itself from most of its rivals, who spent a great deal of time in Iran after Iraq’s Baathist regime fell.

More recently, the United States showered praise on al-Sadr and his group in exchange for his commitment to ending violence. While this gives the group much-needed recognition, it also hurts the al-Sadrites’ credibility. The move to transform his group from a rejectionist group to a mainstream political movement in order to better compete with the ISCI and its Badr Brigades has further weakened al-Sadr. Therefore, al-Sadr’s movement and the Iraqi Shiite community are the intended audience for the recent statements attributed to al-Sadr and those from his key associates that counter perceptions that al-Sadr has surrendered his movement to a U.S.-Iranian arrangement.

Regardless of the al-Sadrites’ current condition, the far more important matter is that of the future of the movement in case of al-Sadr’s death. About a year ago Stratfor discussed how the al-Sadrite movement is in the process of imploding in spite of al-Sadr’s charismatic leadership. However, should al-Sadr die of either natural or malicious causes, the geopolitical and security implications — for Iraq, the United States and Iran — would be massive.

The al-Sadrite group is a family/clan-based movement, and al-Sadr is the only surviving male member of the clan of any worth. His exit from the scene could aggravate the ongoing internal schism within the group and lead to its disintegration. Rival factions would try to take advantage of the vacuum, which would lead to infighting and then to a major shake-up of the Iraqi Shiite political landscape.

Of course, it would be a very important opportunity for al-Hakim’s ISCI to seize upon in order to realize its objective of establishing a virtual monopoly over the Iraqi Shia. But the fragmentation of the al-Sadrite movement would also create security problems and lead to intra-Shia and even Shia-Sunni violence. The Iranians — like their proxy in Iraq — could exploit a fragmented al-Sadrite movement and use it against the United States, but they would have their hands full in trying to maintain control.

For the United States, the repercussions would be the most severe, considering how long and hard Washington has been trying to stabilize Iraq. An al-Sadrite movement without an al-Sadr at the helm could reverse the gains Washington has made during the past year, which has seen significant drops in violence. Given its size, its capability to engage in violence and the fragile nature of its leadership, the al-Sadrite movement is a ticking bomb.

Power User
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« Reply #413 on: March 12, 2008, 11:20:26 AM »

Hard to decide which thread for this piece-- here it is:

The Pentagon vs. Petraeus
March 12, 2008; Page A20
Yesterday's resignation of Admiral William Fallon as Centcom Commander is being portrayed as a dispute over Iran. Our own sense is that the admiral has made more than enough dissenting statements about Iraq, Iran and other things to warrant his dismissal as much as early retirement. But his departure will be especially good news if it means that President Bush is beginning to pay attention to the internal Pentagon dispute over Iraq.

A fateful debate is now taking place at the Pentagon that will determine the pace of U.S. military withdrawals for what remains of President Bush's term. Senior Pentagon officials -- including, we hear, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, Army Chief of Staff George Casey and Admiral Fallon -- have been urging deeper troop cuts in Iraq beyond the five "surge" combat brigades already scheduled for redeployment this summer.

Adm. William Fallon, during testimony on Capitol Hill in May, 2007.
Last month Mr. Gates agreed to a pause in these withdrawals, so that General David Petraeus could assess whether the impressive security gains achieved by the surge can be maintained with fewer troops. But now the Pentagon seems to be pushing for a pause of no more than four to six weeks before the drawdowns resume.

It's possible the surge has so degraded the insurgency -- both of the al Qaeda and Shiite varieties -- that the U.S. can reduce its troop presence to some undetermined level without inviting precisely the conditions that led to the surge in the first place. The withdrawal of one combat brigade from Iraq in December hasn't affected the stunning declines in insurgent attacks and Iraqi civilian deaths over the past year.

Then again, a spate of recent attacks -- including a suicide bombing Monday that left five GIs dead in Baghdad and a roadside bombing yesterday that killed 16 Iraqis -- is a reminder that the insurgency remains capable of doing great damage. An overly hasty withdrawal of U.S. forces would give it more opportunities to do so. It could also demoralize Iraq forces just when they are gaining confidence and need our help to "hold" the areas gained by the "clear, hold and build" strategy of the surge.

This ought to be apparent to Pentagon generals. Yet their rationale for troop withdrawals seems to have less to do with conditions in Iraq and more with fear that the war is putting a strain on the military as an institution. These are valid concerns. Lengthy and repeated combat deployments have imposed extraordinary burdens on service members and their families. The war in Iraq has also diverted scarce funds to combat operations rather than investment -- much of it long overdue -- in military modernization.

But these concerns are best dealt with by enlarging the size of the Army and Marine Corps and increasing spending on defense to between 5% and 6% of gross domestic product from the current 4.5% -- about where it was at the end of the Cold War. By contrast, we can think of few things that would "break" the military more completely -- in readiness, morale and deterrent power -- than to leave Iraq in defeat, or in conditions that would soon lead to a replay of what happened in Vietnam.

This Pentagon pressure also does little to help General Petraeus. The general is supposed to be fighting a frontal war against Islamist militants, not a rearguard action with Pentagon officials. We understand there is a chain of command in the military, and General Petraeus is precisely the kind of team player who would respect it.

That's why as Commander in Chief, Mr. Bush has a particular obligation to engage in this Pentagon debate so that General Petraeus can make his troop recommendations based on the facts in Iraq, not on pressure from Washington. It was Mr. Bush's excessive deference to the Army's pecking order that put lackluster generals such as Ricardo Sanchez in charge when the insurgency was forming, and that prevented General Petraeus from assuming command in Iraq until it was nearly too late. Having successfully resisted pressure from Congressional Democrats for premature troop withdrawals, it would be strange indeed for Mr. Bush to cave in to identical pressure from his own bureaucracies.

As a political matter, an overly rapid drawdown would also only complicate the choices the next President will have to make about troop levels, whether that's John McCain or one of the Democratic contenders. Mr. Bush owes it to his successor to bequeath not only a stable Iraq, but also policy options that don't tempt disaster. Preserving a troop cushion that allows for future withdrawals without jeopardizing current gains would do just that.

That's a decision that rests with Mr. Bush alone, who in seven years as President has often proved more adept and determined in fighting enemies abroad than imposing discipline on his own, so often wayward, Administration.

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Posts: 15533

« Reply #414 on: March 12, 2008, 09:32:38 PM »

Severed fingers of 5 hostages delivered to U.S. officials in Iraq
By Hannah Allam, McClatchy Newspapers
Wed Mar 12, 5:46 PM ET

BAGHDAD _U.S. authorities in Baghdad have received five severed fingers belonging to four Americans and an Austrian who were taken hostage more than a year ago in Iraq , U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The FBI is investigating the grisly development, and the families of the five kidnapped contractors have been notified, American officials said on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the case publicly.

Authorities confirmed that the fingers belonged to hostages Jonathon Cote , of Gainesville, Fla. ; Joshua Munns , of Redding, Calif. ; Paul Johnson Reuben , of Buffalo, Minn. ; Bert Nussbaumer of Vienna, Austria ; and Ronald J. Withrow , an American who was kidnapped separately from the others.

No information was available on when or how the fingers were delivered to U.S. authorities. Some relatives of the missing men said that they'd heard weeks ago that the DNA of the hostages had been obtained, but they'd been given no details.

The first four men were security contractors with Kuwait -based Crescent Security and were captured in a brazen ambush of their 43-truck supply convoy in the southern Iraqi town of Safwan, near the Kuwaiti border, on Nov. 16, 2006 .

There was no word on a fifth contractor who was seized with them, John Young , of Kansas City . Contrary to Austrian news reports, none of the fingers belonged to him, authorities said.

"The government is in touch with us, but they said nothing has been verified yet," said Sharon DeBrabander , Young's mother. "I certainly don't understand why my son's wasn't found. What does that mean?"

Withrow, a computer specialist who worked for JPI Worldwide, was kidnapped separately at a phony checkpoint near the southern Iraqi city of Basra on Jan. 5, 2007 , according to news reports. Very little information is publicly available about his abduction; the bodies of his Iraqi translator and driver were discovered the next day. His employer is a Las Vegas -based company that provides Internet and technological support to remote or war-torn areas around the globe, according to the company's Web site.

The Austrian weekly magazine News first reported the delivery of the five fingers in Wednesday's edition, citing unnamed authorities working on the case.

Austrian officials said at a news conference in Vienna that U.S. officials had provided information about "fingerprints and DNA traces that were positively matched to Nussbaumer," the Austrian hostage. They didn't confirm that the sample was a severed finger.

Relatives of the American hostages said they received phone calls from U.S. authorities early Wednesday, though initially they were told only that fingerprints or DNA had been obtained. Later, at least one father said he'd been notified that his son's finger had been delivered by the hostage-takers, but there still was confusion among the relatives about the development.

"All we have right now is prayers," said Mark Munns , the father of former Marine Joshua Munns , 25, who has spent his past two birthdays in captivity. "I don't know how to make head or tails of what's going on. Are they still alive? A whole bunch of stuff goes through your head."

State Department representatives check in with the families in a telephone conference call every Monday, though several relatives have complained that they're being kept in the dark about the investigation. The FBI has told them that the information is classified to preserve the integrity of the investigation— little solace for families who've gone 18 months with scant news.

"I know we're in a war on terror, but to not tell the families anything and let us sit out here for 18 months just isn't right," Mark Munns said.

The Crescent contractors appeared in two hostage videos released in December 2006 and January 2007 in which they pleaded for the United States to withdraw troops from Iraq and to free all Iraqi prisoners. In the videos, they appeared in good condition and said that they were being treated well.

No financial demand has been made public, and it's unclear what group is holding the men. All of the hostages were seized in southern Iraq , where powerful Shiite Muslim militias operate with relative freedom.

"I'm hoping this may be a sign that the hostage-takers sent the fingers to prove they have the guys and may want to deal. I'm trying to look at the positive of this," said Mark Koscielski , a Minnesotan who is in close contact with the families of the hostages and maintains a Web site,, dedicated to the abducted men. One of the hostages, Reuben, is a former Minneapolis police officer.


Abducted contractors appear in videotape:

Coalition forces launch search for missing security contractors:
Power User
Posts: 15533

« Reply #415 on: March 12, 2008, 09:42:01 PM »

YUSUFALI: Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): "I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them."
PICKTHAL: When thy Lord inspired the angels, (saying): I am with you. So make those who believe stand firm. I will throw fear into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Then smite the necks and smite of them each finger.
SHAKIR: When your Lord revealed to the angels: I am with you, therefore make firm those who believe. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them.
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« Reply #416 on: March 14, 2008, 08:30:30 AM »

Saddam supported at least two al-Qaeda groups: Pentagon Update: What it means

Earlier this week, the Pentagon announced that an investigation into over 600,000 documents captured at the end of the invasion of Iraq showed no operational links to al-Qaeda — or at least, that’s how the media reported it. After a strange few days in which the Pentagon delayed the report, it finally hit the internet last night — and it’s clear that the analysis done by the media was superficial at best. If no operational “smoking gun” could be found, the report still shows that Saddam Hussein had plenty of ties to all sorts of terrorist groups, including radical Islamist jihadis.

For instance, how about their support for The Army of Muhammad, a known al-Qaeda subsidiary operating in Bahrain? On pages 34-35 of the report, we find communications between their Bahrain agent and IIS headquarters confirming Army of Mohammad’s loyalty to Osama bin Laden. What is the response from Baghdad?

The agent reports (Extract 25) that The Army of Muhammad is working with Osama bin Laden. …

A later memorandum from the same collection to the Director of the IIS reports that the Army of Muhammad is endeavoring to receive assistance [from Iraq] to implement its objectives, and that the local IIS station has been told to deal with them in accordance with priorities previously established. The IIS agent goes on to inform the Director that “this organization is an offshoot of bin Laden, but that their objectives are similar but with different names that can be a way of camouflaging the organization.”

AoM had ambitious plans — including attacks on American interests. On page 35, the Iraqis list their aims as attacking Jewish and American interests anywhere in the world, attacking American embassies, disrupting American oil supplies and tankers, and attacking the American military bases in the Middle East. The Iraqi support for AoM may not be an operational link, but it’s certainly a financial link that goes right to Osama bin Laden. The Iraqis certainly understood that much, and hoped to keep it quiet.

Nor was that Saddam’s only support for an AQ subsidiary. Saddam put money into Egypt’s Islamic Jihad. The IJ opposes the Hosni Mubarak regime for a number of reasons, but primarily because of Egypt’s shaky diplomatic relations with Israel. One leader of IJ that Westerners can easily name was Ayman al-Zawahiri, who became Osama’s chief deputy and primary mouthpiece to the world.

Even when working separately, the report notes that Saddam and Osama worked to develop the same terrorist pool from which they would draw support and operational agents. Put simply, Saddam’s more secular aims and Osama’s drive for an Islamic Caliphate worked in tandem to increase the threat of terrorism. Saddam endeavored to create a “business model” for terrorism, especially when it could assist in his own pan-Arab vision. He funded and trained terrorists of all stripes in Iraq, from secular Arab Marxists to radical jihadists (page 41-42).

The media also skipped over the conclusion of the study, which begins thusly:

One question remains regarding Iraq’s terrorism capability: Is there anything in the captured archives to indicate that Saddam had the will to use his terrorist capabilities directly against United States? Judging from examples of Saddam’s statements (Extract 34) before the 1991 Gulf War with the United tates, the answer is yes.

In the years between the two Gulf Wars, UN sanctions reduced Saddam’s ability to shape regional and world events, steadily draining his military, economic, and military powers. The rise of Islamist fundamentalism in the region gave Saddam the opportunity to make terrorism, one of the few tools remaining in Saddam’s “coercion” toolbox, not only cost effective but a formal instrument of state power. Saddam nurtured this capability with an infrastructure supporting (1) his own particular brand of state terrorism against internal and external threats, (2) the state sponsorship of suicide operations, and (3) organizational relationships and “outreach programs” for terrorist groups. Evidence that was uncovered and analyzed attests to the existence of a terrorist capability and a willingness to use it until the day Saddam was forced to flee Baghdad by Coalition forces.

So we have Saddam supporting at least two AQ subsidiaries, one of which had open aspirations to attack American interests, and evidence from these captured materials that Saddam planned to use his terrorist capabilities to conduct war on the United States. Perhaps in the world of the mainstream media the big news from this would be “no smoking gun” connection to an actual attack, but for the rest of us, it shows that Saddam needed to go — and the sooner, the better. (via the Weekly Standard)

Update and Bump: Several points need to be made more clear. First, it’s pretty apparent that the vast bulk of the reporting on this paper has come from leaks within the Pentagon, and not from a read of the paper itself. Stephen Hayes more generously attributes it to a shortsighted focus on the executive summary, but even that makes clear that Saddam used Islamist radical terrorist groups to his advantage, and that state support of terrorism grew so large as to require an expansion of government bureaucracy to manage it. Anyone who reads the executive summary would be compelled to look for the support within the body of the document.

Furthermore, one has to remember the purpose and structure of al-Qaeda. It is not a top-down hierarchical organization like the PLO. Rather, it serves as a framework for a web of affiliated terrorist organizations, both for funding and for inspiration. AQ’s leadership structure maintains communications and coordination with these groups, which often merge with and split into other organizations. The report itself tries to remind readers of this, and sees Saddam and Osama as using essentially the same network for the same ends, when their interests overlap. That’s why Iraq’s IIS winds up funding the Army of Mohammad and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad — both of which are authentically AQ, and in the case of AoM, Iraq funded it specifically because of its goals of attacking American interests.

Reader Sam Pender points out that Egyptian Islamic Jihad actually has more significance than most in the AQ network. EIJ at one time provided the lion’s share of AQ’s leadership, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, and certainly that was true in the period between 1991 and 2003. Saddam’s support for EIJ shows a more direct connection to AQ leadership than anyone had predicted before the capture of the documents on which this report is based.

Update: The FBI’s Deputy Director for counterterrorism testified before Congress about the connection between AQ and EIJ on December 18, 2001:

Although Al-Qaeda functions independently of other terrorist organizations, it also functions through some of the terrorist organizations that operate under its umbrella or with its support, including: the Al-Jihad, the Al-Gamma Al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group - led by Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and later by Ahmed Refai Taha, a/k/a “Abu Yasser al Masri,”), Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and a number of jihad groups in other countries, including the Sudan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Albania, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon, the Philippines, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, the Kashmiri region of India, and the Chechen region of Russia. Al-Qaeda also maintained cells and personnel in a number of countries to facilitate its activities, including in Kenya, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. By banding together, Al-Qaeda proposed to work together against the perceived common enemies in the West - particularly the United States which Al-Qaeda regards as an “infidel” state which provides essential support for other “infidel” governments.

Saddam Hussein provided funding for EIJ for the same reasons. And when one starts to consider the differences between Afghanistan’s Taliban after 9/11 and Saddam, the gaps narrows considerably. The Taliban gave AQ shelter while probably not realizing the extent to which it made them a target; Saddam funded their main leadership source and at least one of their subsidiaries in order to help them succeed in their mission against the US. That’s at least arguably an act of war, attempting to use terrorists as a proxy to fight it — and it very clearly fell within the post-9/11 Bush doctrine.

Update: Eli Lake at the New York Sun gets the story correct: “Report Details Saddam’s Terrorist Ties”. I guess this means he actually read the report.
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« Reply #417 on: March 16, 2008, 10:12:52 AM »

Report Details Saddam's Terrorist Ties

BY ELI LAKE - Staff Reporter of the Sun
March 14, 2008

WASHINGTON — A Pentagon review of about 600,000 documents captured in the Iraq war attests to Saddam Hussein's willingness to use terrorism to target Americans and work closely with jihadist organizations throughout the Middle East.

The report, released this week by the Institute for Defense Analyses, says it found no "smoking gun" linking Iraq operationally to Al Qaeda. But it does say Saddam collaborated with known Al Qaeda affiliates and a wider constellation of Islamist terror groups.

The report, titled "Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents," finds that:

• The Iraqi Intelligence Service in a 1993 memo to Saddam agreed on a plan to train commandos from Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the group that assassinated Anwar Sadat and was founded by Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

• In the same year, Saddam ordered his intelligence service to "form a group to start hunting Americans present on Arab soil; especially Somalia." At the time, Al Qaeda was working with warlords against American forces there.

• Saddam's intelligence services maintained extensive support networks for a wide range of Palestinian Arab terrorist organizations, including but not limited to Hamas. Among the other Palestinian groups Saddam supported at the time was Force 17, the private army loyal to Yasser Arafat.

• Beginning in 1999, Iraq's intelligence service began providing "financial and moral support" for a small radical Islamist Kurdish sect the report does not name. A Kurdish Islamist group called Ansar al Islam in 2002 would try to assassinate the regional prime minister in the eastern Kurdish region, Barham Salih.

• In 2001, Saddam's intelligence service drafted a manual titled "Lessons in Secret Organization and Jihad Work—How to Organize and Overthrow the Saudi Royal Family." In the same year, his intelligence service submitted names of 10 volunteer "martyrs" for operations inside the Kingdom.

• In 2000, Iraq sent a suicide bomber through Northern Iraq who intended to travel to London to assassinate Ahmad Chalabi, at the time an Iraqi opposition leader who would later go on to be an Iraqi deputy prime minister. The mission was aborted after the bomber could not obtain a visa to enter the United Kingdom.

The report finds that Abdul Rahman Yasin, who is wanted by the FBI for mixing the chemicals for the 1993 World Center Attack, was a prisoner, and not a guest, in Iraq. An audio file of Saddam cited by the report indicates that the Iraqi dictator did not trust him and at one point said that he thought his testimony was too "organized." Saddam said on an audio file cited by the report that he suspected that the first attack could be the work of either Israel or American intelligence, or perhaps a Saudi or Egyptian faction.

The report also undercuts the claim made by many on the left and many at the CIA that Saddam, as a national socialist, was incapable of supporting or collaborating with the Islamist al Qaeda. The report concludes that instead Iraq's relationship with Osama bin Laden's organization was similar to the relationship between the rival Colombian cocaine cartels in the 1990s. Both were rivals in some sense for market share, but also allies when it came to expanding the size of the overall market.

The Pentagon study finds, "Recognizing Iraq as a second, or parallel, 'terror cartel' that was simultaneously threatened by and somewhat aligned with its rival helps to explain the evidence emerging from the detritus of Saddam's regime."

A long time skeptic of the connection between al Qaeda and Iraq and a former CIA senior Iraq analyst, Judith Yaphe yesterday said, "I think the report indicates that Saddam was willing to work with almost any group be it nationalist or Islamic, that was willing to work for his objectives. But in the long term he did not trust many of the Islamist groups, especially those linked to Saudi Arabia or Iran." She added, "He really did want to get anti-American operations going. The fact that they had little success shows in part their incompetence and unwilling surrogates."

A former Bush administration official who was a member of the counter-terrorism evaluation group that analyzed terror networks and links between terrorists and states, David Wurmser, said he felt the report began to vindicate his point of view.

"This is the beginning of the process of exposing Saddam's involvement in Islamic terror. But it is only the beginning. Time and declassification I'm sure will reveal yet more," he said. "Even so, this report is damning to those who doubted Saddam Hussein's involvement with Jihadist terrorist groups. It devastates one of the central myths plaguing our government prior to 9-11, that a Jihadist group would not cooperate with a secular regime and vice versa."

The report concludes that Saddam until the final months of his regime was willing to attack America. Its conclusion asks "Is there anything in the captured archives to indicate that Saddam had the will to use his terrorist capabilities directly against the United States?" It goes on, "Judging from Saddam's statements before the 1991 Gulf War with the United States, the answer is yes." As for after the Gulf War, the report states, "The rise of Islamist fundamentalism in the region gave Saddam the opportunity to make terrorism, one of the few tools remaining in Saddam's 'coercion' tool box." It goes on, "Evidence that was uncovered and analyzed attests to the existence of a terrorist capability and a willingness to use it until the day Saddam was forced to flee Baghdad by Coalition forces." The report does note that it is unclear whether Saddam would have authorized terrorism against American targets in the final months of his regime before Operation Iraqi Freedom five years ago. "The answer to the question of Saddam's will in the final months in power remains elusive," it says.

March 14, 2008 Edition > Section: Foreign > Printer-Friendly Version
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« Reply #418 on: March 17, 2008, 05:54:57 AM »

5 years later, the NY Times gives some of the players a chance to reflect:
Where Was the Plan?

Published: March 16, 2008
FIFTEEN months before the 9/11 attacks, the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorism, on which I served as chairman, reported to the president and the American people that we faced a new and terrible threat: the nexus between states that supported terrorism and killers who wanted to murder Americans by the thousands and were prepared to die doing it.

For decades, American administrations from both parties had designated Saddam Hussein’s Iraq a terrorist state. He supported and lauded Palestinian terrorists. He had developed, and used, weapons of mass destruction against his own citizens. He had contemptuously refused to comply with 17 Security Council resolutions demanding he come clean on those programs.

Our soldiers were magnificent in liberating Iraq. But after arriving in the country, I saw that the American government was not adequately prepared to deal with the growing security threats. Looting raged unchecked in major cities. By late 2003, as the insurgency and terrorism grew, it became clear that the coalition also lacked an effective counterinsurgency strategy.

Our troops on the ground were valiant and selfless, but prewar planning provided for fewer than half the number of troops that independent studies suggested would be needed in Iraq. And we did not have a plan to provide the most basic function of any government — security for the population. Terrorists, insurgents, criminals and the Iraqi people got the impression that the coalition would not, or could not, protect civilians.

I should have pushed sooner for a more effective military strategy, because from 2004 to the end of 2007, Al Qaeda took advantage of this gap, using indiscriminate killings that provoked Shiite militias to respond in kind. The vicious spiral was finally reversed by the change in strategy the president put in place a year ago.

L. Paul Bremer III is a former presidential envoy to Iraq.


Too Heavy a Hand


Published: March 16, 2008
AFTER defeating the Taliban dictatorship in Afghanistan and replacing it with a fledgling democracy, the Bush administration turned its attention to the risk that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was thought to pose to a nation still reeling from the attacks of 9/11.

I shared the administration’s belief that Iraq not only possessed the capacity to produce weapons of mass destruction, it also had a hidden stockpile of them. Responsible for two wars with more than a million dead, involved for decades with terrorist groups, routinely rewarding suicide bombers with cash, unwilling to document the disposition of chemical and biological weapons ( some of which he had actually used), Saddam Hussein forced the question: Should we leave him in place and hope for the best, or destroy his regime in a lightning strike and thereby end the risk that he might collaborate with terrorists to enable an attack even more devastating than 9/11?

The right decision was made, and Baghdad fell in 21 days with few casualties on either side. Twenty-five million Iraqis had been liberated and the menace of Saddam’s monstrous regime eliminated.

Then the trouble began. Rather than turn Iraq over to Iraqis to begin the daunting process of nation building, a group including Secretary of State Colin Powell; the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice; and the director of central intelligence, George Tenet — with President Bush’s approval — reversed a plan to do that.

Instead, we blundered into an ill-conceived occupation that would facilitate a deadly insurgency from which we, and the Iraqis, are only now emerging. With misplaced confidence that we knew better than the Iraqis, we sent an American to govern Iraq. L. Paul Bremer underestimated the task, but did his best to make a foolish policy work. I had badly underestimated the administration’s capacity to mess things up.

I did not believe the American-led coalition could prudently leave Iraq the day Baghdad fell. Coalition troops were essential to support a new Iraqi government. But I was astonished (and dismayed) that we did not turn to well-established and broadly representative opponents of Saddam Hussein’s regime to assume the responsibilities of an interim government while preparing for elections. Our troops could have remained, under the terms of a transparently negotiated agreement, to help the people of Iraq build their own society, something we didn’t know how to do and should never have tried. After five years of terrible losses, they may now be getting that chance.

Richard Perle was an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. He is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.


Das Loot

Published: March 16, 2008
IN April 2003, just after American troops secured Baghdad, Iraqis looted the Iraqi national museum. American soldiers nearby made no effort to stop them, much less provide a guard. We either did not have enough soldiers to protect the museum, or we did not care enough to try.

This failure was simply a “matter of priorities,” according to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld thought it was a “stretch” to attribute the theft and destruction of priceless Mesopotamian artifacts to “any defect in the war plan.”

Our government knew how to destroy but not how to build. We had toppled a regime, and in coming months we would dismantle Saddam Hussein’s bureaucracy and disband his army. But we did so with absolutely no understanding of how to build a liberal democracy, or even a stable, rights-regarding government with broad popular support.

Such a government requires a prosperous economy, a secure society and sufficient cultural unity to allow everyday interaction among different ethnic groups in workplaces, schools, hospitals, the army and the police. Protecting the symbols of a common and proud heritage is Democracy Building 101 — at least for anyone who understood anything about Iraqi history and culture.

Americans are still living with the aftermath of this ignorance, and we will be for decades to come. In 2003 and 2004, experts debated whether it would take one year or three to rebuild Iraq. Now we debate whether it will take 10 to 15 years or whether it can be done at all.

Those broken and stolen statues from the museum are the enduring symbols of what has gone so wrong. They were easy to smash, so hard to repair.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton.


So Much for Good Intentions

Published: March 16, 2008
WHAT matters most now is not how we entered Iraq, but how we leave it. If we leave behind an Iraq more stable and less threatening to its neighbors than the one we toppled, I think the intelligence community’s (and my own) mistakes about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration’s exaggerations of that threat and its baseless insistence on links between Iraq and Al Qaeda will all lose their edge — even though they will not, and should not, be forgotten.

If we leave behind a raging civil war in which the Iraqi people are incomprehensibly worse off than they had been under Saddam Hussein and the Middle East more threatened by the chaos spilling over from Iraq than they ever were by the dictator’s arms, then no one will care how well-intentioned our motives.

For that reason, what I most wish I had understood before the invasion was the reckless arrogance of the Bush administration. I had inklings of it to be sure, and warned of the inadequacy of some of what I saw. But I did not realize that as skillfully, cautiously and patiently as George H. W. Bush’s administration had handled its Iraq war, that was how clumsy, careless and rash George W. Bush’s administration would treat its own.

Kenneth M. Pollack was a former director of Persian Gulf affairs at the National Security Council. He is a fellow at the Brookings Institution.


There is No Freedom Gene

Published: March 16, 2008
THE mantra of the antiwar left — “Bush lied, people died” — so dominates the debate about the run-up to the Iraq war that it has obscured real issues that deserve examination. After all, for those of us who supported the war, rebutting arguments about weapons of mass destruction has become reflexive. We point to all the United Nations Security Council resolutions, the International Atomic Energy Agency statements, the C.I.A. analyses, the Silberman-Robb report, the Senate Intelligence Committee findings — if we were wrong, we were in good and honest company.

But what about the mistaken assumptions that remain unexamined? Looking back, I felt secure in the knowledge that all who yearn for freedom, once free, would use it well. I was wrong. There is no freedom gene, no inner guide that understands the virtues of civil society, of secret ballots, of political parties. And it turns out that living under Saddam Hussein’s tyranny for decades conditioned Iraqis to accept unearned leadership, to embrace sect and tribe over ideas, and to tolerate unbridled corruption.

Some have used Iraq’s political immaturity as further proof the war was wrong, as if somehow those less politically evolved don’t merit freedoms they are ill equipped to make use of. We would be better served to understand how the free world can foster appreciation of the building blocks of civil society in order to help other victims of tyranny when it is their turn.

Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.


Worries over being Slimed

Published: March 16, 2008
OUR Marine platoon stayed up late to listen on a hand-cranked shortwave radio as Colin Powell testified before the United Nations about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. It was February 2003, and we were camped in the northern Kuwaiti desert, awaiting orders to invade Iraq.

The prospect of being “slimed” — and having to battle through a chemical attack — dominated every part of our planning. We wore heavy charcoal suits to protect us from chemicals, taped nerve-agent-detection paper to the windshields of our vehicles, and practiced jabbing antidote needles into our thighs.

We made bets not on whether it would happen, but when. We didn’t know what line we had to cross to provoke Saddam Hussein into using weapons of mass destruction — maybe the border, the Euphrates, the Tigris or the doorway to his presidential palace — and so the overriding objective was speed: get to Baghdad and cut the head off the snake.

Our conviction was strengthened on the second day of the war, when we interrogated an Iraqi officer found carrying a gas mask, rubber gloves and nerve agent antidotes. Did he really believe we would use chemical weapons against Iraq? No, he replied, but he expected that Saddam Hussein would use them against us, and his unit would be caught in the cross-fire.

This deception twisted our priorities dangerously out of whack. Methodically clearing areas of enemy fighters, and then securing them to protect the populace, seemed like a risky luxury in March and April. By August, with the insurgency in bloom, it had become a colossal missed opportunity.

The weapons, we now know, were some combination of relic, bluster and ruse. We focused on the nerve-agent feint, and got roundhoused by the insurgent hook. I wish we could all go back to those nights in the Kuwaiti desert, when a more sober assessment could have changed the way we fought, and maybe lessened the likelihood that we’d still be fighting five years later.

Nathaniel Fick is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the author of “One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer.”


Congress in Recess

Published: March 16, 2008
MY greatest surprise was the failure on the part of Congress to assert itself before the executive branch. That failure assured continued problems for the military in the face of a secretary of defense who proved incompetent at fighting war.

Had Congress defended the welfare of our armed forces by challenging the concentration of power in the hands of the president, the vice president and the secretary of defense, our Army and Marine Corps would not be in the difficult position we find them in today.

The Republican-dominated Congress failed us by refusing to hold the necessary hearings and investigations the Army desperately needed. Without hearings, the Army could not advance its case for increasing the number of troops and rearming the force. The result is an Army and Marine Corps on the ropes, acres and acres of broken equipment, and tour lengths of 15 months because we have too few troops for the tasks at hand.

Paul D. Eaton is a retired Army major general who was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004. He is an adviser to the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.


The Army grew into the job


Published: March 16, 2008
FROM the moment the Bush administration took office, I argued against its apparent preference for high-tech, small-footprint wars, which continued a decade of movement in that direction by senior military leaders and civilian experts. In 2002, I questioned the common triumphalism about American operations in Afghanistan, and particularly the notion of applying the “Afghanistan model” of low-manpower, high-precision operations in Iraq. I supported the 2003 invasion despite misgivings about how it would be executed, and those misgivings proved accurate.

However, the most surprising phenomenon of the war has been the transformation of the United States military into the most discriminate and effective counterinsurgency force the world has ever seen, skillfully blending the most advanced technology with human interactions between soldiers and the Iraqi people. Precision-guided weapons allowed our soldiers and marines to minimize collateral damage while using our advantages in firepower to the full.

Once we pushed most of our combat forces into close interactions with the Iraqi people, the information they obtained ensured that the targets they hit were the right ones. Above all, the compassion and concern our soldiers have consistently shown to civilians and even to defeated and captured enemies have turned the tide of Iraqi opinion.

Within a year, our forces went from imminent defeat to creating the prospect of success, using a great deal of firepower, killing and capturing many enemies, but binding the local population to us at the same time. The intellectual framework came from Gens. David Petraeus and Ray Odierno and their advisers. But the deep understanding, skill and compassion that made it work came from service members and the many civilians who put their lives at risk for the benefit of their country and Iraq.

Frederick Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.


Worse than LBJ's Team


Published: March 16, 2008
IN fairness to the Bush administration, I did not expect that we would discover no meaningful activity in rebuilding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and no Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda. I also never predicted, after the insurgency began, that the extremists in Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia would so alienate Sunnis and tribes in western Iraq that a combination of the “surge, win and hold” military tactics, American-led nation-building efforts that focused on local and provincial needs, and the cease-fire declared by Moktada al-Sadr could create today’s new opportunity for “victory.”

In balance, however, the most serious surprise was that what appeared to be the American A-Team in national security ignored years of planning and months of interagency activity before the war, and the United States had no meaningful plan for stability operations and nation building after the defeat of Saddam Hussein’s armed forces. Relying on sectarian exiles with strong ties to Iran, disbanding the security forces and starting the process of de-Baathification were all obvious disasters, as were the creation of closed-list national elections and the failure to quickly hold local and provincial elections.

It was even more of a surprise to watch the Bush administration fail, from 2003 to 2006, to come to grips with creating effective counterinsurgency programs, focused aid and development efforts, political accommodation and effective Iraqi forces. As a Republican, I would never have believed that President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld would waste so many opportunities and so much of America’s reputation that they would rival Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy for the worst wartime national security team in United States history.

Anthony D. Cordesman is a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
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« Reply #419 on: March 20, 2008, 02:43:50 PM »

America and Iraq
March 20, 2008; Page A18
Five years after U.S. and coalition forces began rolling into Iraq on their way to Baghdad, it's easy to lament the war's mistakes.

The Bush Administration underestimated the war's cost -- in treasure, and most painfully in lives. The CIA and every other Western intelligence agency was wrong about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. The U.S. failed to anticipate the insurgency and was almost fatally late in implementing a counterinsurgency. It allowed the U.N. to design a system of proportional electoral representation that has encouraged its sectarian political divisions. And so on.

These columns have often discussed these and other blunders. But we have always done so while supporting the larger war effort and with a goal of victory that would be worthy of the sacrifice. Five years on, and thanks to the troop "surge" and strategy change of the last year, many of the goals that motivated the original invasion are once again within reach if we see the effort through.

* * *
No one should forget that the invasion toppled a dictator who had already terrorized the region and would sooner or later have threatened American interests. This by itself was no small achievement. Saddam's trial was a teaching moment for that part of the Arab world that used to cheer him; his hanging, however crudely carried out, was a warning to dictators everywhere.

Iraq may not have had WMD, but Saddam admitted to American interrogators that he planned to reconstitute his WMD effort once U.N. sanctions collapsed. The capture of Saddam persuaded Libya's Moammar Gadhafi to abandon his nuclear program and seek a reconciliation with the U.S. This in turn led to the rolling up of Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan's proliferation network, whose arms extended to Iran and North Korea.

Strategically, Iraq has gone from being one of America's two principal enemies (with Iran) in the region to one of its two principal allies (with Israel). Iraq's government, for all of its shortcomings, demonstrates that a Shiite-led government need not be a theocracy. The invasion did prompt thousands of jihadis to emerge from places like Saudi Arabia and Morocco to fight the "crusaders and infidels." Thousands of them are now dead or in prison, however, and the radical corners of the Arab world have learned that America cannot be defeated by a strategy of car bombs and assassination.

The strategic case for toppling Saddam also rested in part on the idea that a free Iraq would provide a strategic counterweight to Iran and Syria, as well as an ideological counterexample for a region where autocracy is the norm. The potency of that combination has been demonstrated by Sunni Arab hostility to the new Iraqi government; by Iran, Syria and al Qaeda efforts to destabilize it; and by those in the West who have sought to denigrate the effort as a way to diminish U.S. power.

Today, those efforts have largely failed. A new generation of European leaders has no interest in humiliating the U.S. and understands the danger of a chaotic Iraq. Al Qaeda has been nearly destroyed as a fighting force in Iraq and has lost support in the Arab Street with its brutality against Iraq's Sunni Arabs. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other Sunni states are belatedly coming to terms with the new Iraq as they conclude that the U.S. won't leave in defeat.

The Iraqi government is also at last beginning to meet its most important political commitments. Yesterday, Iraq's presidency council agreed to a law on provincial elections to go forward after a month's delay. The central government has passed a budget, approved a detainee amnesty, enlisted 425,000 men in its security forces and increased oil production to 2.4 million barrels a day while funneling $100 million a year to its provinces. This is happening while the number of daily insurgent attacks has been cut by about two-thirds, with commensurate declines in civilian and military casualties.

Where do we go from here? Iraq's transition to self-government remains fragile enough that U.S. forces will need to remain there in some numbers for years to come. The two countries will have to strike a long-term U.S.-Iraq military agreement, which would serve the interests of both countries. For Iraq, it would show America's continuing commitment in a rough neighborhood. And for the U.S., it would make the job of containing Iran easier. President Bush can best serve his Presidential successor by leaving enough troops on the ground to give him or her some strategic flexibility.

It is therefore unfortunate, and dangerous, that both Democratic candidates have backed themselves into a corner by endorsing rapid withdrawal from Iraq. In a speech yesterday in North Carolina, Barack Obama called for an almost complete U.S. withdrawal in 16 months. He continues to endorse the illusion that defeat in Iraq will help us prevail in Afghanistan; the opposite is closer to the truth. We will never maintain the support, either at home or abroad, to prevail in Afghanistan if we show we can be driven from the more vital strategic prize of Iraq.

* * *
In our March 18, 2003 editorial on the eve of Iraq's liberation, we supported the war while noting that "toppling Saddam is a long-term undertaking" and "the U.S. has never been good at nation-building." We wish we had been wrong on both counts, but our view has always been that nations shouldn't begin wars they don't intend to win. And newspapers don't endorse wars only to walk away when the fighting gets difficult. The U.S. sacrifice in Iraq has been honorable, our soldiers have fought superbly, and the best way -- the only way -- to honor both is to leave Iraq in victory.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.

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« Reply #420 on: March 21, 2008, 12:48:09 PM »

I appreciate hearing from the generals on the ground.  This was Gen. Odierno speaking about a week ago.  One excerpt from the pre-surge portion:

"it is important that I mention one other factor that informed our planning and deci­sion-making process. On December 19, 2006, we captured some mid-level al-Qaeda leaders just north of Baghdad. Upon them was a map that clearly depicted al-Qaeda's strategy for the total and unyielding dominance of Baghdad, betting that control of Iraq's capital and its millions of cit­izens would give them free rein to export their twisted ideology and terror."
The Surge in Iraq: One Year Later
by Lt. Gen. Raymond T Odierno
Heritage Lecture #1068

I returned from Iraq a little over two weeks ago, and trust me, it's great to be in Washington and in your company today. After nearly 15 months in Iraq--most­ly spent focusing on where we are and where we're going--it's a pleasure to step back and reflect a bit about where we've been. I'd like to speak with you about Iraq in 2007, to include the surge, its implemen­tation, and my assessment of its impact.

Baghdad: Before the Surge

As I prepared to depart Fort Hood, Texas, for Baghdad in late November 2006, the Coalition effort in Iraq was at a crossroads. The United States had just held mid-term elections; a new Secretary of Defense had been appointed; and the long-awaited recom­mendations of the Iraq Study Group were about to be published.

Stories in the press described the situation in Iraq as spiraling out of control. One Los Angeles Times arti­cle discussed the rising level of sectarian violence in Baghdad and how this violence seemed to feed on itself. Placing his account in context, the writer men­tioned that al-Qaeda had detonated a bomb in the Shia neighborhood of Sadr City the previous week, killing over 200 people. This was the latest in a steady run of high-profile attacks since the Golden Mosque bomb­ing of February 2006 in Samarra. And for at least one Shiite living in Baghdad, it was the last straw.

After months of standing apprehensively on the sidelines, the 27-year-old shopkeeper signed up with Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, feeling obligated to do so for his own family's protection. Illustrating how vio­lence was increasingly consuming the capital city, the article also told of a 33-year-old Sunni Arab who decided to join a militia ostensibly for the same rea­son, to protect his community. In reality though, thousands of fighters in Baghdad took an expansive view of their role as "protectors," and their actions consequently fueled the cycle of violence.

Taking the offensive against Iraqi civilians on the other side of the sectarian divide, many launched attacks that elicited retaliation, which, as the situa­tion deteriorated, only provided justification for the next round of brutal reprisals. Sunni and Shia alike tolerated the extremists in their midst because the Iraqi Army and Police, in some cases, could not be trusted and, in most cases, lacked the capacity to protect the population.

The activities of militias and death squads helped to sustain the cycle of violence in the capital city, and their continued growth stemmed--most fundamen­tally--from an absence of security. With the violence came fear. Attitudes hardened as survival became the one imperative; allegiances formed along sectarian lines; and civilian deaths accumulated. Close to 2,000 Iraqis lost their lives as a result of ethno-sec­tarian violence in November 2006 alone, and the count exceeded this grim benchmark the following month. Corpses were found in trash heaps and along Baghdad's side streets by the dozens each day.

Al-Anbar: Before the Surge

In al-Anbar province, things were actually get­ting better, but the positive signs had not yet become evident. Also in late November, The Wash­ington Post ran a story entitled "Anbar Picture Grows Clearer...and Bleaker." The article discussed the findings of an assessment that characterized the province as lost--with al-Qaeda in Iraq exerting control over the daily lives of Anbaris more so than any other political or military organization.

The Post summarized a Marine intelligence report, stating "Between AQI's [al-Qaeda in Iraq's] violence, Iran's influence, and an expected U.S. drawdown, the...situation has deteriorated to a point that U.S. and Iraqi troops are no longer capa­ble of...defeating the insurgency in al-Anbar."

In fact, the province's tribes had already begun to turn against AQI. Nonetheless, the broad sentiment among the Sunni was that their worst fears of being marginalized--even subjugated--in a Shia-domi­nated Iraq were coming to fruition. Many commen­tators at the time used the term "civil war" to describe the conflict. Given the situation in Bagh­dad and Anbar, it was hard to dismiss this as care­less exaggeration.

When I arrived in Iraq, General George Casey, then the Multinational Force commander, chal­lenged me to break the cycle of sectarian vio­lence. Breaking the cycle and reducing the violence required securing the population and stopping accelerants, our term for those carrying out the attacks and thus triggering the subsequent reprisals. We had made efforts in Baghdad along these lines before, but not to the point where they had yielded any significant or lasting gains.

Establishing Basic Security: Late 2006

Coalition forces could concentrate on selected areas and clear them of extremists. But when these areas transitioned to Iraqi control as our units moved on to other parts of the city, the Iraqi Securi­ty Forces (ISF) left behind were incapable of "hold­ing" the ground we had won. The challenges involved with securing the population were simply too great for the ISF at the time.

In some cases, the ISF itself was complicit in attacks against the civilians its units were charged to protect. Another obstacle to solidifying security gains was political in nature. Then, as now, sustainable security demanded a political solution, with the chief feature being a government of Iraq (GOI) commit­ment to national reconciliation. Still today, we see some GOI intransigence, but they are making progress.

In late 2006, the progress we can observe now was unthinkable. In short, we could hardly expect successful transition or meaningful reconciliation without basic security. Establishing security for the population was a prerequisite for further progress. It was essential. And to make a decisive impact, we needed more combat power and a change in approach.

However, it is important that I mention one other factor that informed our planning and deci­sion-making process. On December 19, 2006, we captured some mid-level al-Qaeda leaders just north of Baghdad. Upon them was a map that clearly depicted al-Qaeda's strategy for the total and unyielding dominance of Baghdad, betting that control of Iraq's capital and its millions of cit­izens would give them free rein to export their twisted ideology and terror.

Indeed, al-Qaeda did operate with impunity in several areas surrounding the capital that we call the "Baghdad Belts," using these sanctuaries to intro­duce accelerants of violence. This strategy was sim­ilar to the way in which Saddam Hussein employed his elite Republican Guard forces to control the city. It was clear to us that Coalition forces would need to clear AQI from these belts and deny these enemies safe havens in order to control Baghdad.

Offensive Operations: Early 2007

From January to June 2007, the surge forces deployed gradually to Iraq, but we adjusted our strategy even before the first additional Brigade Combat Team arrived. Implementing the surge involved much more than throwing extra resources at a problem. It meant committing ourselves to pro­tecting the Iraqi populace--with a priority to Bagh­dad--while exploiting what appeared to be nascent progress against AQI in Anbar.

It meant changing our mindset as we secured the people where they worked and slept and where their children played. It meant developing new tac­tics, techniques, and procedures in order to imple­ment this concept. We began to establish Joint Security Stations and Combat Outposts throughout Baghdad. We erected protective barriers and estab­lished checkpoints to create "safe neighborhoods" and "safe markets," improving security for Iraqis as they went about their daily lives.

Changing our approach also meant introducing more balance in our targeting by going after both Sunni and Shia extremists. I should point out that this modification required the government of Iraq's cooperation, and it is significant to note that we got it. Shia militia leaders conducting extra-judicial kill­ings would no longer get a free pass.

Changing our approach meant reinvigorating our partnership with the Iraqi Security Forces and improving their capacity. It meant improving our ability to integrate our military efforts with the expertise of other government agencies--largely through Embedded Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Finally, it meant determining where best to employ the surge forces in and around Baghdad and Anbar and sequencing their employment so that they had the greatest impact.

Many have discussed how we implemented this change in strategy - building up forces and capabil­ity through the spring of 2007; launching Phantom Thunder--a set of simultaneous operations across Baghdad and its surrounding belt areas; and quickly following up that with Phantom Strike in order to keep extremists off balance.

Results: A Change in Attack Trends

Throughout these offensive operations, we main­tained constant focus on job one--protecting the population. By November, we could claim that attacks had dropped to their lowest levels since 2004-2005. There were 30 attacks in al-Anbar province during the last week in October. One year prior, there had been over 300. Today there are under 20 incidents per week in all of Anbar.

The change in attack trends in Baghdad was also dramatic; it reflected a marked reduction of nearly 60 percent. In 2006, civilian deaths throughout Iraq were over 3,000 in the month of December. In less than a year, they had plummeted by 70 percent. In the Baghdad Security Districts specifically, ethno-sectarian attacks and deaths decreased by 90 per­cent over the course of 2007.

Obviously, it's entirely too early to declare victory and go home, but I think it's safe to say that the surge of Coalition forces--and how we employed those forces--have broken the cycle of sectarian violence in Iraq. We are in the process of exploiting that success.

Explaining the reduction in violence and its stra­tegic significance has been the subject of much debate. It's tempting for those of us personally con­nected to the events to exaggerate the effects of the surge. By the same token, it's a gross oversimplifica­tion to say, as some commentators have, that the positive trends we're observing have come about because we paid off the Sunni insurgents or because Muqtada al-Sadr simply decided to announce a ceasefire. These assertions ignore the key variable in the equation--the Coalition's change in strategy and our employment of the surge forces.

Suggesting that the reduction in violence result­ed merely from bribing our enemies to stop fighting us is uninformed and an oversimplification. It over­looks our significant offensive push in the last half of 2007 and our rise in casualties in May and June as we began to take back neighborhoods. It overlooks the salient point that many who reconciled with us did so from a position of weakness, rather than strength. The truth is that the improvement in secu­rity and stability is the result of a number of factors, and what Coalition forces did throughout 2007 ranks among the most significant.

In December 2006, the number of American fighting battalions in the Baghdad Security Districts was 13. By the following summer, there were 25 con­ducting operations from dozens of Joint Security Sta­tions and Combat Outposts in the heart of the city. Throughout Baghdad and the surrounding belts, Coalition forces were not only attacking the enemy, they were establishing and maintaining a presence in places that had long been sanctuaries of al-Qaeda.

At the same time, we were going after Shia extremists--those responsible for the displacement of Sunni families, sectarian-motivated executions, and intimidating the populace in general. We launched precise, targeted raids repeatedly against the worst offenders. Given additional troops, the Coalition employed them to protect the population. This commitment to the people of Iraq made a dif­ference both directly and indirectly.

Successful Partnerships: Police and Citizens

Partnered with the Iraqi Security Forces, our operations fragmented what were once well-estab­lished AQI support zones, disrupted the network's operations, and forced its leaders (those who sur­vived) to shift their bases elsewhere--in many cas­es, out of reach of Baghdad. Likewise, Coalition forces knocked Shia extremists off balance and drove many away from the capital. I believe our operations injected a healthy dose of confusion into the Mahdi Army's ranks, caused many intermedi­ate- and lower-level leaders to overreact, and ulti­mately prompted Muqtada al-Sadr to call for a ceasefire to restore order and to recast the image of his organization as a humanitarian rather than a military one. No doubt, our efforts to disrupt Mahdi Army leadership figured significantly in Sadr's decision.

The surge of Coalition forces also helped bring about a surge in Iraqi Security Force capacity. More U.S. brigade combat teams meant more partnered units for the Iraqi Army and National Police. When it comes to developing the ISF, there is simply no substitute for partnership.

Embracing and enabling the concept of pro­tecting the population also built momentum for bottom-up reconciliation, allowing this process to expand beyond Anbar into other provinces. Enhanced security and persistent Coalition force presence encouraged Iraqis who wanted to stand up and reject AQI to do so without fear of retaliation. Joint Security Stations and Combat Outposts had a clear, noticeable effect on the Iraqi people not only physically, but more importantly, psychologically.

So, what did we do with these citizens that made the choice to reject al-Qaeda and extremism? Acknowledging the potential risks of dealing with former adversaries, our commanders seized upon the opportunity and hired them to assist in local security where Iraqi Army and Iraqi Police were lacking. Initially known as Concerned Local Citi­zens, but now called the Sons of Iraq, a grassroots movement sprung up akin to neighborhood watch­es. Mainly Sunni at the beginning and wary of the Shia-led government, these groups turned to the coalition and offered their services to provide pro­tection for the population.

In so doing, we were able to keep young Sunni men away from extremism, provide jobs and income, and gain valuable intelligence on the insur­gency, improvised explosive devices, and caches. But they were also looking for legitimacy. The impact of the Sons of Iraq went beyond security and paved the way for improvements in basic services, economic progress, and local governance. As word of their success spread, so did the program--and it continues today. Only paying them meager wages and not providing weapons and ammunition, the program has been an unqualified success.

Additionally, there is a second-order effect in that every dollar paid to the Sons of Iraq gets spent at least two additional times as they provide for their families and then local markets buy wholesale goods to stock their stands. In places where we have employed the Sons of Iraq, we average a ten-fold increase in the markets, for example going from 40 to 400 stands. Finally, the Sons of Iraq are now branching out across Iraq and increasingly include Shia groups and, in some cases, mixed sect groups.

Setting the Stage for Hope

Generally speaking, when security conditions improve, a narrow focus on survival opens up and makes room for hope. Hope provides an opportuni­ty to pursue improvements in quality of life. Along these lines, the surge helped set the stage for progress in governance and economic develop­ment. In a very real way and at the local level, this subtle shift in attitude reinforced our security gains--allowing Coalition and Iraqi forces to hold the hard-earned ground we had wrested from the enemy while continuing to pursue extremists as they struggle to regroup elsewhere.

In Baghdad, al-Anbar, and in many other areas of Iraq, the story in early 2008 is about improving people's lives and building government capacity, and about their expectations regarding the future. For the government of Iraq, the surge has provided a window of opportunity. This window will not remain open forever.

To capitalize on the reduction of violence in 2007, Iraqi leaders must make deliberate choices to secure lasting strategic gains through reconciliation and political progress. This set of choices and their collective effect will be decisive, I think. This view puts things in context.

The future of Iraq belongs to the Iraqis. The improved security conditions resulting in part from the surge of 2007 have given the Iraqis an opportu­nity to choose a better way. In the last week, several major pieces of legislation have been passed by the Iraqi parliament: accountability and justice, provin­cial powers, and amnesty law.


Let me close by emphasizing that there was much sacrifice to achieve these gains. Let us all nev­er forget those whose lives have been changed for­ever because of injuries and those who gave their lives fighting for the ideals of liberty as well as their loved ones. Their sacrifices were and are not in vain, and because of them the Iraqis have the right to choose their own destiny.

The gates of freedom remain open today because of our fallen comrades: noble and gallant warriors who gave everything so others can enjoy life, liberty, and happiness. We will honor their memory and remain dedicated to ensuring their sacrifices are never forgotten.

I am honored to serve in the greatest Armed Forces in the world, and I'm proud of what it stands for. We have not finished our mission, but we have proven our mettle. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk to you this morning, and God Bless America.

Lieutenant General Raymond T. Odierno is the Commanding General of U.S. III Corps.
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« Reply #421 on: March 24, 2008, 11:02:41 AM »

Saddam's Terror Links
March 24, 2008; Page A14
Five years on, few Iraq myths are as persistent as the notion that the Bush Administration invented a connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Yet a new Pentagon report suggests that Iraq's links to world-wide terror networks, including al Qaeda, were far more extensive than previously understood.

Naturally, it's getting little or no attention. Press accounts have been misleading or outright distortions, while the Bush Administration seems indifferent. Even John McCain has let the study's revelations float by. But that doesn't make the facts any less notable or true.

The redacted version of "Saddam and Terrorism" is the most definitive public assessment to date from the Harmony program, the trove of "exploitable" documents, audio and video records, and computer files captured in Iraq. On the basis of about 600,000 items, the report lays out Saddam's willingness to use terrorism against American and other international targets, as well as his larger state sponsorship of terror, which included harboring, training and equipping jihadis throughout the Middle East.

"The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the region gave Saddam the opportunity to make terrorism, one of the few tools remaining in Saddam's 'coercion' toolbox, not only cost effective but a formal instrument of state power," the authors conclude. Throughout the 1990s, the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) cooperated with Hamas; the Palestine Liberation Front, which maintained a Baghdad office; Force 17, Yasser Arafat's private army; and others. The IIS gave commando training for members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the organization that assassinated Anwar Sadat and whose "emir" was Ayman al-Zawahiri, who became Osama bin Laden's second-in-command when the group merged with al Qaeda in 1998.

At the very least the report should dispel the notion that outwardly "secular" Saddam would never consort with religious types like al Qaeda. A pan-Arab nationalist, Saddam viewed radical Islamists as potential allies, and they likewise. According to a 1993 memo, Saddam decided to "form a group to start hunting Americans present on Arab soil; especially Somalia," where al Qaeda was then working with warlords against U.S. humanitarian forces. Saddam also trained Sudanese fighters in Iraq.

The Pentagon report cites this as "a tactical example" of their cooperation. When Saddam "was ordering action in Somalia aimed at the American presence, Osama bin Laden was doing the same thing." Saddam took an interest in "far-flung terrorist groups . . . to locate any organization whose services he might use in the future." The Harmony documents "reveal that the regime was willing to co-opt or support organizations it knew to be part of al Qaeda -- as long as that organization's near-term goals supported Saddam's long-term version."

For 20 years, such "support" included using Fedayeen Saddam training camps to school terrorists, especially Palestinians but also non-Iraqis "directly associated" with al Qaeda, continuing up to the fall of Baghdad. Saddam also provided financial support and weapons, amounting to "a state-directed program of significant scale." In July 2001, the regime began patronizing a terror cartel in Bahrain calling itself the Army of Muhammad, which, according to an Iraqi memo, "is under the wings of bin Laden."

It's true that the Pentagon report found no "smoking gun," i.e., a direct connection on a joint Iraq-al Qaeda operation. Supposedly this vindicates the view that Iraq's liberation was launched on false premises. But the Administration was always cautious, with Colin Powell alleging merely a "sinister nexus" in his 2003 U.N. speech. If anything, sinister is an understatement. The main Iraq intelligence failure was over WMD, but the report indicates that the CIA also underestimated Saddam's ties to global terror cartels.

The Administration has always maintained that Iraq is just one front in the war on terror; and the report offers "evidence of logistical preparation for terrorist operations in other nations, including those in the West." In 2002, an IIS memo explained to Saddam that Iraqi embassies were stockpiling weapons, while many of the terrorists trained in Fedayeen camps were dispatched to London with counterfeit documents, where they circulated throughout Europe.

Around the same time, the IIS began to manufacture better improvised explosive devices "designed to be used in civilian areas," and the regime bureaucratized suicide operations, with local Baath Party leaders competing to provide recruits for Saddam as part of a "Martyrdom Project."

All of these are inconvenient facts for those who want to assert that somehow Saddam could have been easily contained and presented no threat to the U.S. The Harmony files buttress the case that the decision to oust Saddam was the right one -- which makes it all the more puzzling that the Bush Administration is mum. It isn't the first time the White House has ceded the Iraq debate to its opponents.
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« Reply #422 on: March 24, 2008, 11:45:12 AM »

Ah, the standard Bush administration lack of communication.

If there has ever been an administration more inept at making it's own case to the public, i'm not aware of it.
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« Reply #423 on: March 25, 2008, 06:41:35 PM »

New York Post
March 20, 2008

Shock And Awful

Iraq: Justifiable War, Plagued By DC Incompetence
By Ralph Peters

 ON the fifth anniversary of our campaign to remove Saddam Hussein's
monstrous regime from power, it's hard not to despair - not because of the
situation in Iraq, which has improved remarkably, but because so few
American politicians in either party appear to have drawn the right
lessons from our experience.

 For the record, I still believe that deposing Saddam was justified and
useful. He was a Hitler, and he was our enemy. But I'm still reeling from
the snotty incompetence with which the Bush administration acted. Above
all, I'm ashamed that I trusted President Bush and his circle to have a plan
for the day after Baghdad fell.

 All of our other failures in Iraq stemmed from this fundamental neglect
of a basic requirement: Our soldiers and Marines reached Baghdad without orders
or strategic guidance. We became the dog that caught the fire truck. The
tragedy is that it didn't have to be that way: One thing our military
knows how to do is plan.

 But the relevant staffs were prevented from doing so. Ideologues and
avaricious friends of the administration wanted the war for their own
reasons, and they didn't intend to alarm Congress with high cost
estimates. So they trusted the perfumed tales of a convicted criminal, Ahmad Chalabi,
rather than the professional views of the last honorable generals
then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had not yet removed.

 Even on the purely military side, the White House put its faith in
hopeless gimmicks, such as "Shock and Awe," convincing itself that ground troops
were an afterthought. Of course, it was the old-fashioned grunts, tankers,
gunners and supply sergeants who had to get us to Baghdad.

 Iraq just didn't have to be this hard. We made it immeasurably more
difficult by trying to make war on the cheap, then turning the war's
aftermath into a looting orgy for well-connected contractors.

 The fundamental requirement to provide security for the population - a
troop-intensive endeavor - went ignored, while grandiose reconstruction
projects drained the pockets of American taxpayers, only to come to
nothing.  Our troops and their battlefield leaders did all they could under
Rumsfeld's yes-man generals, but every other branch of our government ducked. The
"interagency effort" was a joke.

 Back home, Congress indulged in cheap partisanship. The State Department
concentrated on building the world's largest and most-expensive embassy -
a project worthy of Saddam himself - and let the spectacularly incompetent
Ambassador L. Paul Bremer wreck what little hope of maintaining peace

 The administration's solution to worsening conditions was to send more
compliant generals, to continue listening to think-tank "experts" who had
never served in uniform, to keep cutting fat checks for contractors and to
let our troops bleed between photo ops.

 None of us should mistake the fundamental truth: The only reason our
efforts in Iraq have not failed completely has been the sustained valor and
commitment of those in uniform. Our military was the only government
entity that did its job. Its thanks have been betrayal by the political
opposition at home, a rash of movies portraying our troops as psychotics and
crocodile tears from protesters who secretly delight in US casualties.

 In 2007, after four bloody years of denial, a desperate administration
finally got serious about military requirements, sending the additional
troops (now weary) who should have been deployed in 2003. With the
wetched Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld headed out the door, the president
also permitted a serious soldier, Gen. David Petraeus, to take charge in Iraq.

 We got lucky, too. Our global enemies in al Qaeda alienated Iraq's Sunni
Arabs in record time, indulging in grotesque forms of oppression and
terror even Saddam and his sons had never dared to inflict. Those who recently
had sided with al Qaeda against us found that we were their only hope to be
rid of al Qaeda. The Sunni-Arab flip in Iraq has been a great strategic
victory that resounds throughout the Muslim world.

 The troop surge also had a powerful psychological effect, convincing
enemies, fence-sitters and local allies alike that we weren't quitting -
despite the results of the US midterm elections. And the Iraqi people were
just sick of the violence. By 2007, most had gotten the worst bile out of
their systems and wanted normal lives.

 Even the often chaotic, corruption-addled Iraqi legislature managed to
pass more major bills in 2007 than the US Congress sent to the president's

 The situation in Iraq is improving, as I've seen with my own eyes. Despite
our cavalcade of errors, there's hope (no audacity required) for a
reasonable outcome: an Iraq that treats its citizens decently and that
neither harbors terrorists nor menaces its neighbors.

 We'll need to sustain a longer commitment than would have been the case
had the administration's know-it-alls not regarded our best generals as fools
back in 2003. The administration's disgraceful treatment of then-Army
Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki was paradigmatic of its arrogance.

 Meanwhile, those who held power over our military and misused it so
disgracefully will never suffer as our military casualties and their
families will for the rest of their lives. At most, those privileged men
will experience disappointing sales of their self-serving memoirs. Cowards
sent heroes to die.

 I cannot help repeating the heartbreaking truth that it didn't have to be
this hard, this bloody, or this expensive. This is what happens when war
is made by amateurs. Has anyone in Washington learned that lesson?

 It's a lesson that the left, as well as the right, needs to take to heart.
While the Bush administration deserves every lash it gets, domestic
opponents of the war have been hypocritical, dishonest and destructive. As
this column long has maintained, had President Bill Clinton sent our
troops to depose Saddam Hussein, Democrats would have celebrated him as the
greatest liberator since Abraham Lincoln.

 The problem for the left wasn't really what was done, but who did it. And
hatred of Bush actually empowered him - the administration had no
incentive to reach out to those who wouldn't reach back, so it just did as it
pleased.  Today's "antiwar" left also contains plenty of politicians who backed
interventions in the Balkans and Somalia, who would be glad to send
American troops to Darfur today and who voted for war in Iraq.

 Both parties are quick to employ our military. It's the only
foreign-policy tool we have that works. Neither party is a peace party - each just wants
to pick its own wars. The hypocrisy in Washington is as astonishing as the
dishonesty about security needs.

 Through it all, amazingly, our young men and women in uniform continue to
serve honorably and skillfully, holding together not just Iraq but a
fractured world. We whine and bicker. They re-enlist and go back to Iraq
and Afghanistan. Where they're targets of scorn for our elitist media.

 Given all our mistakes and partisan agendas, it's amazing Iraq is going as
well as it is today. The improved conditions in Baghdad and most of the
provinces verge on the miraculous, given the situation a year ago. But
we've paid a needlessly high price.

 As for President Bush, let's face it: He's been our most-inept wartime
leader since James Madison fled the White House, leaving his wife behind
to save what she could before the British troops arrived with torches.

 That said, Bush has displayed one single worthy characteristic (one he
shares, oddly enough, with Madison): He won't surrender.

 As horribly as Bush performed for our first four years in Iraq, it's still
possible to do worse. Both of the Democratic Party's presidential
aspirants believe that the answer is to flee, handing the terrorists we've defeated
a strategic victory, inviting a genocidal civil war, further destabilizing
the Middle East, and sending the message to the world that Americans lack the
courage and staying power of our enemies.

 Declaring failure isn't the correct response to failure narrowly avoided.
Both Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would kill a struggling
convalescent. Bush's shambles would become the next administration's
catastrophe. As president, Obama or Clinton would finish with far more
blood on his or her hands than President Bush has on his.

 Was deposing Saddam Hussein a good idea? Yes. I still believe that. It was
an act of vision and virtue. It's only a shame we didn't do it competently.
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« Reply #424 on: March 28, 2008, 02:49:14 PM »

Anatomy of the Surge
March 26, 2008

Over the past 16 months, the United States has altered its trajectory in Iraq. We are no longer headed toward a catastrophic defeat and may be on the path to a remarkable victory. As a result, the next president, Democrat or Republican, may well find it easier to adopt the broad contours of this administration's current strategy than to jeopardize progress by changing course abruptly.

That would be an ironic, but satisfying, outcome to the tortuous journey on which the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq, and this nation's views of Iraq, have been traveling over the past three years.

The administration's description of the long-term American goal--a democratic Iraq that can defend itself, govern itself and sustain itself, and will be an ally in the war on terror--has remained consistent from the time the war was launched in 2003 until now. What has shifted, due to sobering experience, is its sense of how long it might take to achieve this goal: a time frame that has stretched from months, to years, and even to decades.

I witnessed the shift firsthand. For two years, from June 2005 to July 2007, I left my teaching position at Duke to join the National Security Council staff as a special adviser for strategic planning, and in that capacity I worked closely on Iraq policy. By the middle of 2005, it was painfully obvious to everyone involved that the only decisive outcome that could be achieved during President Bush's tenure was the triumph of our enemies, America's withdrawal, and Iraq's descent into a hellish chaos as yet undreamed of.

The challenge, therefore, was to develop and implement a workable strategy that could be handed over to Mr. Bush's successor. Although important progress could be made on that strategy during Mr. Bush's watch, ultimately it would be carried through by the next president. This was the reality behind the course followed by the administration in 2005-06, and it remains the reality behind the new and different course the administration has been following since 2007.

This new and different strategy, now called the "surge" but at one point called by insiders the "bridge," emerged out of a growing recognition over 2006 that our critics were right about one thing: Our Iraq policy was not working. At the same time, however, and whether knowingly or ignorantly, many of those same critics were insisting that the answer lay in pursuing precisely the same strategy we already had in place. That is, they were telling us that we needed (a) to push Iraqi government officials to come together politically and (b) to train Iraqi troops so that they could take over from American forces. We had been doing exactly these things for a year, and we had been driven to the brink.

This was no solution at all. The results on the ground in Iraq made it clear that without a dramatic change, the president would be leaving his successor with an untenable mess, if not the prospect of a catastrophic American rout. A review of administration policy was therefore launched that led to the dramatic course revision we have seen unfolding over the past year-and-a-half.

Next month, the military leader of the surge, Gen. David Petraeus, and America's chief diplomat in Iraq, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, will present their second report to Congress on the surge and its effects. Prudent and circumspect men, they will surely not advance bold claims on behalf of the policy the United States has been following under their leadership. But I expect they will speak more optimistically about the future than many thought possible eighteen months ago. Their testimony will demonstrate that, at last, the United States has a sustainable strategy for Iraq with a reasonable chance of success, and one that George W. Bush will be able to turn over with confidence to the next incumbent of the White House.

How we got here is a story in itself.

* * *

In the summer of 2005, Gen. George Casey, the theater commander in Iraq, was pressing a military campaign whose primary goal was the training and maturing of Iraqi security forces. At the same time, Iraqis had designed a national constitution that would be the subject of a countrywide referendum in October, to be followed (assuming the constitution's ratification) by national elections in December.

Here at home, administration policy was inundated by criticisms on every front. Much of it was reckless, but not all of it. From "skeptical supporters" of the war like Sen. John McCain and the military analyst Fred Kagan came the charge that the number of American "boots on the ground" was far from sufficient to accomplish the mission. Although our military commanders in Iraq kept assuring the White House that this was not the case, the criticism flitted like Banquo's ghost in the background of every internal discussion about the war.

Some Democrats in the "loyal opposition"--i.e., those who were not simply advocating an irresponsible strategy of defeat and withdrawal--made the same point, but more often they took a different tack. Charging that the administration had no strategy beyond "staying the course," they proposed instead that the United States pressure the Iraqis to bring the sullen and disaffected Sunni minority into the political sphere. This would siphon support from the insurgency. In addition, the Pentagon needed to accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces to handle more of the load against the enemies of the new Iraq. And the State Department had to lean on Iraq's neighbors to do more to help.

This counsel seemed maddeningly sensible to us. It was, to the letter, the administration's strategy at that very moment. Still, exasperating though it may have been to be told that we should do what we were actually doing, this line of criticism also seemed to contain potentially good news. Perhaps, we thought, we could find common ground with these Democratic critics--their number included Sens. Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden and Carl Levin--and forge a consensus on how to move forward.

That was the background to a decision in the fall of 2005 to release an unclassified version of Gen. Casey's campaign plan, along with a document explaining how all elements of American power were being mobilized to assist in its realization. The full document was called the National Strategy for Supporting Iraq, the name of which changed somewhere along the way to the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, or NSVI. There was nothing new here. The release of the NSVI, bolstered by a series of frank presidential addresses, was simply an attempt to make public a number of details about our approach and offer a reasonable response to our reasonable critics.

The effort was doomed. It was overtaken by political events or, rather, by one specific event: a press conference, on Nov. 17, 2005, by John Murtha, a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania.

Mr. Murtha was a veteran of the Vietnam War and a hawk on defense spending--someone generally thought to be at home with the old "Scoop" Jackson wing of the Democratic party. When it came to Iraq, he turned out to be something else. "Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty," Mr. Murtha summarily declared at his press conference, and now it was time to bring the troops home--as soon as possible, but no later than in six months.

Mr. Murtha was not calling for a gradual transition to Iraqi control. To the contrary, he was advocating the wholesale abandonment of Iraq. As he well knew, moreover, six months would be the fastest possible withdrawal under the most optimistic timetable, with our forces working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to pull out all of the equipment and matériel we had brought in over the previous three years. This was not a brief for haste but rather a recipe for panic.

Unlike those critics who lambasted our policy and then commended it to our attention, Mr. Murtha was presenting an unambiguous alternative. The left wing of the Democratic :arty and its supporters in had finally found a spokesman with credentials on national security to make the most extreme case for the war's end.

The media lauded the Murtha plan, but they did not examine it closely. I spent hours with reporters in a futile effort to persuade them to show Mr. Murtha the respect of subjecting his scheme--including his bizarre notion of redeploying troops 5,000 miles away on the island of Okinawa in the Sea of Japan--to the same level of scrutiny they lavished upon administration policy. One key reporter told me, "We don't scrutinize Murtha's plan because none of us takes it seriously."

Inside the White House, we joked bitterly that the only way we could get people to see the flaws in Murtha's proposal would be to offer it as our own.

* * *

In the end, however, even if we had managed to secure some kind of bipartisan support for our strategy, it would have made little difference. Over the course of 2006, the National Strategy for Victory in Iraq collapsed.

We had assumed that steady political movement would drain Sunni support for the insurgency by giving Sunnis a stake in the new Iraq--and that such political progress could be completed before the safety of the Iraqi population had been secured. Alas, the stunningly successful constitutional referendum of October 2005 and the national election two months later were followed by a dreadful stalemate. It took Sunnis nearly six weeks to acknowledge that the vote had been free and fair, and then squabbling within the Shiite community paralyzed its politicians in turn. Month after month, the nascent Iraqi political class found itself unable to form and seat a government. Almost a half-year of political momentum was forgone.

No less worrisome was the discovery that the Iraqi security forces were not yet in any condition to shoulder an increasing portion of the burden--to "stand up" so that coalition forces could "stand down." At the same time, the security challenge became far grimmer. In February, al Qaeda terrorists blew up the Golden Dome mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest Shiite shrines in Iraq. Shiite militia groups responded just as the terrorists had hoped, launching retaliatory strikes against Sunni citizens. A bloody pattern--sectarian atrocity, sectarian reprisal, sectarian counter-reprisal--took hold. Each week, attack levels reached new heights. Since even the vastly more capable U.S. forces seemed unable to tamp down the violence, there was no chance that fledgling Iraqi security forces might do so any time soon.

With the situation deteriorating throughout the spring, the administration might have begun the full-fledged reconsideration of the National Strategy for Victory that it would conduct later in the year. But suddenly the existing strategy appeared to receive a boost. After months of wrangling, the Iraqis finally installed a unity government under the leadership of the little-known Nouri al-Maliki. And U.S. special forces killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the charismatic leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind behind its strategy of fomenting civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. Hope rekindled that the chaos could be brought under control.

But the boost proved illusory. Gen. Casey launched a new effort to regain control of the capital, but within weeks it foundered when several of the Iraqi units on which it depended simply failed to show up for the fight. A revised version of the Casey plan likewise came a cropper when the new Maliki government interfered with efforts to go after rogue Shiite militias that were now rivaling al Qaeda in Iraq in wreaking havoc.

Over the summer, doubts began to grow among White House officials working on Iraq; by September the NSC staff initiated a quiet but thorough review of strategy with an eye to developing a new way forward. The review, which soon expanded beyond the confines of the National Security Council, became a matter of public knowledge after Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's departure in November, the day after the landslide Democratic victory in the midterm elections. The election underscored the fact that, at a minimum, the administration would have to reposition the Iraq mission in the minds of the American people. Our review confirmed that it would take more than a change of face to rescue the possibility of victory--it would take an entirely new strategy.

The idea was for our proposed change in course to be completed in time to take advantage of the release of another document. This was the much-awaited report of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan commission co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. Inside the White House, we hoped that the report's recommendations would be palatable enough to blend with whatever new approach the president decided to adopt. The long-sought holy grail--a bipartisan consensus on the way forward in Iraq--seemed again within reach.

* * *

It was not to be. While sharply criticizing the lack of progress thus far, the Baker-Hamilton commission essentially recommended back to us an accelerated version of the strategy envisioned by the NSVI: stand them up so we can stand down. While there was still some support inside the administration for continuing on that path, the interagency team on which I served was of a different mind. The situation in Iraq had eroded beyond the point envisioned by the Baker-Hamilton report; under the horrific conditions now at play, we concluded, Iraq's security forces were far more likely to crack under the strain than to "stand up." And those forces were the essential glue of a stable, unified future. If they went the way of Humpty Dumpty, neither they nor the new Iraq could ever be put back together again.

The Baker-Hamilton report did offer theoretical support for a short-term surge of military forces--something the president and the interagency team were also looking at very closely--but this was mentioned only in a brief passage and was far from the document's central thrust. The White House never succeeded in shifting the conventional wisdom in Washington that Baker-Hamilton provided an alternative to current policy. Nor, unfortunately, were we ready with our own genuine alternative when the Baker-Hamilton report was released on Dec. 6, 2006. That put paid to the idea that we could use the occasion as a means of securing bipartisan support for a new approach. By the time the president announced the surge in January, the climate had turned frostier still.
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« Reply #425 on: March 28, 2008, 02:50:21 PM »

By then, the leadership of the newly triumphant Democrats on Capitol Hill had already determined that the war was irretrievably lost and that the only responsible course was to get out as quickly as possible. Signaling the emphasis the Democrats meant to place on ending our involvement in Iraq quickly, Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker of the House, sought to make Jack Murtha her principal deputy.

As for the president's new strategy, the Democrats labeled it "an escalation"--no doubt because polls and focus groups showed that this would make it seem least palatable to the American public. The administration countered with the proposition that we were sending "reinforcements." The media settled on "surge." Each of these labels had the unfortunate side-effect of obscuring the many other changes contained in the new strategy and focusing attention exclusively on the increase in military troops--certainly the gutsiest element in terms of our domestic politics but by no means the only important one.

Week after week, the Democrats attempted to use their control of Congress to suffocate the surge in its cradle. Various proposals were advanced to hobble Gen. Petraeus and render implementation impossible. In April, just as the 30,000 new surge troops were entering the country, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declared peremptorily: "This war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything."

Mr. Reid was wrong. While the political standoff in Washington worsened, the situation in Iraq began to improve. Not right away or all at once, of course. In fact, to judge by the measures of greatest salience to the American media, the situation only eroded in the first half of 2007. Attacks rose in number, as did American fatalities. But Gen. Petraeus was steadily refining and adapting the new strategy, and his efforts became especially productive after the full complement of new forces was on the ground and the "surge in operations" could begin in earnest by the beginning of June.

By September 2007, when Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker gave their first report to Congress, the trend line toward success was discernible. Still, the matter remained debatable--to the point where Sen. Clinton felt confident enough to inform Gen. Petraeus and Mr. Crocker on national television that "the reports you provided to us require the willing suspension of disbelief" and to characterize the two men as "the de facto spokesmen of what many of us consider to be a failed policy."

A few months after that showdown, however, the progress was all but indisputable. By now, indeed, we can see that the surge has bought precious time for the United States and the nascent Iraqi state to progress meaningfully toward five specific objectives.

First is extirpating the inciters of sectarian violence: al Qaeda in Iraq among the Sunnis and the rogue militias among the Shiites. Second is building up a larger, more capable, and more integrated Iraqi Security Force than existed in 2006.

At the same time, Iraqis are being given the opportunity to create the means of political accommodation locally and from the "bottom up," in ways that reflect the realities of life inside the highly complex mosaic of their country. The achievement of this third goal is the precursor to the fourth, which is to make the central, "top down" government in Baghdad more responsive to the nation's 18 provinces by opening its pocketbook for projects that will improve the economic and living conditions of the country's citizenry at large.

The final goal is, perhaps, the trickiest: pushing Iraqi politicians to pass legislation on a number of important measures, including the sharing of oil revenues, the funding of infrastructure projects, the reform of de-Baathification laws, and the like. These are the notorious "benchmarks" mentioned by the president in his January 2007 speech and subjected to much derision by skeptics.

A year after Mr. Bush first announced the new strategy, progress on the first three objectives has exceeded everyone's expectations, even those who helped design the surge. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been gravely wounded. The rogue elements within the Shiite militias are being pruned away. The Iraq Security Force is growing in size and reliability. And, following the decision of Sunni tribes to turn on al Qaeda and throw in their lot with the United States and the new Iraq, local political accommodation is proceeding at a remarkable pace.

There has also been some movement toward linking the Iraqi Parliament's spending to the needs of localities, but so far this is less impressive. As for the benchmarks on political reconciliation from the top down, it is useful to recall that we once thought such political change should precede everything else. That approach did not work. Our new strategy was based on the contrary assumption that security came first, and that parliamentary progress would lag significantly behind other elements. Of course, this has hardly prevented the president's critics from seizing on the failure of the Iraqi government to have completed all of it benchmarks as putative evidence of the surge's overall failure. Even here, however, there has been a measure of progress on the ground: in February, for example, the Iraqi Parliament passed legislation addressing several key benchmarks, notably including de-Baathification reform and the facilitation of provincial elections as well as of better relations between the provinces and the central government.

* * *

The Petraeus-Crocker report to Congress will no doubt offer further evidence that the new approach is working but is far from having completed its assigned task. No fair-minded observer could conclude otherwise. Gen. Petraeus has already indicated that the central military element of the surge--the increase of 30,000 troops--will end by summer 2008. At that point, U.S. forces in Iraq are set to decline to pre-surge levels, roughly 130,000. The question Gen. Petraeus will now have to answer is: how long will troop levels need to stay there, and when can they start moving down?

What Gen. Petraeus must have uppermost in his mind is the record compiled by his predecessors in trying to produce results with just enough troops to come close but not enough to succeed. A premature drawdown would, by definition, cause the forfeiture of his hard-won gains. And the political reality is that once those troops left Iraq, they would not be coming back.

In a slide presentation that accompanied his September 2007 testimony to Congress, Gen. Petraeus gave a picture of what he considered an appropriate drawdown. In his reckoning, after remaining at 130,000 for some time, American troops could decline in number to approximately 115,000, then by slow and measured steps to around 100,000, then perhaps to 85,000, and so onward. The closer the troop levels came to 100,000 (or fewer) the more manageable the deployment would be militarily. At those levels, our ground forces would be able to return to a peacetime rotation schedule, which would put far less strain on the all-volunteer force.

In other words, a substantial American presence in Iraq is sustainable militarily over the long term. The great unknown is whether such a commitment would be sustainable politically here at home.

The evidence of the past 16 months is that the American people are likely to support, or at least tolerate, a reduction in American numbers gradual enough to preserve the gains of the surge. A President McCain, for example, would probably have no trouble taking advantage of this sustainable strategy and bringing our mission in Iraq to the most successful end achievable.

What of a President Barack Obama or a President Hillary Clinton? If one were to attempt an answer to this question from the two candidates' words and conduct during the long primary season, one would have reason to conclude that both, in promising a rapid "end" to the war with an equally rapid withdrawal of American forces, are bound and determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of at least partial victory.

But it is not impossible to imagine that these vital matters would appear differently to a Democratic president considering Iraq's and America's future from a seat at the desk in the Oval Office rather than from the stage of a college gymnasium filled with delirious Democratic primary voters. One might even permit oneself to hope that, while continuing to speak derogatorily of George Bush's years as the shepherd of our Iraq policy, such a president would come to know, privately and in time, that he or she had been bequeathed something very different from a fiasco: the promise of a better outcome for Iraq, for the Middle East, and for the American people.

Mr. Feaver is the Alexander F. Hehmeyer professor of political science and public policy at Duke University and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies. He is a co-author of "Getting the Best Out of College," to be published by Ten Speed Press in June. This article appears in the April issue of Commentary.
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« Reply #426 on: March 31, 2008, 11:01:46 AM »

March 31, 2008
Maverick Iraqi Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr on Sunday ordered his followers to end fighting with the country’s Shiite-dominated security forces. In a statement issued by his office in the Shiite holy city of An Najaf, al-Sadr explained that in the interest of peace and stability, “We have decided to withdraw from the streets of Basra and all other provinces,” and that his movement would “cooperate with the government to achieve security.” The move stems from an agreement with the government, under which Baghdad has promised to stop randomly arresting members of al-Sadr’s group. The agreement does not require al-Sadr’s movement to relinquish its weapons, though al-Sadr said, “Anyone carrying a weapon and targeting government institutions will not be one of us.”

There have been signs for several months now that the al-Sadrite militia, the Mehdi Army, is moving away from its original role as a renegade outfit. Sunday’s move by al-Sadr in the wake of the Iraqi military’s Basra operation, however, is the strongest indication to date that the al-Sadrite movement no longer will be challenging the writ of the Iraqi central government dominated by its Shiite rivals. The silencing of the al-Sadrite guns required Iranian acquiescence.

Two key Shiite parliament members — Hadi al-Amri from the Badr Organization (affiliated with the movement led by Iraq’s most powerful and most pro-Iranian politician Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim) and Ali al-Adeeb (deputy leader of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Dawah party) — traveled to Tehran to get the Iranians to pressure al-Sadr. It is quite interesting that al-Sadr’s announcement comes a little over a month after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadineajd’s trip to Baghdad. There are reports that during that trip, in a secret meeting with U.S. officials, Ahmadinejad offered to finally help Washington stabilize Iraq in exchange for security guarantees for Tehran. It is unclear to what extent the Iranians and Americans agreed to cooperate on Iraqi security, but the Basra security operation did not emerge in a vacuum.

The Basra operation was a way for the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government to extend its writ to one of the last remaining and critical outposts in the Shiite south — the oil-rich Basra region. While there are other Shiite factions and oil syndicates in the area targeted by the operation, the main target was the al-Sadrite militia. It also should be noted that the operation was not limited to Basra; it targeted other al-Sadrite strongholds in the Shiite south and Baghdad.

The Iranians have realized that they no longer can use the Shiite militia threat against the United States to force Washington’s hand on Iraq without jeopardizing their own interests. Thus far, Tehran had allowed intra-Shiite conflicts to persist in the hopes of using violence perpetrated by Shiite militants to pressure the United States into accepting Iranian terms for stabilizing Iraq. More recently, though, Iran had a rude awakening when the U.S. military began cultivating its own direct relations with members of al-Sadr’s movement. This demonstrated that Washington was not beholden to Iranian goodwill to stabilize Iraq and that all roads to Baghdad did not go through Tehran.

It was not just the threat of unilateral moves on the part of the Americans that forced the Iranians into a course correction. The Iranians were also terrified that the schisms within the Iraqi Shiite landscape have deteriorated so badly over the past five years that unless Tehran acted soon, any hope that its Shiite proxies would be able to dominate Iraq would evaporate into thin air. In other words, reining in the al-Sadrites was no longer something that was purely a U.S. interest; it was a necessity from the Iranian point of view.

Iran expects that al-Sadr’s backing down can help get the Iraqi Shiite house in order. After all, as long as the Shia (who, despite being the majority, have never ruled Iraq) are at war with themselves, they have no chance of standing up to the Sunnis, much less dominating Iraq. Iran, at a bare minimum, wants an Iraq that can never again threaten its national security, and it needs cohesion among the Shia for that purpose.

Just how much cohesion the Iraqi Shia are capable of will become apparent in the coming months.
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« Reply #427 on: March 31, 2008, 05:45:42 PM »

Probably written before the preceding post:


Maliki's Mettle
March 31, 2008; Page A18
Among the worst mistakes of the Iraq war has been starting battles we weren't prepared to finish. Think Fallujah in 2004. We hope Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki absorbed that lesson before he began his campaign last week to defeat rogue militias in Basra.

Yesterday's political maneuvering amid a new cease-fire offer by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is hard to read from afar. "Anyone carrying a weapon and targeting government institutions will not be one of us," Mr. Sadr said. The government welcomed the offer while saying it would continue its Basra campaign, and it wasn't clear how many in the Mahdi Army and its offshoots would even heed Mr. Sadr. There were also conflicting reports of whether the militias would give up their weapons.

The worst outcome would be for Iraqis to conclude that Mr. Maliki and the Iraqi Security Forces are backing down amid more resistance than they expected. This would be a blow to the morale of the fledgling army just when it has been gaining confidence, and it would damage Mr. Maliki's own credibility with the Iraqi public. To adapt Napoleon's famous admonition, if you decide to take Basra -- take Basra.

It isn't clear why Mr. Maliki chose to act now against the militias, though he had to do so eventually. The presence of private militias makes political compromise that much harder to achieve, and it increases the prospect of greater violence after the U.S. departs. Iran is also assisting some elements of the Mahdi Army in order to expand Tehran's influence in the Shiite-dominated south and parts of Baghdad.

Naturally, the war's American critics are saying this is proof that General David Petraeus's "surge" has failed. Yet Basra is one part of Iraq where the surge has never been tried. British troops have been the coalition leaders in southern Iraq, and they long ago gave up any attempt at a Petraeus-like counterinsurgency. They mainly stay in their garrisons, much as U.S. troops did pre-surge, and much as the two Democratic Presidential candidates want U.S. troops to do now on their way out of the country.

This British strategy has allowed militias to fill the security vacuum, especially as Iraq forces have been preoccupied with holding territory in Baghdad and parts of the Sunni Triangle once they have been cleared of al Qaeda. It's a sign of how well those operations are going that Iraqi forces feel confident enough to take on the added challenge of Basra. This is precisely the kind of independent operation that U.S. training is supposed to make possible, and it is something the war's critics have said couldn't be achieved as long as American forces stay in Iraq. Apparently it is possible.

Mr. Maliki's decision is also a show of political independence. The Prime Minister is a Shiite from the Dawa party and has been criticized as beholden to Mr. Sadr because he became Prime Minister with his political support. But Mr. Maliki is now willing to use force against militias aligned with Mr. Sadr. The Basra offensive also gives the lie once again to the claim that a Shiite government in Baghdad will be purely sectarian. The battle for Basra is about a Shiite-led but multiethnic central government challenging rogue Shiite militias.

All of this won't mean much, however, unless Mr. Maliki's offensive ends in what Iraqis perceive to be a victory for their national forces. In the fog of journalism last week, it looked as if the Sadrists fought back harder than the government expected. Elements of the Mahdi Army opened counterattacks in Baghdad and elsewhere, seeming to catch Iraqi generals by surprise. U.S. air strikes and Army Stryker units had to be called in for support.

Battles rarely go as planned, and what matters in the end is who is seen to have emerged with a victory. Too many times since 2003, Iraqi and U.S. officials have fought Mr. Sadr's forces, only to let them slip away or give him a pass in some political compromise. A signal mistake in the war was failing to arrest and try him in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion. How to handle Mr. Sadr now is a decision for the Maliki government, but it cannot allow the Mahdi Army and especially its Iranian-backed "special groups" to operate with impunity.

Some Americans -- including more than a few in the U.S. military -- think the U.S. has little stake in the Basra fight. But President Bush clearly isn't one of them. "Any government that presumes to represent the majority of people must confront criminal elements or people who think they can live outside the law," Mr. Bush said at the White House on Friday. "And that's what's taking place in Basra and in other parts of Iraq. I would say this is a defining moment in the history of a free Iraq."

Unlike Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has failed to suppress terrorist elements, Mr. Maliki understands that his government must establish a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Now he and his army have to win the battle they started.

See all of today's op-eds and editorials, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
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« Reply #428 on: April 08, 2008, 09:43:18 PM »

The Petraeus Effect
April 8, 2008; Page A20
As General David Petraeus briefs Congress this week on Iraq, it's clear his surge has achieved remarkable results. The most crucial is that the U.S. can no longer be defeated militarily in Iraq, which could not be said a year ago. The question now is whether Washington will squander these gains by withdrawing so quickly that we could still lose politically.

Sixteen months after President Bush ordered the change in strategy, the surge has earned a place among the most important counteroffensives in U.S. military annals. When it began, al Qaeda dominated large swaths of central Iraq, Baghdad was a killing zone, Sunni and Shiites were heading toward civil war, and the Iraqi government was seen as a failure.

A U.S. soldier on patrol in Mosul, northwest of Baghdad.
The Washington consensus – as promoted by the James Baker-Lee Hamilton Iraq Study Group – portrayed retreat as the only option. "This war is lost," declared Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in April, thus telling U.S. soldiers they were risking their lives for nothing. As late as September, Hillary Clinton had the nerve to lecture General Petraeus in a Senate hearing that "the reports that you provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief."

Today, al Qaeda has been cleared from all but the northern reaches of Anbar and Diyala Provinces, Iraqis feel safe enough to resume normal lives, Sunni sheikhs are working with coalition forces, and the long process of Sunni-Shiite political reconciliation has begun. The surge seized the offensive from the enemy so rapidly that it deserves to be studied for years as an example of effective counterinsurgency.

Yes, this progress has also required some luck and Iraqi help. Al Qaeda in Iraq overplayed its hand with a brutality that turned the Sunnis against them. Four years of war had made Iraqis tired of violence, and Sunnis began to understand that they couldn't win a civil war against the Shiites but could use the Americans as leverage to negotiate a better bargain. Some 90,000 Sunnis are now working with the U.S. as part of the "Sons of Iraq" movement.

None of this would have been possible, however, if Iraqis had not seen that the U.S. was committed to protect them. General Petraeus and his chief deputy, Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, pursued a strategy that secured the population while going on offense against al Qaeda. U.S. and Iraqi troops moved into neighborhoods and lived among Iraqis, who in turn began to supply valuable intelligence about the terrorists. Faster than even the surge's architects hoped, the strategy led to far less violence.

While Democrats still claim political progress is possible only if the U.S. leaves Iraq, the surge has proved the opposite. Better security required a larger U.S. presence, which in turn has made Iraqis feel more secure about compromise. The political progress has been especially significant at the local level, with greater cooperation from tribal leaders and local councils, most Sunnis saying they'll participate in provincial elections this fall, and more oil money flowing to the provinces from Baghdad.

Much remains to be done, of course, and a premature U.S. withdrawal would put these gains at risk. Al Qaeda must still be swept from Mosul and upper Diyala, with the same U.S.-Iraqi troop strategy that worked in Baghdad. Terrorist entry routes West of Mosul from Syria also need to be stopped. And as we've learned in the last two weeks, Iraq Security Forces aren't able by themselves to impose a monopoly of force on Basra and the Shiite South.

Iraqi troops have made progress as a fighting force, but they still require U.S. help for the toughest operations. Though poorly planned, the Basra offensive showed that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is finally willing to fight Shiite gangs. The U.S. media have portrayed the battle mainly as an intra-Shiite feud and thus another example of budding "civil war." But the fight is also about Iran's attempts to stir trouble and weaken the Maliki government in favor of Iran's allies.

The U.S. has been reluctant to help in Basra, which has been British turf as part of the coalition. But the U.S. has a national interest in resisting Iranian influence, and Basra is a crucial front in that effort. As for the Brits, their failure to engage in counterinsurgency has left the Basra vacuum to be filled by Iranian-backed "special groups." The British made the same strategic mistake that former U.S. Iraq commanders George Casey and John Abizaid made in 2006 in Baghdad. The U.S. will have to deploy one or more brigades to Basra to help the Maliki government assert its control.

* * *
The five U.S. surge brigades are scheduled to return home in July, and one question Congress should ask General Petraeus is whether that pace makes him uneasy. He's under enormous Pentagon pressure, especially from the Army, to send those troops home. But if, say, three brigades could help solidify the surge's gains by staying another few months, the General should say so. One of Mr. Bush's mistakes in this war has been deferring too much to Pentagon brass who have always had one eye on the Iraq exit.

Americans are understandably impatient with the war, but we have sacrificed too much, and made too much progress in the last year, not to finish the task. The surge has prevented a humiliating military defeat, and now is the time to sustain that commitment to achieve a political victory.
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« Reply #429 on: April 09, 2008, 07:51:29 PM »

The Sergeant Solution
April 8, 2008; Page A21

Today Gen. David Petraeus testifies in front of Congress. He will note the progress being made in Iraq thanks to his new counterinsurgency strategy and the "surge." He will also remind everyone that much remains to be done, as the recent battle in Basra demonstrated.

But no matter what he says, it is clear that the writing is on the wall. The bulk of American ground forces will be leaving Iraq. The only question is how many and how fast.

The first group of soldiers from the new Iraqi army prepare to graduate in 2003.
After we leave, the Iraqis will have to shoulder the burden of maintaining stability in their country. How well prepared they are for this task will depend on how strong the Iraqi army's noncommissioned officer (NCO) corps is when we leave. NCOs, sergeants and corporals, provide a center of gravity for effective fighting forces and often lead small units. They will be vital to sustaining the Iraqi army through the battles ahead.

As a flurry of facts and figures buzz through the air on Capitol Hill today, keep in mind the Army adage that armies are best built from the bottom up, squad by squad, platoon by platoon. Winning wars is not a test of numbers or materiel so much as it is a test of will. The side that wins is the side that wants most to win, and has young soldiers willing to die to secure victory. In good armies, the will to win is set by example, by junior leaders, sergeants and lieutenants, who lead from the front.

The most encouraging news from the battlefield recently is that Iraqi leadership at the small unit level is improving. Sadly, finding effective young officers in wartime is a brutal process, as it requires testing them in action. The American Army in the Civil War experienced a similar baptism of fire, at a cost of more than half a million dead.

NCOs are the backbone of the American Army. But strong NCOs, who take a leadership role, are an alien concept in areas of the world ruled by strict hierarchies. The Iraqi army is no exception.

In Saddam's military, sergeants were only expected to hold formations, account for equipment and march soldiers from one place to another. Officers made all of the decisions. That's why Saddam had so many of them – and why his army was not as flexible as it needed to be. Gen. Petraeus is trying to change the old-Iraqi-army culture, and he must if the Iraqis are to have a robust military with depth and staying power on the battlefield.

At Gen. Petraeus's urging, last year the Iraqis started divisional schools for NCOs. About 10% of each basic training class is sent to three additional weeks of instruction to learn to be corporals, the first rung of the NCO leadership ladder. Successful corporals attend a five-week course, where they learn how to take care of soldiers and the details of leading small units in close combat.

The most senior course teaches sergeants to lead platoons, learning skills formerly reserved for captains and majors. Many newly minted NCOs depart from these schools directly into combat, where they learn to get better in the harsh classroom of real war.

This process of "on the job training" among small units in combat has been made more efficient with the addition of American military training teams. These are squad-sized units embedded in Iraqi combat battalions and brigades.

Experience has shown that the surest way to quickly increase the competency of small unit leaders and their men is to have direct, hands-on instruction in the field by American NCOs. In such a setting, our NCOs demonstrate professionalism and a "take charge" attitude while fighting side by side with their Iraqi counterparts. Our NCOs teach by doing.

Today there are only 5,000 of these embedded trainers in the field. As the Iraqis head into combat without American partner units, they will probably need more training teams to embed with them. How many? That is a decision that has not yet been made. But a consensus among senior officers engaged in this program suggests that the number of trainers must be doubled, perhaps even tripled if the new Iraqi army is to be successful.

The postsurge strategy should not be focused solely on creating an Iraqi army in the image of our own. The Iraqis only have to be better than their enemies. And there is a danger in committing the blood, treasure and time necessary to train and a large Iraqi army. Wars are not won by the bigger force, but by intangibles. Leadership, courage, adaptability, integrity, intellectual agility and allegiance ultimately determine who wins wars.

Major Gen. Scales (Ret.), a former commandant of the Army War College, is president of Colgen Inc., a defense consulting firm.
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« Reply #430 on: April 10, 2008, 12:22:33 AM »

John Burns and Dexter Filkins of the NY Times were on the Charlie Rose show tonight.  (I should put this under media issues as it is newsworthy just to get honest reporting and discussion from that organization.) I have posted John Burns previously for what I found to be excellent, firsthand war coverage and analysis.  I saw only part of this show.  I will give you the link but as I post it says video not yet available.  Give it a moment or two and then take a look if you are interested.  Very worthwhile IMO. They are probably back in the US because of the Petraeus hearings, also today was the anniversary of the fall of the Saddam regime.  Probably a full hour is required to watch.

Many, many serious points covered. And small things that might surprise you like that fact that they now have bicycle races in Ramadi and Haditha.

Tomorrow, for another view, they have George Soros on the program.
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« Reply #431 on: April 10, 2008, 08:54:11 AM »

Bicycle races?  Those small details can be so telling , , ,

And here's the Iraqi ambassador in today's WSJ on the big picture:

Iraq's National Identity Is Alive and Growing
April 10, 2008

Five years after Saddam Hussein was toppled from power, Iraq and the U.S. face important choices for their future relationship – choices that will have profound long-term ramifications for both countries.

Iraq, freed from a ruthless dictatorship, has chosen plurality, democracy and federalism as a system of government. It is struggling to implement them against a formidable set of internal and external challenges. The leaders of the new Iraq must further demonstrate resolve to defend their choices and rise above parochial interests.

Having intervened and committed itself so deeply, the U.S. is debating the level and cost of its engagement. I submit that it cannot afford to lose this fight to its enemies. The destinies of the U.S. and Iraq have become intertwined and their national interests very closely linked.

The big test for Iraq is to find the necessary internal accommodations between competing political interests, enabling the country to keep outside interference at bay and ensure its internal cohesion and national unity. The big test for the U.S. is to maintain its resolve while adjusting its tactics and policies to achieve success in Iraq.

Those who see only serious problems within the Iraqi government and society miss the point. Iraqis are the first to admit to their shortcomings. What is important is that they are determined to overcome them. They also know it will be a long and painful process of incremental progress, punctuated by setbacks.

Those who argue that Iraq is fractured and hopelessly broken – a Humpty Dumpty that can never be put together again – are wrong. Many countries have experienced great difficulties and emerged united and strong. Iraqi national identity has been weakened, but it is alive and kicking, and will embarrass all of those who rushed to write its obituary.

A year ago some people were convinced that Iraq was sliding into a civil war. It was precisely the sense of Iraqi national identity that helped to avert it.

Others considered Iraq lost to terrorists and militias. Again, it was the sense of national identity, as well as a tradition of tolerance, that made the communities in Al Anbar and elsewhere rise up against al Qaeda. This same sense of national identity was behind the widespread rejection of proposals to carve up the country into federal regions on a sectarian basis.

The convulsions of a society battered by decades of brutality and deprivation are all too evident. But the resilience, tenacity and commitment to national unity are no less evident. The glass may be half-empty, but it is also half full and filling up. Slowly perhaps, but surely. The achievements which Iraqis have accomplished under fire spanning the security, economic and political spheres stand as a testimony to their determination to succeed.

Yet the challenges the Iraqi government still faces are daunting. In addition to fighting terrorists and extremists, the government needs to reform its security forces and bureaucracy, purging them of sectarian discrimination and debilitating corruption. Only by doing this will it be able to deliver better services to its citizens and obtain full legitimacy.

Today, the world is facing a new and dangerous threat of international extremism and terrorism. The epicenter of this confrontation is Iraq. The new enemy is harder to defeat because it is not confined to a state, though some states are involved in its creation and promotion. It is diffused throughout many societies. But this enemy can and must be defeated. As the struggles of the last century shaped our world, this struggle will shape the world for generations to come.

This is not to say that this struggle is simple: the good versus the bad. It is complex. In Iraq, there are many layers of competing visions, interests and political objectives existing simultaneously. The people of Iraq were traumatized for decades. They are as vulnerable to the worst elements among them as they are to external forces. But there are enough of them with the will to fight for their future and their country.

This was demonstrated by the recent events in Basra, where the Iraqi government decided to pursue outlaws and armed militias engaged in criminal activities and the terrorizing of communities. It was a brave attempt given the circumstances, and was supported by all the political groups in Iraq except for the Sadrists. This was Round One. The fight will continue.

The salvation of Iraqis and the interests of the U.S. coincide. They lie in the defeat of the terrorists and extremists, and the frustration of the ambitions of all those who want this joint American-Iraqi endeavor to fail. This endeavor is costly, in every sense. But failure would be immeasurably costlier. That is why we need to build a long-term strategic alliance, and to make it work. It is in this context that we must look at the current negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq to reach a Status of Forces Agreement and a Strategic Framework Agreement.

After a bumpy learning curve, the U.S. has started to do things better in Iraq. The surge, applying the counterinsurgency principles of Gen. David Petraeus, has produced tangible results. It is not time to give up.

Mr. Sumaida'ie is Iraq's ambassador to the United States.

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« Reply #432 on: April 11, 2008, 09:42:06 AM »

Let's 'Surge' Some More
April 11, 2008; Page A17

It is said that generals always fight the last war. But when David Petraeus came to town it was senators – on both sides of the aisle – who battled over the Iraq war of 2004-2006. That war has little in common with the war we are fighting today.

I may well have spent more time embedded with combat units in Iraq than any other journalist alive. I have seen this war – and our part in it – at its brutal worst. And I say the transformation over the last 14 months is little short of miraculous.

The change goes far beyond the statistical decline in casualties or incidents of violence. A young Iraqi translator, wounded in battle and fearing death, asked an American commander to bury his heart in America. Iraqi special forces units took to the streets to track down terrorists who killed American soldiers. The U.S. military is the most respected institution in Iraq, and many Iraqi boys dream of becoming American soldiers. Yes, young Iraqi boys know about ""

As the outrages of Abu Ghraib faded in memory – and paled in comparison to al Qaeda's brutalities – and our soldiers under the Petraeus strategy got off their big bases and out of their tanks and deeper into the neighborhoods, American values began to win the war.

Iraqis came to respect American soldiers as warriors who would protect them from terror gangs. But Iraqis also discovered that these great warriors are even happier helping rebuild a clinic, school or a neighborhood. They learned that the American soldier is not only the most dangerous enemy in the world, but one of the best friends a neighborhood can have.

Some people charge that we have merely "rented" the Sunni tribesmen, the former insurgents who now fight by our side. This implies that because we pay these people, their loyalty must be for sale to the highest bidder. But as Gen. Petraeus demonstrated in Nineveh province in 2003 to 2004, many of the Iraqis who filled the ranks of the Sunni insurgency from 2003 into 2007 could have been working with us all along, had we treated them intelligently and respectfully. In Nineveh in 2003, under then Maj. Gen. Petraeus's leadership, these men – many of them veterans of the Iraqi army – played a crucial role in restoring civil order. Yet due to excessive de-Baathification and the administration's attempt to marginalize powerful tribal sheiks in Anbar and other provinces – including men even Saddam dared not ignore – we transformed potential partners into dreaded enemies in less than a year.

Then al Qaeda in Iraq, which helped fund and tried to control the Sunni insurgency for its own ends, raped too many women and boys, cut off too many heads, and brought drugs into too many neighborhoods. By outraging the tribes, it gave birth to the Sunni "awakening." We – and Iraq – got a second chance. Powerful tribes in Anbar province cooperate with us now because they came to see al Qaeda for what it is – and to see Americans for what we truly are.

Soldiers everywhere are paid, and good generals know it is dangerous to mess with a soldier's money. The shoeless heroes who froze at Valley Forge were paid, and when their pay did not come they threatened to leave – and some did. Soldiers have families and will not fight for a nation that allows their families to starve. But to say that the tribes who fight with us are "rented" is perhaps as vile a slander as to say that George Washington's men would have left him if the British offered a better deal.

Equally misguided were some senators' attempts to use Gen. Petraeus's statement, that there could be no purely military solution in Iraq, to dismiss our soldiers' achievements as "merely" military. In a successful counterinsurgency it is impossible to separate military and political success. The Sunni "awakening" was not primarily a military event any more than it was "bribery." It was a political event with enormous military benefits.

The huge drop in roadside bombings is also a political success – because the bombings were political events. It is not possible to bury a tank-busting 1,500-pound bomb in a neighborhood street without the neighbors noticing. Since the military cannot watch every road during every hour of the day (that would be a purely military solution), whether the bomb kills soldiers depends on whether the neighbors warn the soldiers or cover for the terrorists. Once they mostly stood silent; today they tend to pick up their cell phones and call the Americans. Even in big "kinetic" military operations like the taking of Baqubah in June 2007, politics was crucial. Casualties were a fraction of what we expected because, block-by-block, the citizens told our guys where to find the bad guys. I was there; I saw it.

The Iraqi central government is unsatisfactory at best. But the grass-roots political progress of the past year has been extraordinary – and is directly measurable in the drop in casualties.

This leads us to the most out-of-date aspect of the Senate debate: the argument about the pace of troop withdrawals. Precisely because we have made so much political progress in the past year, rather than talking about force reduction, Congress should be figuring ways and means to increase troop levels. For all our successes, we still do not have enough troops. This makes the fight longer and more lethal for the troops who are fighting. To give one example, I just returned this week from Nineveh province, where I have spent probably eight months between 2005 to 2008, and it is clear that we remain stretched very thin from the Syrian border and through Mosul. Vast swaths of Nineveh are patrolled mostly by occasional overflights.

We know now that we can pull off a successful counterinsurgency in Iraq. We know that we are working with an increasingly willing citizenry. But counterinsurgency, like community policing, requires lots of boots on the ground. You can't do it from inside a jet or a tank.

Over the past 15 months, we have proved that we can win this war. We stand now at the moment of truth. Victory – and a democracy in the Arab world – is within our grasp. But it could yet slip away if our leaders remain transfixed by the war we almost lost, rather than focusing on the war we are winning today.

Mr. Yon is author of the just-published "Moment of Truth in Iraq" (Richard Vigilante Books). He has been reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan since December 2004.
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« Reply #433 on: April 20, 2008, 11:21:53 PM »

British Commanders: Iraqi Army's attempt to retake Basra was 'complete disaster'


Battle to retake Basra was 'complete disaster'

By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:41pm BST 20/04/2008

The British-trained Iraqi Army's attempt to retake Basra from militiamen was an "unmitigated disaster at every level", British commanders have disclosed.

Senior sources have said that the mission was undermined by incompetent officers and untrained troops who were sent into battle with inadequate supplies of food, water and ammunition.

They said the failure had delayed the British withdrawal by "many months".

Their comments came as the Iraqi army, this time directly supported by American and British forces, began a second operation in Basra in an attempt to find insurgent weapons caches.

The push, which was met with fierce resistance, took place in the Hayania district of the city, where there were clashes two weeks ago.

In the first operation, it is understood that one Iraqi brigade became a "busted flush" after 1,200 of its soldiers deserted.

At one stage during the battle, stories were circulating at the British headquarters that Iraqi troops were demanding food and water from coalition forces at gunpoint. "It was an unmitigated disaster at every level," an officer said.

Gen Mohan Furayji, the Iraqi commander who was in charge of troops during the operation, was described by a senior British staff officer as a "dangerous lunatic" who "ignored" advice.

The British officer, who is based at the coalition headquarters at Basra Air Station, said that the decision to allow Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, to run the operation had been a "disaster which felt as though an amateur was in charge".

More than 15,000 Iraqi troops were ordered to seize control of the city last month following an uprising by the Mehdi Army, the powerful militia group which is largely trained and financed by Iran.

President George W Bush described the battle for Basra as a "defining moment" for Iraq, while British officials at the time praised the professionalism of the Iraqi army.

However, the operation ended in a stalemate, with the Iraqi government agreeing to a ceasefire.

Criticism of Britain's involvement in Basra resurfaced last week during Gordon Brown's visit to America.

The New York Times reported, incorrectly, that British troops were refusing to help the Iraqi army, which the newspaper said was "deeply embarrassing for Britain".

In a devastating critique of the Iraqi military, British commanders have disclosed that "chaos ruled" the operation to retake Basra.

One officer said the Iraqi army's 14th Division had only 26 per cent of the equipment necessary to take part in combat operations.

He said: "There were literally thousands of troops arriving in Basra from all over Iraq. But they had no idea why they were there or what they were supposed to do. It was madness and to cap it all they had insufficient supplies of food, water and ammunition.

"One of the newly formed brigades was ordered into battle and suffered around 1,200 desertions within the first couple of hours - it was painful to watch.

"They had to be pulled out because they were a busted flush. The Iraqi police were next to useless. There were supposed to be 1,300 ready to deploy into the city, but they refused to do so. The situation deteriorated to the extent where we [the British Army] were forced to stage a major resupply operation in order to stave off disaster.

"The net effect of all of this is that the British Army will be forced to remain here for many months longer."

The Sunday Telegraph has also learnt that British commanders had devised a plan for Gen Mohan. The plan came with the caveat that it should not be started until mid-July because Iraqi troops were not ready. But the officer said that the Iraqi general had ignored the advice.

He said that a British liaison team was sent to the Iraqi army headquarters during the battle. "They were greeted by a group of Iraqi generals sitting around a large desk, shouting into their mobiles without a map in sight. Chaos ruled."

Basra was handed back to Iraqi control last year after the Army withdrew from its last military base in the city.

The Ministry of Defence had hoped to reduce the number of troops serving in southern Iraq to about 2,000 this spring, but that plan has been shelved and British troops are once again patrolling the city's streets.
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« Reply #434 on: May 01, 2008, 09:24:32 PM »

Ken Timmerman

Kurds Provide Safe Haven for Christians

Thursday, April 17, 2008 9:03 AM

By: Kenneth R. Timmerman Article Font Size 

The Kurdish regional government in Northern Iraq is providing a safe haven to several thousand Iraqi Christians who have fled persecution in other parts of the country, government officials and local pastors told Newsmax.

Unlike refugee camps set up for some 100,000 Shia Muslims fleeing attacks from Sunnis, which are closely monitored by Kurdish security forces, Christians have been encouraged to live anywhere.

“Christians in Iraq need special attention, because they’ve been suffering because they are Christians,” Deputy Prime Minister Omar Fattah told Newsmax in an exclusive interview in Erbil. “Maybe we give some instructions to others where they can go, but to Christians, never, because we are not afraid they will be terrorists.”

Some have been given government land and building materials to construct a house. Others have rented homes from friends, or are being put up in temporary shelters thanks to local churches and international donors.

“Those people are our citizens, and when they are coming to Kurdistan they are most welcome, and we will provide them with all possible assistance,” the Kurdish deputy premier said.

Since U.S.-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime in April 2003, around 2,000 Christian families have moved into Ainkawa, a historic Christian town on the outskirts of the Kurdish capital, Erbil.

“Most people came when the terrorists told them they must pay the jizya or they will be killed,” Ainkawa mayor, Fahmi Mehti Soltaqi, told Newsmax, referring to a "protection tax" levied on non-Muslims according to Shari'a law.

Scores of refugees interviewed by Newsmax here and in Amman, Jordan, told harrowing stories of receiving death threats from al-Qaida thugs delivered to their homes in Baghdad.

The terrorists told them that as Christians, they had no right to remain in a Muslim land without submitting to Muslim rule. To escape the jizya, some Christian refugees said they were told they must marry one of their daughters to a Muslim. Instead, when they could, they fled.

Tragedy lurks just beneath the surface, even in this peaceful part of Iraq.

Mayor Soltaqi’s new office assistant, Eghraa Ramzi, is an example. She fled with her daughter from her home in the Karrada district of Baghdad in June 2007, after Islamic terrorists said they would kill them if they didn’t pay the jizya. Now she handles computer services for the municipality.

Rita Yuel is another. If you met her on the street, you would think she was just an attractive 23-year-old university student. But when you talk to her and learn her story, unmistakeable sadness emerges.

Rita used to live in Daura, a Christian neighborhood of Baghdad, until the Muslim terrorists drove her and her sisters and others to flee in August 2006. “The terrorists were torturing people in the house next door,” she said.

Her father stayed behind to work and guard the house. Last April, he promised to join his family in the north for the Easter holidays, but he never arrived.

Rita and her mother learned later that he and two other Christians had been abducted at gunpoint by masked men at a roadside teahouse on the outskirts of Baiji, midway between Baghdad and the north. “He was kidnapped one year and eight days ago, and we don’t know where he is or if he is still alive. We hope that he will return,” she said.

The governor of Irbil Province, Nawzad Hadi Mawlood, recalls the heady days just after the liberation of Iraq in 2003, when Iraqis from all ethnic backgrounds were suddenly free from decades of darkness.

“The terrorists destroyed the dream of the Iraqi people,” Governor Mawlood told Newsmax. “Christians had no militia to protect themselves. They were easy targets,” he explained. “Today, for them, Kurdistan is an option.”

His government has opened special schools to meet the needs of Christian refugees who speak Arabic and not Kurdish, the official language here. “We have done everything we can to integrate Christians into Kurdish society,” he said.

“We are not going to refuse them. They are Iraqi. We know what they are running from.”

On Sundays, the many Christian churches in Ainkawa — some of them dating from the 9th century — are packed with worshippers. Families walk the streets without fear. Restaurants and shops are open. Even more importantly, it is the only place in Iraq where Muslims can adopt the Christian faith without fear, pastors and government officials tell Newsmax.

“All Iraq should be like Ainkawa,” said William Warda, the president of the Hammurabi Organization for Human Rights, an Iraqi group advocating for Christian political rights. But even in this safe haven, once darkness falls, metal barriers block the streets, guards with AK-47s emerge to protect the churches, and Kurdish security police control traffic trying to enter the area.

Asked about this, Deputy Prime Minister Fattah was resigned. “We are afraid of the terrorists, too.”

Terrorist groups are constantly probing the layered security of the Kurdish region to find weak points, he explained. “If they see a church in a Christian area, they see that it is a peaceful area and perhaps they will attack.”

One former Royal Marine, Dan F., who manages a local security company that caters to expatriates visiting or working in the area, lives in a heavily guarded compound in Ainkawa.

Jersey barriers, gates, barbed wire, and armed guards posted at regular intervals impede access to his compound. And yet, despite the precautions, Dan wears a Glock 9 millimeter at all times and refuses to walk the streets. "If you want to walk around, wait a few weeks then go home, and you’ll have a 100 percent chance of nothing happening to you,” he says.

For all the problems and the tenuous security situation, no one here in the Kurdish north has any regrets about the U.S.-led invasion. “I’ve never been to paradise,” said Fattah, “but the difference between today and Saddam’s time is heaven and hell.”

Fattah’s only fear is that American troops will leave too early, before the work is done. “Mr. Bush has not only helped Iraq, he has helped the American people as well,” he said. “He took the fight against terrorism from inside America, to outside the country. If he hadn’t done that, terrorist attacks would have continued inside America.”

U.S. troops must stay in Iraq until they reach the goal of helping Iraqis achieve a democratic federal state. “We believe Iraq can become a base for democracy in the region,” he said.

In Washington and in much of the U.S. media, such dreams are derided as the fantasies of neo-conservatives.

But here on the ground in Kurdistan, which even today commemorates the 21st anniversary of a chemical weapons attack by Saddam Hussein that massacred thousands of Kurds, this hope remains alive.
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« Reply #435 on: May 03, 2008, 06:26:16 AM »

The Truth About Iraq's Casualty Count
May 3, 2008; Page A11

The newspapers are predictably filled with articles about how 52 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq last month – the highest toll since September. Iraqi civilian casualties are also said to be at the highest level since August. These losses are being used to cast aspersions on claims of progress in Iraq.

Even one death is too many and 52 deaths is tragedy multiplied 52-fold. But let's keep some perspective. As the website makes clear, for better or worse, April was still one of the lighter-casualty months during the long war in Iraq.

More important, casualties cannot be looked at in a vacuum. A spike in casualties could be a sign that the enemy is gaining strength. Or it could be a sign that tough combat is under way that will lead to the enemy's defeat and the creation of a more peaceful environment in the future.

The latter was certainly the case with the casualty spike during the summer of 2007. (More than a hundred soldiers died each month in April, May and June.) Those losses were widely denounced as evidence that the surge wasn't working, but in fact they were proof of the opposite.

At the time, troops were engaged in hard fighting as part of Operation Phantom Thunder that eventually cleared most terrorists out of Anbar, Baghdad, Diyala, Babil and other provinces, leading to dramatic reductions in violence over the last year (more than 80% before the recent fighting).

The latest increase in casualties is the result of another coalition offensive: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to break the grip of militias in Basra. At first the results did not look promising: Iraqi troops were rushed in without adequate preparation, and shortly after the March 25 offensive began appeared stymied in their battles against the Mahdist Army. Mr. Maliki seemed to agree to an Iranian-brokered cease-fire with Moqtada al Sadr that left the Mahdists in control of much of the city. But as April progressed it became clear that the results of the initial clashes were more beneficial than most (including me) had initially suspected.

Iraqi security forces have not suspended their operations in Basra. In fact, since the "cease-fire," they have continued to increase their area of control. An April 25 article by a London Times correspondent who visited Basra finds: "Raids are continuing in a few remaining strongholds but the Iraqi commander in charge of the unprecedented operation is confident that his forces will soon achieve something that the British military could not – a city free from rogue gunmen."

The political repercussions in Baghdad have been just as positive and just as unexpected. First, by taking on Shiite militias, Mr. Maliki has gained new-found respect from Kurds and Sunnis who had viewed him as a hopeless Shiite sectarian. Not coincidentally, the main Sunni party has now announced plans to rejoin the cabinet.

Second, Mr. Maliki has managed to mobilize the other Shiite parties into an anti-Mahdist bloc, demanding that Moqtada al Sadr disarm his militia if his party expects to wield political power. Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior Shiite cleric in Iraq, has backed that demand.

Mr. Sadr has so far refused to comply, but nor has he staged a major uprising across the country, probably because he knows it would not succeed. His plan to hold a "million man" anti-American protest in Baghdad on April 5 fizzled out at the last moment. Mr. Sadr appears increasingly isolated – as symbolized by the fact that he chooses to remain in Iran.

Finally, by exposing Iranian machinations in Basra, the recent offensive has sparked an anti-Iranian backlash even among Shiite politicians with longstanding links to Tehran. Thus a high-level Shiite delegation has gone to Iran to present the Iranian leadership with evidence of the nefarious activities of their Quds Force (as if they don't already know!) and to demand that they knock it off.

The Iranian answer, notwithstanding some soothing words about wanting stability in Iraq, is coming in the shelling and rocketing of the Green Zone and other Iraqi and American bases. The Iranians have been providing longer-range rockets to their allies in the Special Groups and the Mahdist Army.

U.S. and Iraqi troops have been forced to push deeper into Sadr City than they have previously gone in order to take away launching sites. The Mahdists have had years to prepare defenses, and the subsequent battles account for much of the increase in casualties among Americans (and Iraqis) that have so disturbed the press.

The ongoing operations could still fail. But if they succeed, the result would be greater fracturing of the Mahdist forces and more government control of Sadr City, an area of some two million people that has been effectively run by the Sadrists since 2003.

This would represent a major achievement, because, as al Qaeda in Iraq has lost strength in the past year (thanks in large part to the surge), the Shiite extremists have become the major remaining threat. Unfortunate as the latest deaths are, they are in all likelihood a sign of things getting worse before they get better.

Mr. Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author most recently of "War Made New: Weapons, Warriors, and the Making of the Modern World" (Gotham, 2006).
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« Reply #436 on: May 07, 2008, 01:45:21 PM »

I have just ordered this book and recommend it most highly.
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« Reply #437 on: May 12, 2008, 11:50:08 AM »

NY Times

BASRA, Iraq — Three hundred miles south of Baghdad, the oil-saturated city of Basra has been transformed by its own surge, now seven weeks old.

The Quietening of Basra In a rare success, forces loyal to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki have largely quieted the city, to the initial surprise and growing delight of many inhabitants who only a month ago shuddered under deadly clashes between Iraqi troops and Shiite militias.

Just as in Baghdad, Iraqi and Western officials emphasize that the gains here are “fragile,” like the newly planted roadside saplings that fail to conceal mounds of garbage and pools of foul-smelling water in the historic port city’s slums.

Among the many uncertainties are whether the government, criticized for incompetence at the start of the operation, can maintain the high level of troops here. But in interviews across Basra, residents overwhelmingly reported a substantial improvement in their everyday lives.

“The circle of fear is broken,” said Shaker, owner of a floating restaurant on Basra’s famed Corniche promenade, who, although optimistic, was still afraid to give his full name, as were many of those interviewed.

Hopes for a similar outcome in Baghdad’s Sadr City district were undercut when an Iraqi armored unit was struck by three roadside bombs on Sunday, one day after a cease-fire there was negotiated.

The principal factor for improvement that people in Basra cite is the deployment of 33,000 members of the Iraqi security forces after the March 24 start of operations, which allowed the government to blanket the city with checkpoints on every major intersection and highway.

Borrowing tactics from the troop increase in Baghdad, the Iraqi forces raided militia strongholds and arrested hundreds of suspects. They also seized weapons including mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and sophisticated roadside bombs that officials say were used by Iranian-backed groups responsible for much of the violence.

Government forces have now taken over Islamic militants’ headquarters and halted the death squads and “vice ‘enforcers’ ” who attacked women, Christians, musicians, alcohol sellers and anyone suspected of collaborating with Westerners.

Shaker’s floating restaurant stands as one emblem of the change since then.

Just two months ago, he said, masked men in military uniforms walked into the packed dining room and abducted a businessman at gunpoint. The man was never seen again, and the restaurant closed.

Now, however, customers who fled that evening are pressing the 34-year-old owner to stay open later at night, so they can enjoy their unaccustomed freedom from the gangs, which once banned the loud Arabic pop music now blaring from Shaker’s loudspeakers.

“Now it is very different,” he said. “After we heard that the lawless people have been arrested or killed, we have a kind of courage.”

Even alcohol, once banned by the extremists, is discreetly on sale again in some areas.

Nevertheless, few Basra residents trust that the change is permanent or that the death squads have been vanquished.

Asked how long it would take for Basra to slip back into lawlessness if the army departed, Afrah, a 20-year-old theater student at Basra’s College of Fine Arts, replied, “One day.”

Capturing a mood that flits between bad recent memories, giddy relief and brittle future expectations, she added, “It is over, but it could come back any moment, because the people who are doing the intimidation on the streets, sometimes they are your neighbor and you trust them.”

Mr. Maliki’s hastily begun operation to rein in the extremists did not start with great promise.

The offensive, grandly named Charge of the Knights, was widely criticized for being poorly planned and ill-coordinated. It was derided as the Charge of the Mice by followers of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr after more than 1,000 soldiers deserted in the face of heavy resistance from his Mahdi Army and other extremist groups. The fierce early clashes halted only after a pro-government delegation went to Iran and struck a deal with the Sadrists.

An overwhelmingly Shiite city of more than three million people, Basra sits atop huge oil reserves, which, Western officials say, provide 40 percent of Iraq’s annual oil revenue of $38 billion.


Page 2 of 3)

Thus, stability in a city that could be Iraq’s economic engine room is a major priority for the Shiite-led government. However, the Basra experience may not translate to other cities like Mosul or Kirkuk in the north, with a much more complicated religious and ethnic mix.

The Quietening of Basra The push into Basra succeeded in part because people here were exhausted with the violence and in part because Mr. Maliki received crucial help from the American and British military.

British forces, who headed the coalition military forces in Basra beginning in 2003, handed security control to the Iraqis six months ago. But a British military spokesman said British and American forces were providing fighter jets, helicopters, surveillance and logistical support for the government operation.

In addition to the 4,000 British troops in Basra, he said, the Americans sent 800 people, including surveillance experts and around 200 transition team “advisers” embedded with Iraqi troops.

An American military spokesman in Baghdad confirmed that one American had been killed and eight wounded in the Basra operation but said the United States had not had “conventional ground forces in direct support of combat operations.”

Iraqi commanders acknowledge that the American and British support helped them wrest control of Mahdi Army strongholds like Hayyaniyah — a slum that is Basra’s equivalent of Sadr City — and other poor districts that are fertile recruiting grounds for militias.

But a majority of the military presence on the streets is Iraqi.

From the moment motorists drive through the huge arch at the city’s northern entrance, they are confronted with a ragtag but daunting collection of armored police vehicles, Iraqi Army Humvees, cold war-era tanks, pickup trucks with turret-mounted machine guns and bullet-riddled personnel carriers.

Canal bridges are guarded by head-high steel pyramids, from which soldiers observe bustling markets through a bulletproof window.

Maj. Tom Holloway, a British military spokesman, conceded that the Iraqis would have “struggled” without the warplanes available to coalition forces. But he said: “I don’t think it’s a crutch. I think they would have tackled it in their own way and possibly, probably, achieved the same result.”

And the result, whoever is ultimately responsible, is in many ways remarkable.

At the College of Fine Arts, female students said they felt more, but not entirely, free to wear the clothes they liked.

“I used to be challenged for what I wear,” said Athari, a 19-year-old student wearing heavy makeup and a bright orange headscarf pushed high back on her head in the liberal fashion disapproved of by Islamic radicals. “Makeup was forbidden; short skirts were forbidden. I will not mention their name, but they were extremists. They are still here, but quieter now.”

Qais, a music student, spoke of his relief at no longer having to hide his violin in a sack of rice in his trunk.

Most of the students were Shiite, but one youth named Alaa said that he was a Sunni and that 95 percent of his relatives had fled Basra after sectarian killings, including that of his uncle. “I want to thank Mr. Nuri al-Maliki, because he cleaned Basra of murderers, hijackers and thieves,” Alaa said.

It was not an uncommon sentiment. In his city center office, Yahya, a wealthy businessman said he had just begun going onto the streets without his customary 10 bodyguards. Insisting that he was not a political supporter of the prime minister, he said he was nevertheless so grateful for the security improvements that he and colleagues had downloaded Mr. Maliki’s face onto their mobile telephones as screensavers.

But as with the American-led surge in Baghdad, there are abiding uncertainties.

These center on how long such a heavy military presence can be sustained on urban streets, and what happens when it departs.

Gen. Mohan al-Freiji, the Iraqi commander in Basra, said the city was “75 percent” under control. He said the principal threat stemmed from rogue elements of the Mahdi Army and factions like the Iraqi Hezbollah (Party of God), Thairallah (Revenge of God) and Fadhila (Virtue).

(Page 3 of 3)

Emphasizing the urgent need to address decades of poverty and neglect, he said the government had to provide jobs and investment to convert short-term military gains into long-term political and economic ones.

The Quietening of Basra “This is a city which sits on top of oil, but its young people are unemployed,” he said.

Sadrists protest that the Basra operation is a cynical exercise to weaken Mr. Maliki’s Shiite rivals ahead of provincial elections in the fall.

At Friday prayers in Kufa last week, the Sadrist preacher, Sheik Abdul Hadi al-Muhamadawi, said, “There is a large-scale conspiracy to remove the Sadr movement from the government’s way by all means, because it refuses the presence of the occupier in Iraq.”

Such words underscore the widespread belief here that the Mahdi army has its own reasons for lying low and is by no means eliminated.

During one Iraqi Army patrol in Hayyaniyah at dusk, the soldiers, elsewhere relaxed, became jittery. Belying the local commander’s insistence that the Sadrist stronghold was “90 percent or more secure,” some pulled up face masks that they had not worn in other districts. They also fired bullets into the air at the slightest delay in traffic, an aggression unlikely to endear them in an area that, although calm, was noticeably less welcoming.

Haider, a policeman at a checkpoint outside the Sadrists’ former headquarters, said his family had been threatened, even at his home in the capital.

“I have spent 60 days in Basra and haven’t been home to Baghdad,” he said. “I will be killed if I go now. My family have received dozens of fliers with threats from the Mahdi Army.”

Nevertheless he, like many others, said the evacuation of the factions from their once-untouchable headquarters had brought about a psychological shift. Outside the Sadr office, Iraqi soldiers now sit atop the roof, their tripod-mounted machine guns overlooking the tin-roofed Sadrist prayer hall, which lies half-demolished.

“The Mahdi Army used to use this office like the Baathists when they were The Party,” Haider said. “They were ruling like the government of a state. They stopped police doing their duty, from implementing the law.”

Noting that the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein, once much stronger than the Mahdi Army, had been routed, he said, “The Mahdi Army will meet the same fate exactly, and worse.”

Yet traces of the old order remain. One wall in central Basra still bore the unsigned scrawl: “We warn girls not to put on makeup and to wear scarves. Anyone who does not follow these orders will be killed.”
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« Reply #438 on: May 14, 2008, 07:42:49 AM »

When Lt. Col. Michael Zacchea left Iraq in 2005, he was torn. His yearlong mission to train an Iraqi Army battalion had left him wounded and emotionally drained, and he was eager to go. But leaving Iraq also meant leaving Jack, his Iraqi interpreter, to face an insurgency that has made a point of brutalizing those who help the Americans.

In their year together the two had, among other things, thwarted an assassination plot and survived the second battle of Falluja. Even before he departed, Colonel Zacchea began working to ensure that Jack would not be left.

“Once the insurgents get a hold of your name, they never let up until they get you,” Colonel Zacchea said.

It took two years for Jack to get a visa. He is one of the very few to succeed among thousands who have worked as interpreters for the United States military.

To many veterans that is not an acceptable rate, given the risks the interpreters took, and Colonel Zacchea and others are taking up the cause.

They have created a growing network of aid groups, spending countless hours navigating a byzantine immigration system that they feel unnecessarily keeps their allies in harm’s way. There is, they say, a debt that must be repaid to the Iraqis who helped the most. To them it is an obligation both moral and pragmatic.

“It’s like this disjointed underground railroad that exists,” said Paul Rieckhoff, who served with the Army in Iraq as a first lieutenant in 2003 and 2004. Mr. Rieckhoff is now executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which has more than 85,000 members and a Web site at

Leaving an interpreter behind, Mr. Rieckhoff said, is “like leaving one of your soldiers back in Iraq and saying, ‘Good luck, son.’ ”

A Perilous Job

The risk taken by interpreters in Iraq is considerable and widely documented. Those who work for the Americans are often accused of being apostates and traitors. Their homes are bombed. Death threats are wrapped around blood-soaked bullets and left outside their homes. Their relatives are abducted and killed because of their work. And of the interpreters themselves, hundreds have been killed.

But many work in spite of the repercussions, and that dedication resonates clearly for many American soldiers and marines.

While there is no detailed tracking of the total number of Iraqis who have worked as interpreters, their advocates estimate that more than 20,000 people have filled such roles since 2003. In the last quarter of 2007 alone, 5,490 Iraqis were employed by the multinational force as interpreters, according to the Department of Defense.

Nearly 2,000 interpreters in Iraq and Afghanistan have applied to the State Department for a special immigrant visa, which was begun in 2006 as a last resort for those fearing for their lives. So far 1,735 cases have been approved, though it is unclear how many interpreters have come to the United States.

In its first year the visa program for interpreters was limited to only 50 spots. Since then it has expanded to 500 spots a year.

But the numbers tell only part of the difficulty. The program does little to minimize the visa bureaucracy. The process, complicated for anyone, is especially hard for interpreters.

They are considered refugees, and refugees cannot apply from their native countries, in this case Iraq. But Jordan and Syria have closed their borders to the flood of Iraqi refugees. Passports issued by the government of Saddam Hussein are not valid, often making it impossible to cross borders legally.

Among service members who have served in Iraq, there is no dispute that the number of interpreters in danger is far greater than the number of those who have won visas. Many veterans are angry about the bureaucratic hurdles faced by the Iraqis who often came to work with a price on their heads. Many others have for years expressed frustration with the Bush administration for not doing more to help Iraqis who aid American forces, even as other advocates criticize the overall low numbers of Iraqis generally granted visas to the United States.

Gordon D. Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said the government’s hands were initially tied by the lack of federal legislation allowing special visas for interpreters. Now that more visas have been made available, he said, President Bush has directed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, to “make sure the visa process for translators and others moves as quickly as possible.”

Helping Their Own

Lt. Col. Steven Miska, an Army infantry officer, has had more than 50 interpreters work for him during his years in Iraq. After looking into the visa process, he decided that “no Iraqi would ever figure that thing out,” and set his staff members to establish a network. They pair Iraqis with American veterans who help shepherd them out of Iraq, through Jordan and Syria and into the United States.

“Not only is it the right thing to do from a moral perspective, it’s the way to win,” Colonel Miska said, stressing that the assistance will help reassure Iraqis that they can trust Americans despite the risk in helping them.

Page 2 of 2)

Jason Faler, 30, a captain with the Oregon National Guard, was an intelligence liaison officer embedded in the Iraqi Ministry of Defense. After returning from Iraq in 2006 and learning that the lives of two interpreters he had worked with were in danger, Mr. Faler got involved, paying their visa application fees.

To broaden assistance to other interpreters, Mr. Faler established the Checkpoint One Foundation, based in Salem, Ore. The group, whose Web site is at, has helped two Iraqi families and one Afghan couple make it to the United States, spending most of the $25,000 it has raised. Even Mr. Faler’s parents have lent a hand, housing both Iraqi families for several weeks.

The foundation has become a second job that at times takes him away from work and family, Mr. Faler said. But he is unwavering in his support of interpreters. “There is a sense of loyalty that is almost impossible for me to articulate,” he said.

Will Bardenwerper, a 31-year-old Princeton graduate, was an Army captain responsible for reconstruction projects in Anbar Province from 2006 to 2007. His interpreter, whom he called Jeff, became a friend and adviser.

Mr. Bardenwerper was so struck by the danger Jeff faced that he began the visa application process for him even before returning to the United States last year. Like others, Mr. Bardenwerper ran into a thicket of red tape. He was particularly frustrated by the requirement that interpreters produce a letter from a general on their behalf. This, he said, was like a junior associate at a Fortune 500 company asking the chief executive for a letter of recommendation.

“Over the course of a year, I might have met two generals,” Mr. Bardenwerper said. “I mean, we were out in a wasteland in Anbar.”

But after a year of follow-up, Mr. Bardenwerper and Jeff finally had a breakthrough. Jeff arrived in America in March and has gotten to visit with Mr. Bardenwerper and other service members who took up his cause.

An Incomplete Ending

Although some veterans have succeeded in bringing their interpreters safely to the United States, the experience of Colonel Zacchea and Jack shows that a visa, while a substantial advantage, does not guarantee a happy ending to a war story.

Colonel Zacchea, who served with the Marines, said he spotted Jack immediately. Jack studied diligently and absorbed the complexities of military translation quickly. An enduring friendship grew around the training regimen and the combat missions. When the sun set each day, they drank chai, or tea, and often talked for hours.

In 2005, after the Colonel Zacchea left Iraq, Jack applied for a Fulbright scholarship. He had been a physics tutor before the war and wanted to teach high school students in the United States, but he did not qualify.

Within a week of the Fulbright rejection, Colonel Zacchea heard about the start of the special visa program. He wrote a recommendation for Jack, who also had a petition filed on his behalf by his American supervisors. But Jack was not accepted.

In March 2006, Colonel Zacchea learned that Arkan, another translator who had worked with them, was killed by insurgents. Two previous attempts on his life had failed, but not the third. Colonel Zacchea kept pushing, and he resubmitted Jack’s paperwork. He stayed in constant contact with Jack, hoping to make sure he did not share Arkan’s fate. After nearly two more years, Jack’s application made it through, and in September 2007 he landed at Newark Liberty International Airport.

But Jack struggled in the United States. The only safety net he had was the one Colonel Zacchea had created. Jack lived in the basement of his home and spent his days searching for work, but satisfaction was elusive. He worked at Macy’s briefly, then in the maintenance department of a hotel.

But because Jack was an Arabic speaker who had been vetted by the military and the Department of Homeland Security, both men held out hope for more — for a career as an interpreter or teacher in the United States.  When Jack finally got a job offer, in April, it was one he felt he could not refuse — even though it meant going back to Iraq. The military offered him a one-year contract, loaded with incentives, to return and work as an interpreter again.

After one year, he could return to the foundations he and Colonel Zacchea had laid in Connecticut — all with no change in his visa status.  The decision was wrenching: roll the dice in Iraq one more time for a life-changing payout, or continue foundering here.
Reluctantly, and against the advice of people close to him, Jack took the offer. On a rainy night in April they drove to a hotel at the airport in Hartford. Jack’s flight was early the next morning.

Over dinner, Jack tried to explain why he could not stay. “If I had found a job here, a good job when I came, I would, probably,” Jack said, searching for the right words. “I would not go back.”

Six hours later, Jack’s bags were checked and his ticket was in his hand. He and Colonel Zacchea exchanged a few words of farewell, hugged and then parted ways.

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« Reply #439 on: May 14, 2008, 08:33:21 AM »

Maliki's Victory
May 14, 2008; Page A20
When Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered a military offensive against rogue Shiite militias in March, it was widely panned as a failure that was one more reason the U.S. needed to abandon Iraqis to their own "civil war." Well, several weeks later the battle for Basra and Baghdad against Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army looks to be both a military and political success.

Mr. Maliki took a big risk when he decided to move against his fellow Shiites to reclaim Basra for the government. Iraqi troops were untested for such a complex, divisional-level operation and, in hindsight, their battle plans were too hastily drawn. The early setbacks might easily have emboldened Mr. Sadr, caused the Iraqi army to crumble and led to the end of Mr. Maliki's government.

Instead, Mr. Maliki and Iraqi forces persevered. And two months later, hundreds of Mahdi Army fighters have been arrested and weapons caches found. Following the model of the U.S. surge in Baghdad, Basra's streets are far safer thanks to the visible presence of 33,000 Iraqi troops. The Mahdi vice squads that terrorized the city's population are gone. The U.S. and Britain provided air support during the early stages of the operation, and continue to provide advisory support. But the Basra operation has clearly been an Iraqi success.

Something similar also seems to be happening in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, long a stronghold for the Mahdi Army. Initial press reports have suggested the battle has mostly come out a draw. But a 14-point "truce" between the government and the Mahdists (brokered last week by Iran) suggests otherwise. Among other details reported in the press, the agreement requires the Mahdi Army to abandon its heavy and medium weapons, end its shelling of Baghdad's Green Zone, shut down its kangaroo courts and recognize the authority of Iraqi law. In exchange, the government seems to have promised mainly that it would not arrest lower-level militia members.

If the truce holds, it would bring to an end weeks of fighting that has killed hundreds of Mr. Sadr's militant followers. The agreement doesn't take account of the Iranian "special groups" that are operating alongside the Mahdi Army, which can be activated to target Iraqi and American troops at any time. But the fact that Iran arranged the truce (and so far has made it stick) exposes the pretense that Tehran is an innocent bystander in the war for Iraq.

The truce suggests, instead, that Iran has grudgingly come to respect Mr. Maliki as a serious opponent. Having invested itself so heavily in Mr. Sadr's success, Tehran had little reason to suddenly lend its diplomatic offices unless it felt the Mahdi Army was on the verge of defeat. Last week's truce may have postponed that moment, but there's little doubt Mr. Sadr's movement has suffered an embarrassing defeat.

However fitfully it began, the Basra campaign is a sign that Iraqis are in fact "standing up" for their own security. It is also a personal vindication for Mr. Maliki, who recognized to his credit that his government had to have a monopoly on violence in Shiite neighborhoods as much as in Sunni enclaves.

In the last year we were told first that the surge was a military failure, and later that it was a military success but that Iraq's political class had not lived up to its end of the bargain. In fact, just as surge supporters said, the Iraqis have become more confident and effective the more they have become convinced that the U.S. was not going to cut and run.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.
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« Reply #440 on: May 21, 2008, 07:04:47 AM »

It must pain the NY Times to write this  cheesy

Iraqi tanks and personnel carriers crossed into the militia-held section of Sadr City at dawn Tuesday, and met no opposition.

Published: May 21, 2008
BAGHDAD — Iraqi forces rolled unopposed through the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Tuesday, a dramatic turnaround from the bitter fighting that has plagued the Baghdad neighborhood for two months, and a qualified success for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.

Targets of the Operation
 Back Story With The Times’s Stephen Farrell (mp3)
Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images, for The New York Times
Iraqi soldiers prepared Tuesday to enter northern Sadr City, which Shiite militias had used to fire rockets at the Green Zone.

As it did in the southern city of Basra last month, the Iraqi government advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militias.

This was a hopeful accomplishment, but one that came with caveats: In both cities, the militias eventually melted away in the face of Iraqi troops backed by American firepower. Thus nobody can say just where the militias might re-emerge or when Iraqi and American forces might need to fight them again.

By late Tuesday, Iraqi troops had pushed deep into the district and set up positions around hospitals and police stations, which the Iraqi government was seeking to bring under its control.

The main military question now is whether Iraqi soldiers can solidify their hold over Sadr City in the coming days. And the main political one is whether the Maliki government will cement its gains by carrying out its long-promised, multimillion-dollar program of economic assistance and job creation to win over a still wary population and erode the militias’ base of support.

Sadr City has long been a simmering trouble spot, a haven for Shiite militias and a conduit for what American commanders say are Iranian-supplied arms, including explosively formed penetrators, a particularly lethal type of roadside bomb.

In the past two months, it has also become a test of the government’s ability to find its footing in the slippery terrain of Middle Eastern Shiite politics and internal divisions among Iraq’s governing Shiite parties.

The recent fighting flared up in late March after Mr. Maliki sent troops to gain control of the port city of Basra. Shiite militants responded by taking over Iraqi Army checkpoints on the outskirts of Sadr City and using the neighborhood as a launching pad to fire rockets at the Green Zone, the seat of the Iraqi government and site of the United States Embassy.

American and Iraqi forces had little choice but to fight their way in to suppress the rocket fire. They pushed their way to Al Quds Street, which gave them a measure of control over the southern quarter of Sadr City. A massive concrete wall was erected along the thoroughfare to try to keep the militants out.

But that still left most of Sadr City in the hands of Shiite militias, which continued to lob rockets at the Green Zone and attack the Iraqi and American troops in the neighborhood’s southern tier.

Mr. Maliki had responded to a challenge from Shiite militias in Basra by mounting a hasty operation. The military campaign caught American officials by surprise and appeared to sputter at the start as the Iraqi forces faced logistical problems and more than 1,000 desertions.

But as the Basra operation proceeded and Iraqi troops began to pour into the city, militia commanders drifted away. Mr. Maliki was strengthened politically in his drive to shape an image as a strong and decisive leader, the kind of leader many Iraqis, Sunni and Shiite, think is needed to control the country.

Emboldened by the outcome in Basra, the prime minister wanted to act quickly against the militias in Sadr City as well, according to American and Iraqi officials. He was inclined to see the struggle as a test of wills, which he could win by striking a decisive blow, the officials said.

Iraqi and Americans commanders, chastened by the stumbling first week of the Basra operation, favored a more deliberate approach. Sadr City is densely populated, with more than two million people, a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr, the radical cleric, and a neighborhood with a resilient collection of militia cells adept at hiding among the populace. With operations in Basra, Mosul and other parts of Iraq, the Iraqi military was stretched.

Additional forces were brought in, including the Third Brigade of the First Iraqi Army Division, a quick reaction force from Anbar Province. Lt. Gen. Abud Qanbar, the commander of Iraqi forces in Baghdad, developed a plan to advance north into the heart of Sadr City.

The military preparations appeared to be serious, a fact that loomed large for leaders of Mr. Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, who told one reporter last week that the militia was convinced that military operations were imminent.

Maj. Gen. Mizher al-Azawi, the commander of the 11th Iraqi Army Division, said that the operation would be carried out by Iraqi ground forces with the support of American airpower.

But for all the talk by Iraqi government officials about breaking the back of the militias, and the militants’ bluster about defending their turf, it was clear that the two sides had much to lose if they were unable to reach an accommodation, however temporary or expedient.


Page 2 of 2)

Had it come to an urban battle in the Shiite enclave, the Iraqi government, backed by American force, would probably have prevailed. But Iraqi troops would have suffered casualties. Shiite civilians would have been caught in the cross-fire and further alienated from the government. And eventually the Shiite militias, which had already suffered considerable losses, would have been further depleted.

Certainly, a military offensive would not have been a simple operation. The militias had been significantly weakened over the previous two months of fighting. Col. John Hort, the commander of the Third Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, estimated that some 700 militia fighters had been killed by air and ground fire since fighting erupted in late March.
“It is pretty safe to say that we have killed the equivalent of a U.S. battalion,” he said in a recent interview.

Some Mahdi Army leaders put the death toll slightly higher. When a truce was first announced, they threatened to refuse Mr. Sadr’s order to stand down. “What about the martyrs?” a Mahdi battalion leader recently told a reporter. “A thousand martyrs, what did they die for?”

Still, the area directly north of Al Quds Street was believed to have had a heavy concentration of roadside bombs, presenting a substantial challenge for an Iraqi force. Combat engineers and explosive ordnance disposal teams are in short supply in the Iraqi military, which relies heavily on using sappers to cut the wires rigged to explosives.

A Sadr City battle would also have sent Iraqi forces into one of the most heavily populated sections of Baghdad, where there were ample opportunities for ambushes. Militia snipers have already taken a toll on Iraqi troops with powerful .50-caliber rifles.

There were other threats, as well. In one instance not previously disclosed, an American M1 tank was damaged by an RPG-29, an advanced anti-tank weapon. Even less powerful types of rocket-propelled grenades could pose a threat to some Iraqi vehicles, which are generally less heavily armored than those employed by the Americans.

While the planning continued, American military officials cited reports that Mahdi Army and Iranian-backed commanders were sneaking out of Sadr City and perhaps even Iraq. People close to Mahdi leaders in Sadr City said they knew some who were leaving for Lebanon by way of Iran.

“We have seen a lot of indications that some of the senior leaders within JAM and the special groups are preparing to leave or have already left Sadr City,” Colonel Hort said last week, referring to Jaysh al Mahdi, as the Mahdi Army is known, and the Iranian-backed militias the military refers to as special groups.

Iran, according to some Western analysts, was also focusing on developments in Lebanon, where it has been supporting the militant group Hezbollah, and seemed interested in an arrangement in which the groups it backed in Sadr City would withdraw to fight another day.

With the emergence of a political accord, the Iraqi military began to develop a new plan, which American officers learned about late last week. It assumed that Iraqi troops would be welcomed, or at least tolerated, by the residents. Instead of an assault through the roadside bombs, six battalions would drive in on parallel streets and set up checkpoints and search for weapons.

That plan was carried out on Tuesday and was uncontested.

So far, the Iraqi Army has been a winner. Iraqi commanders received, and sometimes rejected, advice from the American military. But in the end they were able to execute a plan that was very much their own.

Only two dozen or so roadside bombs were reported found, however, raising a question of whether others had been hidden by the militias for another day. Nor is it clear how energetic Iraqi soldiers will be in carrying out searches in a Mahdi Army stronghold.

Brig. Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, the chief of staff for the Multinational Corps in Iraq, said the Iraqi government had considered various factors.

“When you exert lethal actions against Sadr City, you are de facto going against a fairly poor sector of the Shia populace,” he said. “So that is a dynamic that the government of Iraq has to keep in their analysis about what is the right way to deal with this, and we believe a measured approach is appropriate.”
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« Reply #441 on: May 27, 2008, 10:00:19 AM »

You may have missed it due to the nearly non-existant MSM covnerage yesterday, but "Iraqi Violence at a 4 year low, US says.  The Military gives credit to crackdowns launched my Maliki in the last two months."  (buried in yesterday's LA Times)
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« Reply #442 on: May 27, 2008, 10:19:32 AM »

I'm sure there was wailing and the gnashing of teeth just to contemplate good news from Iraq in America's newsrooms.....
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« Reply #443 on: May 27, 2008, 12:02:37 PM »

And more in the same vein:,0,2392748.story

Iraqis losing patience with Sadr's militiamen
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« Reply #444 on: May 28, 2008, 08:59:00 AM »

Al Qaeda wonders how it lost Iraq

Perhaps these might just come from the terrorists’ versions of Harry Reid, but Strategy Page reports that al-Qaeda websites have begun postmortems on their mission in Iraq. Given their belief that Allah has handed AQ a mandate to re-establish the Caliphate in a greater ummah, the network has to explain how they managed to lose the country set square in the middle of southwest Asia. Their explanations don’t differ much from ours, actually:

Al Qaeda web sites are making a lot of noise about “why we lost in Iraq.” Western intelligence agencies are fascinated by the statistics being posted in several of these Arab language sites. Not the kind of stuff you read about in the Western media. According to al Qaeda, their collapse in Iraq was steep and catastrophic. According to their stats, in late 2006, al Qaeda was responsible for 60 percent of the terrorist attacks, and nearly all the ones that involved killing a lot of civilians. The rest of the violence was carried out by Iraqi Sunni Arab groups, who were trying in vain to scare the Americans out of the country.

Today, al Qaeda has been shattered, with most of its leadership and foot soldiers dead, captured or moved from Iraq. As a result, al Qaeda attacks have declined more than 90 percent. Worse, most of their Iraqi Sunni Arab allies have turned on them, or simply quit. This “betrayal” is handled carefully on the terrorist web sites, for it is seen as both shameful, and perhaps recoverable.

Recovery looks increasingly unlikely. With the Iraqi Army now conducting operations throughout Iraq and the Americans able to focus on logistical support, the terrorists have fewer infidels to target. The Iraqis see the Americans as less of a threat than the lunatic jihadists who created tens of thousands of “involuntary martyrs”.

In this case, the arrogance of proclaiming the Caliphate under Osama’s leadership played a key role in the “betrayal” by Iraqi Sunni insurgents. Most of them fought to regain control over Iraq from the Shi’ites liberated from Sunni oppression with the fall of Saddam Hussein. The proclamation of the Caliphate under a foreign leader angered them, and as AQI proved itself inept against the counterinsurgency operations of General David Petraeus, it became a joke. It exposed AQ and AQI as pretenders, lunatic-fringe radicals who had no concept of governance other than through rape and murder.

Now AQ has a major public-relations and recruiting problem on its hands. As long as the network scored victories against the West, more radical Muslims could entertain the fantasy that Osama had that mandate from Allah to establish the supremacy of Islam. Now that Osama has lost Iraq, that fantasy has been dashed — and Osama exposed as just another pretender, with AQ as his butcher squad, one that kills many more Muslims than infidels. Their defeat shows that the violent jihad strategy fails when superior force gets brought to bear against it, which hardly points to a mandate from heaven.

That defeat will resonate throughout the Islamic world. The victory of rationality and democracy in Iraq cannot be denied, even by AQ itself.
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« Reply #445 on: May 29, 2008, 09:00:47 AM »


Sadr: Lost big to forces of Iraqi democracy.

May 29, 2008 --
WHENEVER retreat-now activists or their favored presidential aspirant are confronted with our progress in Iraq, their stock reply is, "Al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq in 2003."
Well, I happen to agree with Sen. Barack Obama and his supporters on that count: At most, the terrorists had a tenuous connection with Saddam's regime. But it's 2008, not 2003. And our next president will take office in 2009. It's today's reality that matters.
It's as if, in June 1944, critics had argued from facts frozen in June 1939. ("Why invade Normandy? Hitler's content with Czechoslovakia.")
In the course of a war - any war - the situation changes, enemies evolve and goals shift. A war to preserve the Union becomes a war to end slavery; a war to defeat one set of totalitarian systems empowers a new network of tyrannies. It's a rare war whose end can be forecast neatly at its outset.
And you don't get any do-overs.
To date, not one "mainstream media" journalist has pressed the leading advocates of unconditional surrender to describe in detail what might happen after we "bring the troops home now."
There's plenty of unchallenged sloganeering, but no serious debate. This selective political softball and pep-rally journalism serves neither our country nor our political process well.
So, let's bring those quit-Iraq time-travelers back to mid-2008 and fill them in on what's happened since they were ideologically stranded five years ago:
* After our troops reached Baghdad, al Qaeda's leaders made a colossal strategic miscalculation and publicly declared that Iraq was now the central front in their jihad against us. Matter of record, in the enemy's own words.
* Some Iraqi Sunni Arabs, lamenting the national pre-eminence they'd lost, rallied to the terrorists.
* Al Qaeda in Iraq and its affiliates then embarked on a campaign of widespread atrocities: videotaped beheadings, mass bombings of civilians, assassinations, widespread rape (of boys and girls, as well as of women), kidnappings and brutal efforts to dictate the intimate details of Iraqi lives.
* Al Qaeda's savagery alienated the Sunni Arab masses in record time. Suddenly, those American "occupiers" looked like saviors.
* By the millions, Sunni Muslims turned against al Qaeda and turned to the US military, inflicting a catastrophic propaganda defeat on the terrorists.
* Supported by the population, US and Iraqi forces inflicted a massive military defeat on al Qaeda. At present, the terror organization's own Web masters admit that al Qaeda is nearing final collapse in Iraq.
Those are facts.
If we nonetheless quit Iraq in 2009, the defeated remnants of al Qaeda will be able to declare victory, after all. The organization will be able to re-launch itself as the great Muslim victor over the Great Satan. We'll have thrown away a potentially decisive triumph and revived the fortunes of the fanatics who brought us 9/11.
And the above only detailed the defeat of al Qaeda. Far more is happening in Iraq, all of it good: Muqtada al-Sadr and his thugs have suffered a series of lopsided defeats; Muqtada's hiding in Iran, afraid to return; a democratically elected government has finally taken charge in Baghdad - and gained enormously in popularity.
Iraqis look forward to the next round of elections (to the dismay of every Persian Gulf autocracy). Crucial legislation has been refined, passed and implemented. Iraq's economy is booming - and its government has begun paying its own way.
Want more good news? Iran has failed in its bid to take control of Iraq. And our military leaders are drawing down our troop levels according to a sensible plan, with the prospect of more troop cuts to come.
What don't the critics like? Democracy? The defeat of al Qaeda? Muslims turning to the US military for help? Troop cuts? The dramatically improved human-rights situation? What's the problem here?
The answer's simple: Admitting that they've been mistaken about Iraq guts the left's argument for political entitlement. If the otherwise deplorable Bush administration somehow got this one right, it means the left got another big one wrong.
So be prepared for frequent time-machine trips until November. The encouraging reality of today's Iraq will go ignored in favor of an endless mantra of "Al Qaeda wasn't there in 2003 . . ."
The bottom line? Al Qaeda let the war's opponents down.

Ralph Peters' new book, "Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World," hits stores on July 4.
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« Reply #446 on: June 03, 2008, 12:38:30 AM »

Iraq hits milestones on U.S. troop deaths, oil

Sun Jun 1, 2008 12:22pm EDT

* U.S. monthly death toll drops to new low

* Iraq says oil production at post-war high

* Australia pulls out combat troops

By Ross Colvin

BAGHDAD, June 1 (Reuters) - U.S. troop deaths in Iraq fell to their lowest level last month since the 2003 invasion and officials said on Sunday improved security also helped the country boost oil production in May to a post-war high.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Iraq's oil minister credited better security for the two milestones, which illustrated a dramatic turnabout in the fortunes of a country on the brink of all-out sectarian civil war just 12 months ago.

"We've still got a distance to go but I think lower casualty rates are a reflection of some real progress," Gates told reporters in Singapore. "The key will be to continue to sustain the progress we have seen."

American generals have stressed that the security gains are both fragile and reversible. That was shown in March, when an Iraqi government offensive against Shi'ite militias in southern Basra sparked a surge in violence in the capital and other cities, catching U.S. and Iraqi officials off guard.

The U.S. military said 19 soldiers died in May, the lowest monthly death toll in a five-year-old war that has so far claimed the lives of more than 4,000 American soldiers.

Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani told Reuters in an interview that the improved security had helped Iraq, which has the world's third-largest oil reserves, raise oil production to a post-war high of 2.5 million barrels per day in May.

Iraq's oil industry, hit by decades of sanctions, war and neglect, was a vulnerable target for saboteurs after the U.S. invasion. Attacks on pipelines quickly destroyed any hopes of using Iraq's vast oil reserves to fund its reconstruction.

The military says violence in Iraq is now at a four-year low following crackdowns by U.S. and Iraqi forces on Shi'ite militias in southern Basra and Baghdad and on al Qaeda in the northern city of Mosul, its last major urban stronghold.

"In May we have exceeded for the first time a 2 million barrels per day export rate. In production we have exceeded 2.5 million bpd," Shahristani said.

The number of Iraqi civilians killed in May also fell, to 505, after reaching a seven-month high of 968 in April, figures compiled by the interior, defence and health ministries showed.


U.S. officials credit the turnaround in security to President George W. Bush's decision to send 30,000 extra troops to Iraq, a rebellion by Sunni tribal leaders against al Qaeda, and a ceasefire by anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

But a suicide bombing in the town of Hit in western Anbar province on Saturday night that killed the local police chief underscored the fragility of Iraq's improved security.

Police said a suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint, killing police chief Lieutenant-Colonel Khalil Ibrahim al-Jazzaa, eight other policemen and four civilians.

In Iraq's more stable south, about 500 Australian troops pulled out of their base in the city of Nassiriya, signalling an end to Australia's combat mission in the country.

Australia, a close U.S. ally, was one of the first countries to commit troops to the Iraq invasion, but Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his Labour party won election last November largely on Rudd's campaign promise to bring the troops home this year.

The war is also a big issue in the U.S. presidential election, with Republican nominee John McCain vowing not to withdraw troops until the war is won, and his Democratic opponents Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton promising to bring them home as soon as possible.

Baghdad and the United States are negotiating a new deal that will provide a legal basis for U.S. troops in Iraq when their United Nations mandate expires at the end of the year.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a rare statement on the talks that they were at their early stages, but he acknowledged there were differences between Iraq and the United States over what should be included in the agreement.

"The Iraqi side has a vision and their draft differs from the American side and their vision," he said.

The talks have angered many Iraqis who suspect the United States of wanting to keep a permanent presence in Iraq, and on Friday thousands of Iraqis answered a call by Moqtada al-Sadr to protest against the negotiations.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki meanwhile asked France to supply sophisticated weaponry during a visit by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner on Sunday. (Additional reporting by Haider al-Nasrallah in Nassiriya, Ammar al-Awani in Ramadi, Adrian Croft, Ahmed Rasheed, Michael Georgy and Aws Qusay in Baghdad and Andrew Gray in Singapore; Editing by Charles Dick)
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« Reply #447 on: June 07, 2008, 06:42:53 AM »

Iraq and the Election
June 6, 2008; Page A14
This spring, the Iraqi army routed insurgents in three of their most important urban strongholds. These gains follow the success of the surge in crushing al Qaeda in the Sunni triangle, meaning that we are at last on the verge of winning in Iraq and securing a strategic victory in the Middle East. Question: Is this emerging victory – achieved at a cost of more than 4,000 American lives – something we are prepared to abandon after November?

* * *
The good news in Iraq is increasingly undeniable, even to the media. In March, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered Iraqi troops to retake the southern Shiite city of Basra from Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. After a shaky start, the city has now been liberated from Sadrist goon squads, and it is mostly peaceful. "The presence of the Iraqi army has made people safe, not 100%, but 90%," a Basra barber told the Washington Post. The army is pursuing the Sadrists in their last redoubt, Amarah, while other radicals have followed Moqtada to Iran.

Mr. Maliki then repeated the exercise in Sadr City, the Mahdi Army's Baghdad stronghold. Mr. Sadr backed down from a full-scale confrontation, following an Iranian-brokered "truce" that had all the hallmarks of a de facto surrender. Meanwhile, Iraqi army operations in the northern city of Mosul recently netted more than 1,000 suspected Sunni insurgents in al Qaeda's last major urban sanctuary. The remaining terrorists were forced to scatter to the countryside or flee for Syria. "They've never been closer to defeat than they are now," says U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who is not given to claims of premature progress.

For three consecutive weeks, the number of violent incidents have been at their lowest level since the spring of 2004. The number of U.S. combat fatalities last month, 19, was the lowest of the entire war, and Iraqi military and civilian deaths are also sharply down. In the first five months of this year, 4,500 insurgent weapons caches were found, compared to 6,900 for all of 2007. These numbers have sometimes moved in the wrong direction and may do so again, particularly during major combat operations. But the trend is unmistakably positive.

The military gains have, in turn, had salutary political consequences. Mr. Maliki's decision to take Basra forced Iraq's political class to take sides – either with the government, or the Sadrist militias. All but the Sadrists chose Mr. Maliki, even some who had thought of trying to topple the government. The prime minister has emerged stronger and with more support from all ethnic groups, not merely from fellow Shiites. Insofar as "political reconciliation" is supposed to be the acid test of progress in Iraq, it is happening.

The Iraqi military is also improving, partly from the confidence gained from its recent successes. The government now counts more than half a million men under arms, and the army is emerging as a reliable and multiethnic national institution. The lead division that took Basra in March was largely led by Sunni officers, who were nonetheless welcomed by the city's Shiites.

All of this means that it is now possible to foresee not merely a stable Iraq, but also one that can achieve our original strategic goals in the region. The strategist Frederick Kagan – an architect of the surge – makes the analogy to West Germany during the Cold War. A secure and pro-American Iraq would be crucial to expanding U.S. influence in the Arab heart of the Middle East, and especially to containing Iran. A democratic Iraq can serve as an alternative pole of Shiite power in the region, as well as an alternative political model to theocratic, radical Tehran.

All of this depends, however, on securing the progress of the last 18 months, and this means not departing too soon. The gains of recent weeks mean that the five surge brigades can return home this summer without sacrificing security. But both al Qaeda and Iranian-backed Special Groups are likely to stage some kind of offensive in the fall – not least to influence the Iraqi provincial and U.S. elections.

The insurgents know they've lost militarily, so their goal will be to make enough violent noise to prevail politically. Inside Iraq, the Sadrists will try to intimidate Iraqis from supporting competing Shiite groups. But the bigger immediate prize will be in the U.S., where they hope that a President Barack Obama would follow through on his pledge to abandon Iraq.

That kind of withdrawal is the only way we can now lose in Iraq. The minute it is announced, the Iraqis who have allied themselves with us would have to recalculate their prospects in a post-U.S. era. Iran and its proxies would immediately leap in influence – precisely the kind of outcome that Mr. Obama now claims to want to prevent. Progress toward political reconciliation might well stop, as the various Iraq factions worry about their own security without America's mediating presence.

* * *
By contrast, a permanent U.S. military presence – albeit one reduced over time – would give Iraqis the confidence to continue their political maturation. Another Iraq national election is scheduled for next year, and it is an opportunity for democracy to put down even deeper roots. It's crucial for Americans to understand that, apart from the Sadrists, all factions of Iraqi politics now support some kind of U.S.-Iraq status of forces agreement to succeed the U.N. mandate that expires later this year.

We are winning in Iraq. Indeed, we can now say with certainty that we will win, as long as we don't repeat our earlier mistakes and seek to draw down too soon. This is the improving Iraq that the next U.S. President will inherit, and it is the heart of the Iraq debate Americans should have in November.
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« Reply #448 on: June 10, 2008, 07:18:37 AM »

How Prime Minister Maliki Pacified Iraq
June 10, 2008

America is very close to succeeding in Iraq. The "near-strategic defeat" of al Qaeda in Iraq described by CIA Director Michael Hayden last month in the Washington Post has been followed by the victory of the Iraqi government's security forces over illegal Shiite militias, including Iranian-backed Special Groups. The enemies of Iraq and America now cling desperately to their last bastions, while the political process builds momentum.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki presses the flesh in Basra, March 29, 2008.
These tremendous gains remain fragile and could be lost to skillful enemy action, or errors in Baghdad or Washington. But where the U.S. was unequivocally losing in Iraq at the end of 2006, we are just as unequivocally winning today.

By February 2008, America and its partners accomplished a series of tasks thought to be impossible. The Sunni Arab insurgency and al Qaeda in Iraq were defeated in Anbar, Diyala and Baghdad provinces, and the remaining leaders and fighters clung to their last urban outpost in Mosul. The Iraqi government passed all but one of the "benchmark" laws (the hydrocarbon law being the exception, but its purpose is now largely accomplished through the budget) and was integrating grass-roots reconciliation with central political progress. The sectarian civil war had ended.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), swelled by 100,000 new recruits in 2007, was fighting hard and skillfully throughout Iraq. The Shiite-led government was showing an increasing willingness to use its forces even against Shiite militias. The announcement that provincial elections would be held by year's end galvanized political movements across the country, focusing Iraq's leaders on the need to get more votes rather than more guns.

Three main challenges to security and political progress remained: clearing al Qaeda out of Mosul; bringing Basra under the Iraqi government's control; and eliminating the Special Groups safe havens in Sadr City. It seemed then that these tasks would require enormous effort, entail great loss of life, and take the rest of the year or more. Instead, the Iraqi government accomplished them within a few months.

- Mosul: After losing in central Iraq, remnants of al Qaeda and Baathist insurgents were driven north. These groups started to reconstitute in Mosul as the last large urban area open to them. Mosul also contained financial networks that had funded the insurgency, was a waypoint for foreign fighters infiltrating from Syria, and has ethno-sectarian fault lines that al Qaeda sought to exploit.

The Iraqi government responded by forming the Ninewah Operations Command early in 2008, concentrating forces around Mosul, and preparing for a major clearing operation. In February, the ISF cleared the neighborhoods of Palestine and Sumer, two key al Qaeda safe havens.

In the meantime, American forces conducted numerous raids against the terrorist network, netting hundreds of key individuals. The ISF launched Operation Lion's Roar on May 10. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited Mosul on May 14, and the ISF began Operation Mother of Two Springs shortly thereafter.

The results have been dramatic. Enemy attacks fell from an average of 40 per day in the first week of May to between four and six per day in the following two weeks. Coalition forces have captured or killed the al-Qaeda emirs of Mosul, Southeast Mosul, Ninewah Province and much of their networks.

Mr. Maliki announced a $100 million reconstruction package for Mosul on May 17 and dispatched an envoy on May 29 to oversee the distribution of funds. Security progress was made possible in part by the enrollment of 1,000 former members of the Iraqi Army. They were part of the revision of the de-Baathification policy legislated by the Iraqi Parliament earlier in the year.

- Basra: Al Qaeda's defeat in 2007 exposed Iranian-backed Special Groups and Shiite militias as the most important sources of violence and casualties. The Maliki government had shown its willingness to target Sunni insurgents, but many feared it would not challenge Iran's proxies and the Sadrist militias within which they functioned. Basra, in particular, seemed an almost insurmountable problem following the withdrawal of British combat forces from the city. This left Iraq's second-largest city (and only port) in the hands of rival militias.

Iraqi and American commanders began planning for a gradual effort to retake the city. Mr. Maliki decided not to wait. He ordered clearing operations to begin on March 22, sent reinforcements to support those operations, and accompanied the first of those reinforcements to Basra on March 24.

Operation Knight's Charge started on March 25, as Iraqi Security Forces moved into Mahdi Army (JAM) safe havens throughout the city. Initial operations were not promising – some 1,000 ISF personnel deserted or refused to fight, most of them from the newly formed 14th Iraqi Army Division. Nevertheless, the Iraqi Army seized control of the port.

Initial setbacks did not deter Mr. Maliki, who continued to send in reinforcements, including Iraqi Special Forces, Iraqi helicopters and the Quick Reaction Force of the 1st Iraqi Army Division from Anbar. Negotiations between Iraqi leaders and Iranian Brig. Gen. Ghassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Quds Force, produced a "cease-fire" on March 30.

But operations continued, and after two weeks the ISF, with American advisers and aviation but no American combat units, launched clearing operations throughout the city on April 12. By mid-May, the ISF controlled Basra's neighborhoods, and drove JAM and Special Groups fighters out of their safe havens, pursuing them north and south of the city.

Mr. Maliki had authorized the recruitment of 2,500 local security volunteers and begun negotiating with their tribal leaders for their incorporation into the ISF. The establishment of Iraqi government control in Basra was symbolized by the recapture of state buildings and open areas that had been occupied by various Sadrist and other insurgent groups, and by the seizure of enormous weapons caches.

- Sadr City: The Special Groups had been preparing for an offensive of their own in the first months of 2008, stockpiling arms and moving trained fighters into and around the country. Mr. Maliki's move into Basra led them to begin their offensive prematurely, including the launching of heavy rocket and mortar attacks against the Green Zone from their bases in Sadr City. Iraqi Security Forces crushed these attacks in central Iraq and, with American assistance, in most of Baghdad.

The rocketing of the Green Zone, however, convinced American and Iraqi leaders to cordon off Sadr City, and to clear the two southernmost neighborhoods from which most of the rockets were coming. The government and U.S. commanders moved reinforcements toward Sadr City and began planning for a clearing operation. In the meantime, Iraqi officials began negotiating with Sadr City leaders, as U.S. forces erected a wall to separate the cleared neighborhoods from the rest of Sadr City.

On May 20, the ISF, supported by U.S. airpower and advisers, moved rapidly into the remainder of Sadr City. They received help from the local population in identifying IED locations and enemy safe houses, and destroyed enemy leadership centers. By the end of May, most of the Special Groups and hard-core Sadrist fighters had been killed, captured or driven off.

At present, al Qaeda is left with a tenuous foothold in Ninewah and a scattered presence throughout the rest of Sunni Iraq. Special Groups leaders who survived have mostly fled to Iran, while hard-core Sadrist fighters have fallen back to Maysan Province, whose capital, Amarah, has become their last urban sanctuary. All of Iraq's other major population centers are controlled by the ISF, which can now move freely throughout the country as never before.

The war is not over. Enemy groups are reforming, rearming and preparing new attacks. Al Qaeda in Iraq will conduct spectacular attacks in 2008 wherever it can. Special Groups and their JAM affiliates will probably reconstitute within a few months and launch new offensives timed to influence both the American and Iraqi elections in the fall.

And for all its progress and success, the ISF is not yet able to stand on its own. Coalition forces continue to play key support roles, maintaining stability and security in cleared but threatened areas, and serving as impartial and honest brokers between Iraqi groups working toward reconciliation.

But success is in sight. Compared with the seemingly insurmountable obstacles already overcome, the remaining challenges in Iraq are eminently solvable – if we continue to pursue a determined strategy that builds on success rather than throwing our accomplishments away. No one in December 2006 could have imagined how far we would have come in 18 months. Having come this far, we must see this critical effort through to the end.

Ms. Kagan is president of the Institute for the Study of War in Washington, D.C., and author of "The Surge: A Military History," forthcoming from Encounter Books. Mr. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
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« Reply #449 on: June 12, 2008, 10:05:36 PM »

Sunnis to Baghdad
June 13, 2008
You can tell security is improving fast in Iraq because even some neighboring Arab countries are deciding to send envoys back to Baghdad. The United Arab Emirates announced plans last week to appoint an ambassador, and Bahrain and Jordan have since said they plan to do the same.

The Sunni-led Arab autocrats in the region have long been cool to Iraq's new government, not least because it is Shiite-led and democratically elected. In withdrawing their ambassadors, or staffing their embassies with junior-level diplomats since 2003, these countries could also point to security concerns. One of the insurgency's first car-bomb targets was the Jordanian embassy in August 2003, and terrorists later killed, wounded or kidnapped officials from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Sudan and the UAE.

But with violence markedly declining, the security justification is increasingly implausible. As UAE Foreign Minister Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan recently explained, "the regional countries needed some time to understand the new Iraq, which has undergone a big change."

One Arab neighbor is notably absent from the list of returning Sunni nations. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal promised in September to open an embassy in Baghdad "soon," but the Saudis have made no visible progress. Numerous U.S. officials have asked the Saudis to do so, and last week Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker told us that he and General David Petraeus "spoke to the King [Abdullah] to stress the important changes in Iraq and the parallel importance of Arabs recognizing that change by re-establishing their diplomatic presence." The Saudis, Mr. Crocker added, expressed concern about Iranian influence in Baghdad, despite his argument that a Saudi presence would in that case be "a good antidote."

It's about time the Saudis began to play a role in Iraq other than as a recruiting ground for suicide bombers. The Wahhabis in Riyadh may not prefer a Shiite regime in Baghdad, but the government of Nouri al-Maliki has shown it is willing to oppose both Shiite and Sunni extremists. The Sunni insurgency in Anbar Province is dying, and a stable Iraq with a U.S. presence would be the best protection Saudi Arabia could have against Iran's regional adventurism.

The Saudis love to back a winner, and that is what the new Iraq increasingly looks like. As for the risks to the House of Saud from Iraq's democratic example, there's always the option of learning from it.
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