Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mosul

Iraq Requires U.S. Action, Not Observation

Fighters from the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have taken Mosul and are advancing south toward Baghdad. Shiites are mobilizing to stop them in response to a call from Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Iran is rumored to have sent fighters from its own Quds Force to assist Shiite militias such as Asaib Ahl al Haq and Kattaib Hezbollah in defending Baghdad and the Shiite heartland. An all-out civil war looms between Sunnis and Shiites.

Faced with this showdown, many Americans might be tempted to shrug their shoulders and repeat Henry Kissinger’s quip about the Iran-Iraq War: “It’s a pity they both can’t lose.”  What interest is it of ours if various factions of Muslims want to duke it out?

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Fighters from the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have taken Mosul and are advancing south toward Baghdad. Shiites are mobilizing to stop them in response to a call from Grand Ayatollah Sistani. Iran is rumored to have sent fighters from its own Quds Force to assist Shiite militias such as Asaib Ahl al Haq and Kattaib Hezbollah in defending Baghdad and the Shiite heartland. An all-out civil war looms between Sunnis and Shiites.

Faced with this showdown, many Americans might be tempted to shrug their shoulders and repeat Henry Kissinger’s quip about the Iran-Iraq War: “It’s a pity they both can’t lose.”  What interest is it of ours if various factions of Muslims want to duke it out?

Leave aside the humanitarian concern, which is real. A similar civil war in Syria has already killed more than 150,000 people, very few of whom are religious or political fanatics—mostly just ordinary people who want to live their lives in peace. A similar bloodletting now looms in Iraq, a country that the U.S. invaded in 2003 and for which we therefore assumed some moral responsibility.

I realize that kind of case is not likely to convince many people outside Human Rights Watch. So, fine, let’s put morality aside for a moment and just look at strategy. Can it possibly be in America’s interest to see another major country in the Middle East carved up between, essentially, Shiite and Sunni fanatics? That’s already happened in Syria and U.S. intelligence officials warn that Syria is now as dangerous a breeding ground for terrorists as Afghanistan was prior to 9/11.

Now the likelihood is growing that the same thing will happen in Iraq, the country with the fifth-largest crude oil reserves on the planet and the second-largest within OPEC. This will destabilize the international economic and security situations even if it stays confined to the borders of Iraq—but odds are it won’t. Already the civil war in Syria has spilled over into Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and of course Iraq. A growing civil war in Iraq is likely to spill over into Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, and other neighboring states.

All you need to know about the current situation in Iraq is that the biggest beneficiaries are Iran and Al Qaeda—the two worst enemies of the United States in the entire world. It is imperative that the Obama administration do more than study the situation. It needs to roll up its sleeves and act to avert this disaster—not by staging meaningless, photo-op air strikes (which is what I fear will happen) but by getting involved in the nitty-gritty of Iraqi politics, as the U.S. did in 2007-2009, to nudge Baghdad in a better direction.

The Iraqi government needs to stop alienating Sunnis and start embracing them. If that were to happen the battlefield situation could reverse overnight as it did during the surge in 2007-2008. If Baghdad signals such a change of course, President Obama should offer copious military aid including Special Operations Forces, intelligence personnel, and military advisers. Air strikes without eyes on the ground won’t work—they will not hit the right people and not have the intended impact. Odds are high that U.S. airpower could be used by Maliki to pursue his sectarian agenda. Yet even at this hour of crisis Obama insists on ruling out any U.S. ground forces.

Nobody wants to get mired in Iraq again—and we certainly shouldn’t send an army to invade again. But in both Iraq and Syria the only thing worse than American engagement, we are now finding, is American disengagement.

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What Does Mosul Mean for Afghanistan?

Over at AEI-Ideas, I spoke a bit about what al-Qaeda’s take-over of Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city and a town I visited earlier this year, means for Iraq. But it’s just as important to reflect on what it means for Afghanistan. The Washington Post quoted Osama Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab whose brother is governor of Mosul and who himself is speaker of Iraq’s parliament, as saying, “When the battle got tough in the city of Mosul, the troops dropped their weapons and abandoned their posts, making it an easy prey for the terrorists.”

In order to justify the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the White House repeatedly claimed that Iraqi forces were well-trained and ready. The generals who trained the new Iraqi army also exaggerated their prowess. For the more ambitious among them, acknowledging reality might mean losing some of the public relations luster those who sought the limelight craved.

When it came to rebuilding the army, Iraq was supposed to be the easy one. While many analysts criticize the Bush administration’s decision to disband Saddam Hussein’s army, the U.S. military immediately began building a new force from its ashes. In reality, Iraq was without an army for about three weeks. Afghanistan, however, was a different case. The Soviets withdrew in 1989, but it was only in May 1993 that the Defense Ministry went vacant and the Afghan army evaporated. After 9/11, when the United States invaded Afghanistan, it faced the Herculean task of rebuilding an army that had been gone not for weeks but for years.

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Over at AEI-Ideas, I spoke a bit about what al-Qaeda’s take-over of Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city and a town I visited earlier this year, means for Iraq. But it’s just as important to reflect on what it means for Afghanistan. The Washington Post quoted Osama Nujaifi, a Sunni Arab whose brother is governor of Mosul and who himself is speaker of Iraq’s parliament, as saying, “When the battle got tough in the city of Mosul, the troops dropped their weapons and abandoned their posts, making it an easy prey for the terrorists.”

In order to justify the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the White House repeatedly claimed that Iraqi forces were well-trained and ready. The generals who trained the new Iraqi army also exaggerated their prowess. For the more ambitious among them, acknowledging reality might mean losing some of the public relations luster those who sought the limelight craved.

When it came to rebuilding the army, Iraq was supposed to be the easy one. While many analysts criticize the Bush administration’s decision to disband Saddam Hussein’s army, the U.S. military immediately began building a new force from its ashes. In reality, Iraq was without an army for about three weeks. Afghanistan, however, was a different case. The Soviets withdrew in 1989, but it was only in May 1993 that the Defense Ministry went vacant and the Afghan army evaporated. After 9/11, when the United States invaded Afghanistan, it faced the Herculean task of rebuilding an army that had been gone not for weeks but for years.

As President Obama has moved forward with plans for a withdrawal based upon an arbitrary timeline, those under him seem to treat readiness figures with equal spuriousness. Initially, planners estimated that Afghanistan would require $6 billion in aid annually to support and subsidize a 352,000-man force. But as the U.S. sped up plans to withdrawal, suddenly it was determined that Afghanistan would only need a 250,000-man force. The question is whether those revised numbers provided by military planners were based on the fact that suddenly Afghanistan’s army became that much better or, more likely, that the White House recognized that it wouldn’t have the money and so it decided simply to fib.

The problem with lying, and the problem with basing national security on politics rather than actuality, is that eventually reality catches it. It did last night in Mosul, and it will again across Afghanistan if the Obama administration insists on replicating its same mistakes there.

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The Fall of Mosul

Iraq, which had achieved a tenuous stability when U.S. troops were still present in 2011, continues to descend further into the abyss. Already the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (as al-Qaeda in Iraq has rebranded itself) has taken control of Fallujah and many other parts of Anbar Province. Now its control is extending to Ninewa Province and the second-largest city in the entire country: Mosul.

The latest news: “Iraqi army soldiers abandoned their weapons and fled the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Tuesday, as Sunni militants freed hundreds of prisoners and seized military bases, police stations, banks and the provincial governor’s headquarters.”

This immensely strengthens a group that, as recently as 2008, has been on its deathbed. The New York Times quotes one analyst suggesting that ISIS could “use cash reserves from Mosul’s banks, military equipment from seized military and police bases, and the release of 2,500 fighters from local jails to bolster its military and financial capacity.”

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Iraq, which had achieved a tenuous stability when U.S. troops were still present in 2011, continues to descend further into the abyss. Already the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (as al-Qaeda in Iraq has rebranded itself) has taken control of Fallujah and many other parts of Anbar Province. Now its control is extending to Ninewa Province and the second-largest city in the entire country: Mosul.

The latest news: “Iraqi army soldiers abandoned their weapons and fled the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on Tuesday, as Sunni militants freed hundreds of prisoners and seized military bases, police stations, banks and the provincial governor’s headquarters.”

This immensely strengthens a group that, as recently as 2008, has been on its deathbed. The New York Times quotes one analyst suggesting that ISIS could “use cash reserves from Mosul’s banks, military equipment from seized military and police bases, and the release of 2,500 fighters from local jails to bolster its military and financial capacity.”

It is not just Iraq which is threatened but also Syria, since ISIS now operates freely on both sides of the porous border between the two states. Islamist militants are now in the process of establishing a fundamentalist caliphate that includes much of northern Syria and western and northern Iraq. And that in turn threatens the U.S. and our regional allies because this new Islamist state is certain to become a training ground for international jihadists who will then strike other countries–including possibly ours.

It is harder to imagine a bigger disaster for American foreign policy–or a more self-inflicted one. There was no compelling reason why the U.S. had to pull our troops out of Iraq; if President Obama had tried harder to negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement, he probably could have succeeded. But his heart was in troop withdrawal, not in a long-term commitment.

There is, of course, no guarantee that events would have played out any differently even if U.S. troops had been present, but the odds are they would have. After all the event that triggered the current cataclysm was Prime Minister Maliki’s vindictive and short-sighted attempt to persecute senior Sunni politicians–something he waited to do until U.S. troops had withdrawn. As long as U.S. troops were present in significant numbers, their very presence gave extra leverage to American generals and diplomats to influence the government and their aid, especially in intelligence-gathering, logistics, and mission planning, allowed the Iraqi military to more effectively target terrorists.

Now all that is gone. The Iraqi military seems to be falling apart. Many Sunnis are embracing ISIS militants while many Shiites, for their own protection, are drawing closer to Iranian-backed militants. And what is the U.S. doing? It is selling Maliki F-16s that will only exacerbate the violence without addressing its causes.

This is all very dismaying, even heart-breaking, considering how close the U.S. had come in 2011, after so many early missteps, to achieving an acceptable outcome in Iraq. Now Iraq appears increasingly lost and the entire region is threatened by the growing power of the extremists.

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In-Country Analysis vs. Mud-Slinging Critics

I have just returned from 10 days traveling around Afghanistan — along with retired Army Colonel Pete Mansoor and former Army Ranger Andrew Exum — at the invitation of General David Petraeus. Upon our return, all of us have published articles laying out our findings. Pete and I, for example, wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times laying out the progress that our troops have made as well as the challenges still posed by bad governance and Pakistan sanctuaries. Rather than engage in a respectful discussion of our analysis, some overly excitable critics of the war effort have chosen to impugn our fact-gathering methods, suggesting that we have somehow been duped by the wily Petraeus into thinking that the war is going better than it actually is.

There is always a danger of drawing incorrect conclusions based on a 10-day visit — but that danger is even greater if, like many who opine on Afghanistan or Iraq, you never visit the country at all. (Or, like so many congressional delegations, spend only 24 or 48 hours in-country.)

The record will show that I have hardly been an unalloyed cheerleader for military efforts in either country — but nor did I ever conclude, as did so many others, that the situation was hopeless. In the case of Iraq, I may have been overly optimistic in my early assessments, as many were; but by 2006, I was writing that we were losing the war, much to the consternation of some conservatives — and I said so face to face with President Bush in the Oval Office in September 2006 (which didn’t make him happy). In 2007, I saw a turnaround and wrote that we were starting to win at a time when the conventional wisdom was that there was no way we could win. I think my trips to Iraq and Afghanistan have been invaluable in helping me to assess the situation, even if (like everyone else) I don’t always get it right.

I approach all such trips with great intellectual humility and do not claim to have greater expertise than I actually have. I just report what I see, and try to put it in the context of my close, ongoing study of the war effort and of previous wars. I would not by any stretch claim that 10 days in-country tells me everything I need to know; I always leave humbled by the limits of my understanding.

But on the other hand, I also get a better overview of conditions than many soldiers/civilians who spend longer periods of time in-country because they tend to stay in one small area, thus developing deep knowledge of that area but remaining aware of what is happening elsewhere. (Some soldiers — known as “Fobbits” — never leave their Forward Operating Bases at all.) Also, those who are actually deployed don’t generally keep personal tabs on what is happening after they leave — unless/until they prepare for another deployment — whereas the advantage that think tankers have is that we can keep traveling fairly regularly to examine progress or lack thereof. Read More

I have just returned from 10 days traveling around Afghanistan — along with retired Army Colonel Pete Mansoor and former Army Ranger Andrew Exum — at the invitation of General David Petraeus. Upon our return, all of us have published articles laying out our findings. Pete and I, for example, wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times laying out the progress that our troops have made as well as the challenges still posed by bad governance and Pakistan sanctuaries. Rather than engage in a respectful discussion of our analysis, some overly excitable critics of the war effort have chosen to impugn our fact-gathering methods, suggesting that we have somehow been duped by the wily Petraeus into thinking that the war is going better than it actually is.

There is always a danger of drawing incorrect conclusions based on a 10-day visit — but that danger is even greater if, like many who opine on Afghanistan or Iraq, you never visit the country at all. (Or, like so many congressional delegations, spend only 24 or 48 hours in-country.)

The record will show that I have hardly been an unalloyed cheerleader for military efforts in either country — but nor did I ever conclude, as did so many others, that the situation was hopeless. In the case of Iraq, I may have been overly optimistic in my early assessments, as many were; but by 2006, I was writing that we were losing the war, much to the consternation of some conservatives — and I said so face to face with President Bush in the Oval Office in September 2006 (which didn’t make him happy). In 2007, I saw a turnaround and wrote that we were starting to win at a time when the conventional wisdom was that there was no way we could win. I think my trips to Iraq and Afghanistan have been invaluable in helping me to assess the situation, even if (like everyone else) I don’t always get it right.

I approach all such trips with great intellectual humility and do not claim to have greater expertise than I actually have. I just report what I see, and try to put it in the context of my close, ongoing study of the war effort and of previous wars. I would not by any stretch claim that 10 days in-country tells me everything I need to know; I always leave humbled by the limits of my understanding.

But on the other hand, I also get a better overview of conditions than many soldiers/civilians who spend longer periods of time in-country because they tend to stay in one small area, thus developing deep knowledge of that area but remaining aware of what is happening elsewhere. (Some soldiers — known as “Fobbits” — never leave their Forward Operating Bases at all.) Also, those who are actually deployed don’t generally keep personal tabs on what is happening after they leave — unless/until they prepare for another deployment — whereas the advantage that think tankers have is that we can keep traveling fairly regularly to examine progress or lack thereof.

The notion that these are Potemkin tours designed to highlight only progress is ludicrous; in the past on a similar outing, I have been in a Humvee that was hit by a complex ambush in Mosul when it was the worst remaining area of Iraq. (Note: I am not claiming that the level of risk or discomfort I or others experience on such trips is remotely comparable to that of the average lance corporal; I always return in awe of the soldiers, Marines, and others who can endure such tough conditions and face such great risks for many months at a time — I realize how coddled we visitors are by comparison.)

To the critics of these fact-finding trips, I ask: What are they suggesting? That we would be better analysts if (like so many who write about Iraq and Afghanistan) we never visited at all? Or that there are analysts who are more deeply informed about events than we are?

I would agree that there are certainly people with deeper knowledge of the countries
in question than I possess, and I try to learn from them as much as possible. I would not dare to compare my country knowledge with theirs. But I think I can still make a useful contribution to the public debate by offering a broader view informed by my study of military history. If you want to disregard my analysis because I am not as deeply steeped in these areas as some others, be my guest. But keep in mind that even area experts are hardly infallible.

In general, I would suggest that commentators focus on the merits of the analysis provided by me, or by others, and stop slinging mud about our fact-gathering methods.

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Obama Must Face Iraq’s Truth

Three Iraq-related stories from Sunday are worth noting. According to 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.”

In the New York Times we read this:

The recent successes in quieting violence in Basra and Sadr City appear to be stretching to the long-rebellious Sunni Arab district here in Mosul, raising hopes that the Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control over all three of Iraq’s major cities. In this city, never subdued by the increase of American troops in Iraq last year, weekly figures on attacks are down by half since May 10, when the Iraqi military began intensified operations here with the backing of the American military. Iraqi soldiers searching house to house, within American tank cordons, have arrested more than 1,000 people suspected of insurgent activity. The Iraqi soldiers “are heady from the Basra experience,” Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, the commander of American forces in Mosul, said in an interview. “They have learned the right lessons.”… American and Iraqi officials have called Mosul the last urban bastion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni jihadist groups.

And in Washington Post we learned this:

A little over two weeks ago, U.S. troops in Sadr City were on the front lines of fierce, unrelenting urban warfare. But virtually overnight, their main mission has become one of rebuilding portions of the vast, tattered Shiite district and building trust in neighborhoods where many residents despise Americans. Reaching that point took a fragile cease-fire agreement that called for a limited U.S. role in military operations in Sadr City, a stronghold of militias loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; thousands of Iraqi soldiers; and wads of cash. “If we get Sadr City right and create irreversible momentum, there’s no turning back,” Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commander of U.S. forces responsible for Baghdad, said Saturday during a visit to Sadr City.

Sunday is also the day the Washington Post editorialized that the U.S.-backed government and army in Iraq “may be winning the war,” that Iraq passed a “turning point last fall” (when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence), and that “another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country . . . ”

The Post rightly echoes the caution repeatedly issued by General Petraeus; it is of course too early to celebrate. Among other things, the Post cautions, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army can still regroup and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence. Beyond that, Iraq, while far less violent and less fractured than in the past, is still a broken society in many respects –and rebuilding it will not be an easy or quick undertaking. We are, with the Iraqis, engaged in an enormous, long-term nation-building effort, one that was delayed for far longer than it should have been because we had in place the wrong counter-insurgency strategy.

Still, the Post is quite right to recognize the progress we have seen. And it is right in challenging Senator Obama, whose back-and-forth record on Iraq has culminated in his current support for a near-total withdrawal of U.S. combat troops (it’s worth recalling that in February 2007, in announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama called for withdrawing combat troops by March 2008–and in May 2007, Obama voted against funding for combat operations). In the words of the Post:

If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.

In fact, Senator Obama doesn’t need a plan for success; that is already in place. He merely needs to demonstrate the intellectual honesty and political courage to embrace it and say, publicly, that he will stay with it.

Three Iraq-related stories from Sunday are worth noting. According to 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.”

In the New York Times we read this:

The recent successes in quieting violence in Basra and Sadr City appear to be stretching to the long-rebellious Sunni Arab district here in Mosul, raising hopes that the Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control over all three of Iraq’s major cities. In this city, never subdued by the increase of American troops in Iraq last year, weekly figures on attacks are down by half since May 10, when the Iraqi military began intensified operations here with the backing of the American military. Iraqi soldiers searching house to house, within American tank cordons, have arrested more than 1,000 people suspected of insurgent activity. The Iraqi soldiers “are heady from the Basra experience,” Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, the commander of American forces in Mosul, said in an interview. “They have learned the right lessons.”… American and Iraqi officials have called Mosul the last urban bastion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni jihadist groups.

And in Washington Post we learned this:

A little over two weeks ago, U.S. troops in Sadr City were on the front lines of fierce, unrelenting urban warfare. But virtually overnight, their main mission has become one of rebuilding portions of the vast, tattered Shiite district and building trust in neighborhoods where many residents despise Americans. Reaching that point took a fragile cease-fire agreement that called for a limited U.S. role in military operations in Sadr City, a stronghold of militias loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr; thousands of Iraqi soldiers; and wads of cash. “If we get Sadr City right and create irreversible momentum, there’s no turning back,” Brig. Gen. Mike Milano, deputy commander of U.S. forces responsible for Baghdad, said Saturday during a visit to Sadr City.

Sunday is also the day the Washington Post editorialized that the U.S.-backed government and army in Iraq “may be winning the war,” that Iraq passed a “turning point last fall” (when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence), and that “another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country . . . ”

The Post rightly echoes the caution repeatedly issued by General Petraeus; it is of course too early to celebrate. Among other things, the Post cautions, Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army can still regroup and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence. Beyond that, Iraq, while far less violent and less fractured than in the past, is still a broken society in many respects –and rebuilding it will not be an easy or quick undertaking. We are, with the Iraqis, engaged in an enormous, long-term nation-building effort, one that was delayed for far longer than it should have been because we had in place the wrong counter-insurgency strategy.

Still, the Post is quite right to recognize the progress we have seen. And it is right in challenging Senator Obama, whose back-and-forth record on Iraq has culminated in his current support for a near-total withdrawal of U.S. combat troops (it’s worth recalling that in February 2007, in announcing his bid for the presidency, Obama called for withdrawing combat troops by March 2008–and in May 2007, Obama voted against funding for combat operations). In the words of the Post:

If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.

In fact, Senator Obama doesn’t need a plan for success; that is already in place. He merely needs to demonstrate the intellectual honesty and political courage to embrace it and say, publicly, that he will stay with it.

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Re: Iraq Casualties

Max, the Washington Post editorializes today, “The Iraqi Upturn: Don’t look now, but the U.S.-backed government and army may be winning the war.” Finally, others notice the enormous strategic and political gains in Iraq. The lede paragraph is surprisingly optimistic (and accurate):

There’s been a relative lull in news coverage and debate about Iraq in recent weeks — which is odd, because May could turn out to have been one of the most important months of the war. While Washington’s attention has been fixed elsewhere, military analysts have watched with astonishment as the Iraqi government and army have gained control for the first time of the port city of Basra and the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, routing the Shiite militias that have ruled them for years and sending key militants scurrying to Iran. At the same time, Iraqi and U.S. forces have pushed forward with a long-promised offensive in Mosul, the last urban refuge of al-Qaeda. So many of its leaders have now been captured or killed that U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, renowned for his cautious assessments, said that the terrorists have “never been closer to defeat than they are now.”

Overall, though, you are correct: aside from this editorial, and an AP wire-report touting decreased Iraq-related deaths, the biggest news story out of Iraq is largely being ignored.

Max, the Washington Post editorializes today, “The Iraqi Upturn: Don’t look now, but the U.S.-backed government and army may be winning the war.” Finally, others notice the enormous strategic and political gains in Iraq. The lede paragraph is surprisingly optimistic (and accurate):

There’s been a relative lull in news coverage and debate about Iraq in recent weeks — which is odd, because May could turn out to have been one of the most important months of the war. While Washington’s attention has been fixed elsewhere, military analysts have watched with astonishment as the Iraqi government and army have gained control for the first time of the port city of Basra and the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, routing the Shiite militias that have ruled them for years and sending key militants scurrying to Iran. At the same time, Iraqi and U.S. forces have pushed forward with a long-promised offensive in Mosul, the last urban refuge of al-Qaeda. So many of its leaders have now been captured or killed that U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, renowned for his cautious assessments, said that the terrorists have “never been closer to defeat than they are now.”

Overall, though, you are correct: aside from this editorial, and an AP wire-report touting decreased Iraq-related deaths, the biggest news story out of Iraq is largely being ignored.

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Pelosi Credits Iran’s “Goodwill” for Surge Success

In an interview yesterday with the San Francisco Chronicle, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi claimed the U.S. troop surge failed to accomplish its goal. She then partially credited the success of the troop surge to “the goodwill of the Iranians,” claiming that they were responsible for ending violence in the southern city of Basra.

Asked if she saw any evidence of the surge’s positive impact on her May 17 trip to Iraq she responded:

Well, the purpose of the surge was to provide a secure space, a time for the political change to occur to accomplish the reconciliation. That didn’t happen. Whatever the military success, and progress that may have been made, the surge didn’t accomplish its goal. And some of the success of the surge is that the goodwill of the Iranians-they decided in Basra when the fighting would end, they negotiated that cessation of hostilities-the Iranians.

This is an inexcusable slander. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki brought the Sadrists militias to their knees in a month-long battle that enabled Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc to rejoin the government. Furthermore, when Pelosi met with Prime Minister al-Maliki in Mosul she sang quite a different tune. She had “welcomed Iraq’s progress in passing a budget as well as oil legislation, and a bill paving the way for the provincial elections in the fall that are expected to more equitably redistribute power among local officials,” and stated, “We’re assured the elections will happen here, they will be transparent, they will be inclusive and they will take Iraq closer to the reconciliation we all want it to have.”

Discounting the success of the American military, denying the accomplishments of U.S. allies, and giving the credit to our most dangerous enemies seems like an especially productive week for a Democrat on Capitol Hill. After Nancy Pelosi’s post-Iraq hat trick, there’s really no need for Barack Obama to make this trip after all.

UPDATE: Ace has more on Iran’s “goodwill.”

In an interview yesterday with the San Francisco Chronicle, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi claimed the U.S. troop surge failed to accomplish its goal. She then partially credited the success of the troop surge to “the goodwill of the Iranians,” claiming that they were responsible for ending violence in the southern city of Basra.

Asked if she saw any evidence of the surge’s positive impact on her May 17 trip to Iraq she responded:

Well, the purpose of the surge was to provide a secure space, a time for the political change to occur to accomplish the reconciliation. That didn’t happen. Whatever the military success, and progress that may have been made, the surge didn’t accomplish its goal. And some of the success of the surge is that the goodwill of the Iranians-they decided in Basra when the fighting would end, they negotiated that cessation of hostilities-the Iranians.

This is an inexcusable slander. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki brought the Sadrists militias to their knees in a month-long battle that enabled Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc to rejoin the government. Furthermore, when Pelosi met with Prime Minister al-Maliki in Mosul she sang quite a different tune. She had “welcomed Iraq’s progress in passing a budget as well as oil legislation, and a bill paving the way for the provincial elections in the fall that are expected to more equitably redistribute power among local officials,” and stated, “We’re assured the elections will happen here, they will be transparent, they will be inclusive and they will take Iraq closer to the reconciliation we all want it to have.”

Discounting the success of the American military, denying the accomplishments of U.S. allies, and giving the credit to our most dangerous enemies seems like an especially productive week for a Democrat on Capitol Hill. After Nancy Pelosi’s post-Iraq hat trick, there’s really no need for Barack Obama to make this trip after all.

UPDATE: Ace has more on Iran’s “goodwill.”

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Obama’s Iraq Problem

Once Barack Obama’s appeasement issue completes its turn through the most recent news cycle, the presumptive Democratic nominee will have to face a more worrisome analysis of another aspect of his foreign policy. While he’s been blurring the lines between pre-conditions and diplomatic preparations, between terrorists and terrorist sponsors, clarity has come to Iraq. The Maliki government, the citizens of Iraq, and the Iraqi military are resolved to keep their country on track. Barack Obama continues to deny them support in their efforts.

On Tuesday, during a speech in Iowa, Obama said, “The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too,” without so much as a nod to the Iraqi government’s and Iraqi military’s recent string of achievements. In February, the Iraqi parliament passed three laws, all critical to the future success of statehood: a 2008 budget, a regulation on power-sharing of provincial and local governments, and a partial amnesty of Iraqi prisoners. In March, Prime Minister al-Maliki liberated the southern city of Basra from Sadrists militias thus bringing the country’s largest Sunni bloc back into the government. The Iraqi Army is now successfully ridding Bagdhad’s Sadr City of more Sadrist thugs and Iraqi-U.S. forces are rooting al Qaeda in Iraq from their last stronghold in the northern city of Mosul.

We already know that the world’s candidate has no problem denying American success (Obama has belittled the troop surge since its very inception), but how can the man who speaks incessantly of restoring the U.S.’s global image denigrate the efforts of America’s newest–and arguably most critical–ally? How can he continue to mock the fragile hopes of a newborn democracy? How can any American president do so while making friendly overtures toward a neighboring mullocracy?

If Obama thinks there is no cost for shunning allies, he should look at the recent case of Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House slammed the Maliki government in February at the very same time that the Iraqis passed the above-mentioned laws. She called the troop surge “a failure” and resigned herself to the all-is-lost script of 2006. This past weekend, Pelosi met with a cold reception when visiting Iraq to begin her mea culpa. Time magazine reports:

Pelosi is something of a nonentity to average Iraqis. If they know who she is at all, she is generally seen as an antiwar caricature figure, someone whose views on U.S. troop withdrawals are widely considered unrealistic. Pelosi has said she wants to begin withdrawal of troops this year with a goal for the U.S to be out of Iraq by the end of 2009. It is a time frame virtually no Iraqi political leader sees as feasible. Not even Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiercest advocate of a U.S. withdrawal on the scene, has called for such a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The lack of popularity of Pelosi’s views was evident in the fact that her first day on the ground Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not make an effort to see her. Maliki is currently in the northern city of Mosul overseeing a crackdown on insurgent networks there. But the city has been largely quiet in recent days, and there was no obvious pressing reason for the Prime Minister to skip Pelosi’s arrival.

Such strained relations with a country so intimately involved with the U.S. is a liability. The problem is Barack Obama continues to espouse the same Iraq plan as Pelosi’s. Every time he says “I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” Iraqi leaders and citizens have reason to quake.

The U.S. is rightly concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq. Consider the risks of having an American president land in Iraq only to get the Pelosi treatment. No lofty talk about talk is going to assuage the concerns of Iraqis who know their futures depend, at the very least, on the recognition of their country’s progress.

Once Barack Obama’s appeasement issue completes its turn through the most recent news cycle, the presumptive Democratic nominee will have to face a more worrisome analysis of another aspect of his foreign policy. While he’s been blurring the lines between pre-conditions and diplomatic preparations, between terrorists and terrorist sponsors, clarity has come to Iraq. The Maliki government, the citizens of Iraq, and the Iraqi military are resolved to keep their country on track. Barack Obama continues to deny them support in their efforts.

On Tuesday, during a speech in Iowa, Obama said, “The Bush Iraq policy that asks everything of our troops and nothing of Iraqi politicians is John McCain’s policy too,” without so much as a nod to the Iraqi government’s and Iraqi military’s recent string of achievements. In February, the Iraqi parliament passed three laws, all critical to the future success of statehood: a 2008 budget, a regulation on power-sharing of provincial and local governments, and a partial amnesty of Iraqi prisoners. In March, Prime Minister al-Maliki liberated the southern city of Basra from Sadrists militias thus bringing the country’s largest Sunni bloc back into the government. The Iraqi Army is now successfully ridding Bagdhad’s Sadr City of more Sadrist thugs and Iraqi-U.S. forces are rooting al Qaeda in Iraq from their last stronghold in the northern city of Mosul.

We already know that the world’s candidate has no problem denying American success (Obama has belittled the troop surge since its very inception), but how can the man who speaks incessantly of restoring the U.S.’s global image denigrate the efforts of America’s newest–and arguably most critical–ally? How can he continue to mock the fragile hopes of a newborn democracy? How can any American president do so while making friendly overtures toward a neighboring mullocracy?

If Obama thinks there is no cost for shunning allies, he should look at the recent case of Nancy Pelosi. The Speaker of the House slammed the Maliki government in February at the very same time that the Iraqis passed the above-mentioned laws. She called the troop surge “a failure” and resigned herself to the all-is-lost script of 2006. This past weekend, Pelosi met with a cold reception when visiting Iraq to begin her mea culpa. Time magazine reports:

Pelosi is something of a nonentity to average Iraqis. If they know who she is at all, she is generally seen as an antiwar caricature figure, someone whose views on U.S. troop withdrawals are widely considered unrealistic. Pelosi has said she wants to begin withdrawal of troops this year with a goal for the U.S to be out of Iraq by the end of 2009. It is a time frame virtually no Iraqi political leader sees as feasible. Not even Mahdi Army militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, the fiercest advocate of a U.S. withdrawal on the scene, has called for such a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The lack of popularity of Pelosi’s views was evident in the fact that her first day on the ground Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki did not make an effort to see her. Maliki is currently in the northern city of Mosul overseeing a crackdown on insurgent networks there. But the city has been largely quiet in recent days, and there was no obvious pressing reason for the Prime Minister to skip Pelosi’s arrival.

Such strained relations with a country so intimately involved with the U.S. is a liability. The problem is Barack Obama continues to espouse the same Iraq plan as Pelosi’s. Every time he says “I will bring this war to an end in 2009,” Iraqi leaders and citizens have reason to quake.

The U.S. is rightly concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq. Consider the risks of having an American president land in Iraq only to get the Pelosi treatment. No lofty talk about talk is going to assuage the concerns of Iraqis who know their futures depend, at the very least, on the recognition of their country’s progress.

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Al Qaeda Weakening . . .

In a story from the Associated Press we read this:

The Al Qaeda terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago, the acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who assumed interim command of U.S. Central Command on March 28, acknowledged that Al Qaeda remains a relentless foe and has not disappeared as a serious threat to stability. But he said an accelerated U.S. and Iraq campaign to pressure Al Qaeda has paid big dividends. “Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted Al Qaeda, probably to a level that we haven’t seen at any time in my experience,” said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

And this:

Earlier Wednesday, the Army general who oversees U.S. commando operations in the Middle East said that Al Qaeda in Iraq has yet to be vanquished but is increasingly running out of places where local Iraqis will accommodate the group’s extremist ideology. “Is he still a lethal and dangerous threat to us? Absolutely,” Maj. Gen. John Mulholland said in an interview with reporters at the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command, the organization with global responsibility for providing Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other commandos to combat terrorism. . . . Mulholland acknowledged that Al Qaeda, which U.S. intelligence says is led by foreign terrorists but is populated mainly by local Iraqis seeking to establish a radical Islamic state, still poses a major challenge in the Mosul area of northern Iraq and has occasionally slipped back into areas like Anbar province in western Iraq. “Do we think he can at least try to regain a foothold in Anbar province? Yes, we do think he’s trying to do that,” Mulholland said. While U.S. officials do not believe Al Qaeda is succeeding in re-establishing a significant presence in Anbar – which the group was forced to abandon a year ago as local Sunni Arabs turned violently against it – it does appear that small Al Qaeda cells can still slip into isolated areas and make trouble, he said. “I don’t want to paint a picture – or to convey to you in any way – that Al Qaeda in Iraq is being completely destroyed or rendered irrelevant, because that’s not the case,” he said. “They are still potentially a threat capable of death and destruction against the Iraqi people and our own forces there. But it is not something he can do easily any more.”

This news should be seen within the context of Max’s post earlier today in which he points out that the number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month. And that news, in turn, follows on progress we’ve witnessed in the last few days in both Basra and Sadr City. And earlier today at his confirmation hearing to take over the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus said this:

I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents. This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July. Recent operations in Basra, Mosul, and now Sadr City have contributed significantly to the reduction in violence, and Prime Minister Maliki, his government, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people deserve considerable credit for the positive developments since Ambassador Crocker and I testified a month-and-a-half ago. In the months ahead, Coalition Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces in pursuing Al Qaeda-Iraq, their extremist partners, and militia elements that threaten security in Iraq. And though, as always, tough fights and hard work lie ahead, I believe that the path that we are on will best help achieve the objective of an Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a government that serves all Iraqis, and that is an increasingly prosperous and important member of the global economy and community of nations. [emphasis added]

What are we to make of all this? For one thing, there is no question that on almost every front–including the political and economic front–we’re seeing heartening progress in Iraq. It’s virtually impossible to argue that after far too many years of pursuing a flawed strategy, which came at an enormous cost to both the Iraqi people and the United States, we now have in place the right strategy being executed by the right people. Progress that was unimaginable in Iraq fifteen months ago has been made–and a nation that was bleeding and dying is now binding up its wounds.

General Petraeus’s warning that tough fights and hard work lie ahead cannot be repeated often enough. Military victories in Iraq, as difficult as they have been, are still easier to attain than rebuilding a traumatized and broken society. But we really have no other choice. Given the hopeful developments we have seen since the surge began, to leave now, before our job is complete, would be reckless and shameful and probably catastrophic.

In the latter half of 2006 it was legitimate for war critics to argue that Iraq was irredeemable lost and therefore we should cut our losses and leave. But that case can no longer be made. The debate has shifted from what the right strategy is to one of national will. Will our nation, weary of this long and costly war, continue along the path which has brought about indisputable, and in some cases breathtaking, progress? If we do, there will be honor in our efforts–and, it’s now reasonable to say, success as well.

In a story from the Associated Press we read this:

The Al Qaeda terror group in Iraq appears to be at its weakest state since it gained an initial foothold in the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion five years ago, the acting commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East said Wednesday in an Associated Press interview. Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who assumed interim command of U.S. Central Command on March 28, acknowledged that Al Qaeda remains a relentless foe and has not disappeared as a serious threat to stability. But he said an accelerated U.S. and Iraq campaign to pressure Al Qaeda has paid big dividends. “Our forces and the Iraqi forces have certainly disrupted Al Qaeda, probably to a level that we haven’t seen at any time in my experience,” said Dempsey, who served in Iraq in the initial stages as a division commander and later as head of the military organization in charge of training Iraqi security forces.

And this:

Earlier Wednesday, the Army general who oversees U.S. commando operations in the Middle East said that Al Qaeda in Iraq has yet to be vanquished but is increasingly running out of places where local Iraqis will accommodate the group’s extremist ideology. “Is he still a lethal and dangerous threat to us? Absolutely,” Maj. Gen. John Mulholland said in an interview with reporters at the headquarters of U.S. Special Operations Command, the organization with global responsibility for providing Army Green Berets, Navy SEALs and other commandos to combat terrorism. . . . Mulholland acknowledged that Al Qaeda, which U.S. intelligence says is led by foreign terrorists but is populated mainly by local Iraqis seeking to establish a radical Islamic state, still poses a major challenge in the Mosul area of northern Iraq and has occasionally slipped back into areas like Anbar province in western Iraq. “Do we think he can at least try to regain a foothold in Anbar province? Yes, we do think he’s trying to do that,” Mulholland said. While U.S. officials do not believe Al Qaeda is succeeding in re-establishing a significant presence in Anbar – which the group was forced to abandon a year ago as local Sunni Arabs turned violently against it – it does appear that small Al Qaeda cells can still slip into isolated areas and make trouble, he said. “I don’t want to paint a picture – or to convey to you in any way – that Al Qaeda in Iraq is being completely destroyed or rendered irrelevant, because that’s not the case,” he said. “They are still potentially a threat capable of death and destruction against the Iraqi people and our own forces there. But it is not something he can do easily any more.”

This news should be seen within the context of Max’s post earlier today in which he points out that the number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month. And that news, in turn, follows on progress we’ve witnessed in the last few days in both Basra and Sadr City. And earlier today at his confirmation hearing to take over the U.S. Central Command, General David Petraeus said this:

I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the lowest in over four years and it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower number of incidents. This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn 3 of the 5 Brigade Combat Teams that will have redeployed without replacement by the end of July. Recent operations in Basra, Mosul, and now Sadr City have contributed significantly to the reduction in violence, and Prime Minister Maliki, his government, the Iraqi Security Forces, and the Iraqi people deserve considerable credit for the positive developments since Ambassador Crocker and I testified a month-and-a-half ago. In the months ahead, Coalition Forces will continue to work closely with the Iraqi Security Forces in pursuing Al Qaeda-Iraq, their extremist partners, and militia elements that threaten security in Iraq. And though, as always, tough fights and hard work lie ahead, I believe that the path that we are on will best help achieve the objective of an Iraq that is at peace with itself and its neighbors, that is an ally in the war on terror, that has a government that serves all Iraqis, and that is an increasingly prosperous and important member of the global economy and community of nations. [emphasis added]

What are we to make of all this? For one thing, there is no question that on almost every front–including the political and economic front–we’re seeing heartening progress in Iraq. It’s virtually impossible to argue that after far too many years of pursuing a flawed strategy, which came at an enormous cost to both the Iraqi people and the United States, we now have in place the right strategy being executed by the right people. Progress that was unimaginable in Iraq fifteen months ago has been made–and a nation that was bleeding and dying is now binding up its wounds.

General Petraeus’s warning that tough fights and hard work lie ahead cannot be repeated often enough. Military victories in Iraq, as difficult as they have been, are still easier to attain than rebuilding a traumatized and broken society. But we really have no other choice. Given the hopeful developments we have seen since the surge began, to leave now, before our job is complete, would be reckless and shameful and probably catastrophic.

In the latter half of 2006 it was legitimate for war critics to argue that Iraq was irredeemable lost and therefore we should cut our losses and leave. But that case can no longer be made. The debate has shifted from what the right strategy is to one of national will. Will our nation, weary of this long and costly war, continue along the path which has brought about indisputable, and in some cases breathtaking, progress? If we do, there will be honor in our efforts–and, it’s now reasonable to say, success as well.

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Good News from Mosul

On top of the good news in recent days from Basra and Baghdad now comes good news from Mosul–the last stronghold of Al Qaeda in Iraq. According to Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of Multi-National Division North, the “number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month.” That’s good news for America and Iraq–and bad news for all those Democrats who long ago wrote off the war as lost.

On top of the good news in recent days from Basra and Baghdad now comes good news from Mosul–the last stronghold of Al Qaeda in Iraq. According to Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling, commander of Multi-National Division North, the “number of daily attacks in Mosul has dropped at least 85 percent since U.S.-Iraqi forces began an offensive against Sunni insurgents in the city earlier this month.” That’s good news for America and Iraq–and bad news for all those Democrats who long ago wrote off the war as lost.

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Wriggling Out?

Obama (in pithy terms) and his supporters in the blogosphere (in laborious ones) have tried to “clarify” his “unconditional talks with despots” position. McCain surrogates have pushed back. And today the McCain camp issued a lengthy response pointing out that Obama has backtracked on his desire to meet unconditionally with dictators, and ties Obama’s lack of experience to faulty judgement on Iraq:

He said that General Petraeus’ new strategy would not reduce sectarian violence, but would worsen it. He was wrong. He said the dynamics in Iraq would not change as a result of the ‘surge.’ He was wrong. One year ago, he voted to cut off all funds for our forces fighting extremists in Iraq. He was wrong. Sectarian violence has been dramatically reduced, Sunnis in Anbar province and throughout Iraq are cooperating in fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, and Shi’ite extremist militias no longer control Basra — the Maliki government and its forces do. British and Iraqi forces now move freely in areas that were controlled by Iranian-backed militias. The fight against al Qaeda in Mosul is succeeding in further weakening that deadly terrorist group, and many key leaders have been killed or captured. As General Petraeus said last month, ‘As we combat AQI we must remember that doing so not only reduces a major source of instability in Iraq, it also weakens an organization that Al Qaeda’s senior leaders view as a tool to spread its influence and foment regional instability.’ Iraqi forces have moved unopposed into Sadr City, a development the New York Times characterized today as a ‘dramatic turnaround’ as the government of Prime Minister Maliki ‘advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militias.’

That argument may be entirely accurate. But politically it’s very difficult. Nevertheless, it’s the beginning of an essential debate. Whether we will now hear Obama walk back his promise to withdraw U.S. troops unconditionally and immediately from Iraq–just as he has had to walk back his promise of unconditional talks with terror states–remains to be seen.

Obama (in pithy terms) and his supporters in the blogosphere (in laborious ones) have tried to “clarify” his “unconditional talks with despots” position. McCain surrogates have pushed back. And today the McCain camp issued a lengthy response pointing out that Obama has backtracked on his desire to meet unconditionally with dictators, and ties Obama’s lack of experience to faulty judgement on Iraq:

He said that General Petraeus’ new strategy would not reduce sectarian violence, but would worsen it. He was wrong. He said the dynamics in Iraq would not change as a result of the ‘surge.’ He was wrong. One year ago, he voted to cut off all funds for our forces fighting extremists in Iraq. He was wrong. Sectarian violence has been dramatically reduced, Sunnis in Anbar province and throughout Iraq are cooperating in fighting al Qaeda in Iraq, and Shi’ite extremist militias no longer control Basra — the Maliki government and its forces do. British and Iraqi forces now move freely in areas that were controlled by Iranian-backed militias. The fight against al Qaeda in Mosul is succeeding in further weakening that deadly terrorist group, and many key leaders have been killed or captured. As General Petraeus said last month, ‘As we combat AQI we must remember that doing so not only reduces a major source of instability in Iraq, it also weakens an organization that Al Qaeda’s senior leaders view as a tool to spread its influence and foment regional instability.’ Iraqi forces have moved unopposed into Sadr City, a development the New York Times characterized today as a ‘dramatic turnaround’ as the government of Prime Minister Maliki ‘advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militias.’

That argument may be entirely accurate. But politically it’s very difficult. Nevertheless, it’s the beginning of an essential debate. Whether we will now hear Obama walk back his promise to withdraw U.S. troops unconditionally and immediately from Iraq–just as he has had to walk back his promise of unconditional talks with terror states–remains to be seen.

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Right In Reverse

Monitoring the progress in Iraq these days is a bit like watching a disaster film play backwards: All the setbacks that threatened the whole pre-surge effort now seem to be righting themselves in reverse order.

We’ve seen the Awakening of Sunnis, the clampdown on al Qaeda in Iraq, the quelling of a “civil war” that wasn’t, the fight against Shiite militias, the reconciliation among sectarian blocs in the Iraqi government, and now the large-scale return to service of former Iraqi army members. Azzaman.com, the habitually negative Iraqi news source, is strikingly hopeful about this development what it indicates:

The government has allowed more than 5,000 members of the former army which the U.S. had disbanded to return to service.

The move comes as part of government efforts to deny rebels and the al-Qaeda group the means to use popular discontent as a means to raise recruits.

It is the largest single batch of former army members to be allowed to return to service and it signals the government is finally keen to appease Arab Sunnis.

The batch which includes many officers will certainly make the city notables among them tribal leaders happy.

A Defence Ministry spokesman said the members “volunteered to join the armed forces” and that the government was pleased with the move.

“The return of this large group of members and officers will boost the strength of the armed forces,” Lt. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said.

The move also indicates that the government campaign to pacify Mosul, one of the most restive cities in the country, has been going well.

This kind of enthusiasm from Azzaman.com is noteworthy. Add it to the New York Times’ acknowledgement of Maliki’s success and Nancy Pelosi’s near admission of the same and what do you have? An emerging acceptance of good news from Iraq. If the backwards film reel effect holds, Hillary Clinton will soon start crowing about her unstinting support for the war in the first place.

Monitoring the progress in Iraq these days is a bit like watching a disaster film play backwards: All the setbacks that threatened the whole pre-surge effort now seem to be righting themselves in reverse order.

We’ve seen the Awakening of Sunnis, the clampdown on al Qaeda in Iraq, the quelling of a “civil war” that wasn’t, the fight against Shiite militias, the reconciliation among sectarian blocs in the Iraqi government, and now the large-scale return to service of former Iraqi army members. Azzaman.com, the habitually negative Iraqi news source, is strikingly hopeful about this development what it indicates:

The government has allowed more than 5,000 members of the former army which the U.S. had disbanded to return to service.

The move comes as part of government efforts to deny rebels and the al-Qaeda group the means to use popular discontent as a means to raise recruits.

It is the largest single batch of former army members to be allowed to return to service and it signals the government is finally keen to appease Arab Sunnis.

The batch which includes many officers will certainly make the city notables among them tribal leaders happy.

A Defence Ministry spokesman said the members “volunteered to join the armed forces” and that the government was pleased with the move.

“The return of this large group of members and officers will boost the strength of the armed forces,” Lt. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari said.

The move also indicates that the government campaign to pacify Mosul, one of the most restive cities in the country, has been going well.

This kind of enthusiasm from Azzaman.com is noteworthy. Add it to the New York Times’ acknowledgement of Maliki’s success and Nancy Pelosi’s near admission of the same and what do you have? An emerging acceptance of good news from Iraq. If the backwards film reel effect holds, Hillary Clinton will soon start crowing about her unstinting support for the war in the first place.

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Does Nancy Pelosi Believe In The Surge?

Well, look who’s reconciled to reconciliation. Today, Nancy Pelosi met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Mosul and–according to the AP, the Speaker of the House, “welcomed Iraq’s progress in passing a budget as well as oil legislation, and a bill paving the way for the provincial elections in the fall that are expected to more equitably redistribute power among local officials.”

“We’re assured the elections will happen here, they will be transparent, they will be inclusive and they will take Iraq closer to the reconciliation we all want it to have,” said Pelosi.

In February, she had said, “The purpose of the surge was to create a secure time for the government of Iraq to make the political change to bring reconciliation to Iraq. They have not done that.”

Some questions: Does this mean that the surge worked? And if so, does this mean Pelosi–gasp!–disagrees with Barack Obama, who has been against the surge from its inception? And when Nancy Pelosi returns home and speaks before the House about her experience in Iraq, will we finally see a change from the lockstep posturing that keeps the Democrats aligned with Obama on every last detail?

Well, look who’s reconciled to reconciliation. Today, Nancy Pelosi met with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Mosul and–according to the AP, the Speaker of the House, “welcomed Iraq’s progress in passing a budget as well as oil legislation, and a bill paving the way for the provincial elections in the fall that are expected to more equitably redistribute power among local officials.”

“We’re assured the elections will happen here, they will be transparent, they will be inclusive and they will take Iraq closer to the reconciliation we all want it to have,” said Pelosi.

In February, she had said, “The purpose of the surge was to create a secure time for the government of Iraq to make the political change to bring reconciliation to Iraq. They have not done that.”

Some questions: Does this mean that the surge worked? And if so, does this mean Pelosi–gasp!–disagrees with Barack Obama, who has been against the surge from its inception? And when Nancy Pelosi returns home and speaks before the House about her experience in Iraq, will we finally see a change from the lockstep posturing that keeps the Democrats aligned with Obama on every last detail?

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Behind the Wire

If you’re interested in reading more about Abdallah Saleh Ali Al Ajmi–the former Kuwaiti soldier who was captured in Afghanistan, then released from Guantanamo, and who apparently blew himself up as a suicide bomber in Mosul, Iraq–you can read his Wikipedia page here. His case obviously points out the need to continue incarcerating a lot of the current detainees, if not at Gitmo (which has become a public relations embarrassment, and will be closed before long, by either this President or his successor), then at some other facility.

It also points out another need: to conduct “counterinsurgency behind the wire” with these detainees, wherever they are held. That is something that Task Force 134, the coalition unit responsible for more than 20,000 detainees in Iraq, has been doing successfully for the past year under the leadership of Marine Major General Doug Stone. His methods include holding classes where moderate clerics explain to the detainees why they should not engage in violent jihadism. This is akin to cult deprogramming, and there is evidence that it is working.

Similar programs have been run in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Singapore, and other countries. It is imperative that terrorism detainees not simply be warehoused, because then prison can turn into a terrorism university. We need to use the time while they are under our control to try to rehabilitate them if possible. Of course a hard-core element can never be brought around and simply needs to be locked up indefinitely. But many of those who fall into terrorism actually have fairly shallow ideologies and, in the right environment, some of them can be converted away from the path of violence.

If you’re interested in reading more about Abdallah Saleh Ali Al Ajmi–the former Kuwaiti soldier who was captured in Afghanistan, then released from Guantanamo, and who apparently blew himself up as a suicide bomber in Mosul, Iraq–you can read his Wikipedia page here. His case obviously points out the need to continue incarcerating a lot of the current detainees, if not at Gitmo (which has become a public relations embarrassment, and will be closed before long, by either this President or his successor), then at some other facility.

It also points out another need: to conduct “counterinsurgency behind the wire” with these detainees, wherever they are held. That is something that Task Force 134, the coalition unit responsible for more than 20,000 detainees in Iraq, has been doing successfully for the past year under the leadership of Marine Major General Doug Stone. His methods include holding classes where moderate clerics explain to the detainees why they should not engage in violent jihadism. This is akin to cult deprogramming, and there is evidence that it is working.

Similar programs have been run in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Singapore, and other countries. It is imperative that terrorism detainees not simply be warehoused, because then prison can turn into a terrorism university. We need to use the time while they are under our control to try to rehabilitate them if possible. Of course a hard-core element can never be brought around and simply needs to be locked up indefinitely. But many of those who fall into terrorism actually have fairly shallow ideologies and, in the right environment, some of them can be converted away from the path of violence.

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Close Gitmo, Open the National Security Court

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch presents the maximalist position of civil liberties advocates when it comes to the War on Terror: He argues not only that we should close the detention facility at Guantanamo (which I agree with), but also that we should either try suspects in the criminal courts under standard criminal procedures or else release them. That’s going a bit too far for me, or, I suspect, most other Americans. To see why, consider this AP report:

Al-Arabiya television reports that a former Guantanamo detainee carried out a recent suicide bombing in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

A cousin says Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti released from Guantanamo in 2005, was reported missing two weeks ago and his family learned of his death Thursday through a friend in Iraq.

The cousin, Salem al-Ajmi, told Al-Arabiya on Thursday that the former detainee was behind the latest attack in Mosul, although he did not provide more details.

Three suicide car bombers targeted Iraqi security forces in Mosul on April 26, killing at least seven people.

Because it was “only” Iraqis who were killed, this apparent attack by a former Gitmo detainee will not cause much uproar in the United States. But imagine if he had struck not in Mosul but in New York, Paris, or London. Then it would be a different story. To avoid such a dire scenario, we need to have a way of dealing with detainees that goes beyond the normal safeguards of the criminal justice system.

Jack Goldsmith and Neal Katyal–the former a conservative law professor who served in the Bush Justice Department, the latter a liberal law professor who represented one of the Gitmo detainees in a successful appeal to the Supreme Court in 2006–have proposed just such a system: setting up a federal National Security Court run by specially selected federal judges. Roth argues against this idea, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch presents the maximalist position of civil liberties advocates when it comes to the War on Terror: He argues not only that we should close the detention facility at Guantanamo (which I agree with), but also that we should either try suspects in the criminal courts under standard criminal procedures or else release them. That’s going a bit too far for me, or, I suspect, most other Americans. To see why, consider this AP report:

Al-Arabiya television reports that a former Guantanamo detainee carried out a recent suicide bombing in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

A cousin says Abdullah Saleh al-Ajmi, a Kuwaiti released from Guantanamo in 2005, was reported missing two weeks ago and his family learned of his death Thursday through a friend in Iraq.

The cousin, Salem al-Ajmi, told Al-Arabiya on Thursday that the former detainee was behind the latest attack in Mosul, although he did not provide more details.

Three suicide car bombers targeted Iraqi security forces in Mosul on April 26, killing at least seven people.

Because it was “only” Iraqis who were killed, this apparent attack by a former Gitmo detainee will not cause much uproar in the United States. But imagine if he had struck not in Mosul but in New York, Paris, or London. Then it would be a different story. To avoid such a dire scenario, we need to have a way of dealing with detainees that goes beyond the normal safeguards of the criminal justice system.

Jack Goldsmith and Neal Katyal–the former a conservative law professor who served in the Bush Justice Department, the latter a liberal law professor who represented one of the Gitmo detainees in a successful appeal to the Supreme Court in 2006–have proposed just such a system: setting up a federal National Security Court run by specially selected federal judges. Roth argues against this idea, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

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McCain on Basra and Maliki

I just got off a blogger call with John McCain and asked him about his impressions of the Iraqi army’s fight against Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra. He described the outcome as a “pleasant turn of events” and said that Prime Minister Maliki “surprised us all.” McCain conceded that there were setbacks at first, but said that with limited American support the Iraqi army has wrested control of Basra from the Sadrites. The outcome in Basra has likely brought Iraq’s main Sunni political bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, back into the government.

Interestingly, McCain said that before the Basra fight began, he was under the impression that the Iraqi army was going to finish up operations against al Qaeda holdouts in Mosul and then deal with the Mahdi fighters in Basra. It seems Maliki displayed both adaptability and leadership in changing the course and calling the shots (he tipped of David Petraeus to the Basra plan a couple of days in advance.) With the MSM getting both the military outcome and the political ramifications of Basra so hopelessly wrong, it will be interesting to see how they cover resumed operations in Mosul.

I just got off a blogger call with John McCain and asked him about his impressions of the Iraqi army’s fight against Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Basra. He described the outcome as a “pleasant turn of events” and said that Prime Minister Maliki “surprised us all.” McCain conceded that there were setbacks at first, but said that with limited American support the Iraqi army has wrested control of Basra from the Sadrites. The outcome in Basra has likely brought Iraq’s main Sunni political bloc, the Iraqi Accordance Front, back into the government.

Interestingly, McCain said that before the Basra fight began, he was under the impression that the Iraqi army was going to finish up operations against al Qaeda holdouts in Mosul and then deal with the Mahdi fighters in Basra. It seems Maliki displayed both adaptability and leadership in changing the course and calling the shots (he tipped of David Petraeus to the Basra plan a couple of days in advance.) With the MSM getting both the military outcome and the political ramifications of Basra so hopelessly wrong, it will be interesting to see how they cover resumed operations in Mosul.

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McCain’s Iraq Challenge

John McCain put it bluntly yesterday: if he is unable to convince Americans that the troop surge is working in Iraq and that U.S. casualties there have fallen, he’ll lose in November. He immediately backed down from that stark correlation, but the fact remains that McCain is running as the heir to “George Bush’s war.” His challenge is a funny one. A “war-fatigued” public prefers an immediate end to the fighting over a gradual victory, and while the facts are overwhelmingly on McCain’s side, no one has yet been able to convince the public that the facts are, indeed, the facts.

As Rich Lowry notes in his new National Review article about Iraq:

Almost every indicator of violence is headed in the right direction. Last year’s indispensable abbreviation, EJK, or extra-judicial killings—meaning sectarian murders—is barely heard now. The sectarian civil war has dissipated in Baghdad. Nationwide, enemy actions are down about 60 percent since June. In December, American casualties were at early-2004 levels.

The al Qaeda violence that continues to plague the northern city of Mosul will, in all likelihood, soon come to an end as Iraqi and American forces are poised to route the remaining terrorists from their final stronghold. Furthermore, the long-awaited political progress preemptively dismissed by Nancy Pelosi and both Democratic frontrunners is now underway. The country’s parliament has passed three laws critical to the viability of Iraqi statehood.

So: why does McCain face a challenge at all? Shouldn’t Americans be thrilled at the turnaround in Iraq? Evidently not. The nation’s collective masochism seemed to pass a vital threshold once the Iraq War proved tougher than they expected. The two things anti-war Americans never tire of saying are “we can’t win” and, more importantly, “what does winning mean anyway?” In this last question lies the crux of McCain’s uphill battle. He’s got to convince an electorate that has deconstructed the concept of victory that we are indeed victors.

But before he can do that, he has to pierce the negativity that Democrats and the MSM have saddled us with. For all Barack Obama’s hopeful poetry, his true message is that things are currently abysmal. In the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger punctured the bubble of rhetoric around a recent Obama speech. Henninger stripped the speech of lofty allusions and revealed its meager substantive core.

Here’s [Obama’s] American: “lies awake at night wondering how he’s going to pay the bills . . . she works the night shift after a full day of college and still can’t afford health care for a sister who’s ill . . . the senior I met who lost his pension when the company he gave his life to went bankrupt . . . the teacher who works at Dunkin’ Donuts after school just to make ends meet . . . I was not born into money or status . . . I’ve fought to bring jobs to the jobless in the shadow of a shuttered steel plant . . . to make sure people weren’t denied their rights because of what they looked like or where they came from . . . Now we carry our message to farms and factories.”

What’s resonating with voters is not the idea that America is great, but that she can be so after a little scolding. McCain’s telling them that there are some things already worth celebrating about our country puts limits on their Obama-inspired fantasies. Whether it’s the economy, class warfare, real warfare, or America’s standing in the world, McCain is up against the entrenched (and savored) impression that America is in decline. Not only will McCain have to convince the public that we’re winning the war, but he’ll have to make them see that we deserve to win it. Michael Moore made a record-breaking blockbuster film asserting that Iraqi insurgents are the moral equivalent of our Revolutionary War minutemen. Getting that movie’s millions of viewers to recognize (and celebrate) a U.S. military victory is John McCain’s task.

John McCain put it bluntly yesterday: if he is unable to convince Americans that the troop surge is working in Iraq and that U.S. casualties there have fallen, he’ll lose in November. He immediately backed down from that stark correlation, but the fact remains that McCain is running as the heir to “George Bush’s war.” His challenge is a funny one. A “war-fatigued” public prefers an immediate end to the fighting over a gradual victory, and while the facts are overwhelmingly on McCain’s side, no one has yet been able to convince the public that the facts are, indeed, the facts.

As Rich Lowry notes in his new National Review article about Iraq:

Almost every indicator of violence is headed in the right direction. Last year’s indispensable abbreviation, EJK, or extra-judicial killings—meaning sectarian murders—is barely heard now. The sectarian civil war has dissipated in Baghdad. Nationwide, enemy actions are down about 60 percent since June. In December, American casualties were at early-2004 levels.

The al Qaeda violence that continues to plague the northern city of Mosul will, in all likelihood, soon come to an end as Iraqi and American forces are poised to route the remaining terrorists from their final stronghold. Furthermore, the long-awaited political progress preemptively dismissed by Nancy Pelosi and both Democratic frontrunners is now underway. The country’s parliament has passed three laws critical to the viability of Iraqi statehood.

So: why does McCain face a challenge at all? Shouldn’t Americans be thrilled at the turnaround in Iraq? Evidently not. The nation’s collective masochism seemed to pass a vital threshold once the Iraq War proved tougher than they expected. The two things anti-war Americans never tire of saying are “we can’t win” and, more importantly, “what does winning mean anyway?” In this last question lies the crux of McCain’s uphill battle. He’s got to convince an electorate that has deconstructed the concept of victory that we are indeed victors.

But before he can do that, he has to pierce the negativity that Democrats and the MSM have saddled us with. For all Barack Obama’s hopeful poetry, his true message is that things are currently abysmal. In the Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henninger punctured the bubble of rhetoric around a recent Obama speech. Henninger stripped the speech of lofty allusions and revealed its meager substantive core.

Here’s [Obama’s] American: “lies awake at night wondering how he’s going to pay the bills . . . she works the night shift after a full day of college and still can’t afford health care for a sister who’s ill . . . the senior I met who lost his pension when the company he gave his life to went bankrupt . . . the teacher who works at Dunkin’ Donuts after school just to make ends meet . . . I was not born into money or status . . . I’ve fought to bring jobs to the jobless in the shadow of a shuttered steel plant . . . to make sure people weren’t denied their rights because of what they looked like or where they came from . . . Now we carry our message to farms and factories.”

What’s resonating with voters is not the idea that America is great, but that she can be so after a little scolding. McCain’s telling them that there are some things already worth celebrating about our country puts limits on their Obama-inspired fantasies. Whether it’s the economy, class warfare, real warfare, or America’s standing in the world, McCain is up against the entrenched (and savored) impression that America is in decline. Not only will McCain have to convince the public that we’re winning the war, but he’ll have to make them see that we deserve to win it. Michael Moore made a record-breaking blockbuster film asserting that Iraqi insurgents are the moral equivalent of our Revolutionary War minutemen. Getting that movie’s millions of viewers to recognize (and celebrate) a U.S. military victory is John McCain’s task.

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Our Baghdad Bob

What a contrast.

On Sunday Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about the success of the “surge” in Iraq. “Are you not worried, though, that all the gains that have been achieved over the past year might be lost?” Blitzer asked.

“There haven’t been gains, Wolf,” Pelosi replied. “The gains have not produced the desired effect, which is the reconciliation of Iraq. This is a failure. This is a failure.”

Times of London published a story reporting this:

Al-Qaeda in Iraq faces an “extraordinary crisis”. Last year’s mass defection of ordinary Sunnis from al-Qaeda to the US military “created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight”. The terrorist group’s security structure suffered “total collapse”. These are the words not of al-Qaeda’s enemies but of one of its own leaders in Anbar province — once the group’s stronghold. They were set down last summer in a 39-page letter seized during a US raid on an al-Qaeda base near Samarra in November. The US military released extracts from that letter yesterday along with a second seized in another November raid that is almost as startling. That second document is a bitter 16-page testament written last October by a local al-Qaeda leader near Balad, north of Baghdad. “I am Abu-Tariq, emir of the al-Layin and al-Mashahdah sector,” the author begins. He goes on to describe how his force of 600 shrank to fewer than 20. “We were mistreated, cheated and betrayed by some of our brothers,” he says. “Those people were nothing but hypocrites, liars and traitors and were waiting for the right moment to switch sides with whoever pays them most.” … The Anbar letter conceded that the “crusaders” — Americans — had gained the upper hand by persuading ordinary Sunnis that al-Qaeda was responsible for their suffering and by exploiting their poverty to entice them into the security forces. Al-Qaeda’s “Islamic State of Iraq is faced with an extraordinary crisis, especially in al-Anbar”, the unnamed emir admitted.

In one corner, then, we have the Speaker of the House insisting, despite overwhelming evidence, that progress in Iraq is illusory, that there have been no gains, and that the war is irredeemably lost. In the other corner are first-hand accounts by jihadists about the extraordinary crisis al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) faces – a crisis that has been confirmed by a raft of objective metrics during the last year.

The last few weeks we have seen a series of high-profile, deadly bombings that are evidence that AQI is not defeated and that we need to maintain pressure if we hope to succeed. The offensive in the northern city of Mosul, AQI’s last urban stronghold, promises to be difficult and bloody. But to insist that there “haven’t been gains” is to venture into a land of utter delusion.

All of this calls to mind Baghdad Bob. Baghdad Bob, people will recall, was the nickname given to Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, the buffoonish former Information Minister of Iraq who (to take just one example) claimed on April 7, 2003 that there were no American troops in Baghdad and that the Americans were committing suicide by the hundreds at the city’s gates – even though at precisely that moment American tanks were patrolling the streets only a few hundred yards from the location al-Sahaf’s press conference was held.

Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, has become our Baghdad Bob. And what a spectacle it is. Jihadists in Iraq are testifying to their own failures. At the same time, the Speaker of the House seems to have a deep ideological investment in ours.

What a contrast.

On Sunday Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer about the success of the “surge” in Iraq. “Are you not worried, though, that all the gains that have been achieved over the past year might be lost?” Blitzer asked.

“There haven’t been gains, Wolf,” Pelosi replied. “The gains have not produced the desired effect, which is the reconciliation of Iraq. This is a failure. This is a failure.”

Times of London published a story reporting this:

Al-Qaeda in Iraq faces an “extraordinary crisis”. Last year’s mass defection of ordinary Sunnis from al-Qaeda to the US military “created panic, fear and the unwillingness to fight”. The terrorist group’s security structure suffered “total collapse”. These are the words not of al-Qaeda’s enemies but of one of its own leaders in Anbar province — once the group’s stronghold. They were set down last summer in a 39-page letter seized during a US raid on an al-Qaeda base near Samarra in November. The US military released extracts from that letter yesterday along with a second seized in another November raid that is almost as startling. That second document is a bitter 16-page testament written last October by a local al-Qaeda leader near Balad, north of Baghdad. “I am Abu-Tariq, emir of the al-Layin and al-Mashahdah sector,” the author begins. He goes on to describe how his force of 600 shrank to fewer than 20. “We were mistreated, cheated and betrayed by some of our brothers,” he says. “Those people were nothing but hypocrites, liars and traitors and were waiting for the right moment to switch sides with whoever pays them most.” … The Anbar letter conceded that the “crusaders” — Americans — had gained the upper hand by persuading ordinary Sunnis that al-Qaeda was responsible for their suffering and by exploiting their poverty to entice them into the security forces. Al-Qaeda’s “Islamic State of Iraq is faced with an extraordinary crisis, especially in al-Anbar”, the unnamed emir admitted.

In one corner, then, we have the Speaker of the House insisting, despite overwhelming evidence, that progress in Iraq is illusory, that there have been no gains, and that the war is irredeemably lost. In the other corner are first-hand accounts by jihadists about the extraordinary crisis al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) faces – a crisis that has been confirmed by a raft of objective metrics during the last year.

The last few weeks we have seen a series of high-profile, deadly bombings that are evidence that AQI is not defeated and that we need to maintain pressure if we hope to succeed. The offensive in the northern city of Mosul, AQI’s last urban stronghold, promises to be difficult and bloody. But to insist that there “haven’t been gains” is to venture into a land of utter delusion.

All of this calls to mind Baghdad Bob. Baghdad Bob, people will recall, was the nickname given to Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, the buffoonish former Information Minister of Iraq who (to take just one example) claimed on April 7, 2003 that there were no American troops in Baghdad and that the Americans were committing suicide by the hundreds at the city’s gates – even though at precisely that moment American tanks were patrolling the streets only a few hundred yards from the location al-Sahaf’s press conference was held.

Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, has become our Baghdad Bob. And what a spectacle it is. Jihadists in Iraq are testifying to their own failures. At the same time, the Speaker of the House seems to have a deep ideological investment in ours.

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Libya’s Son

Iraqi Police Colonel Jubair Rashid Naief claims Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam (whose name means Sword of Islam) is sponsoring a terrorist group in Northern Iraq called the Seifaddin Regiment. This group is allegedly responsible for recent attacks in Mosul that killed and wounded hundreds. The U.S. military so far has no comment on the accusation one way or another. I’ve never heard of this group and am not even convinced it exists. But U.S. military officials believe 19 percent of foreign terrorists in Iraq come from Libya.

Robert H. Reid wrote in an Associated Press article that Seif al-Islam “seems an unlikely figure as a sponsor of terrorism. Touted as a reformer, the younger Gadhafi has been reaching out to the West to soften Libya’s image and return it to the international mainstream.”

Yes, Seif al-Islam is touted as a reformer – by journalists. Perhaps naïve government officials also believe Seif al-Islam is a reformer. His father has certainly been given a pass in the last couple of years even though he barely deserves it – if he deserves it at all.

I visited Libya as soon as the U.S. government lifted the travel ban, after Qaddafi supposedly gave up his weapons of mass destruction program. (Click here to see my photo gallery.) It is by far the most oppressive country I have ever been to. Freedom House ranks it the most oppressive of all Arab countries, lower than even Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Qaddafi’s government structure is modeled after Nicolae Ceauşescu’s totalitarian regime in Romania. His state ideology, the unexportable “Third Universal Theory,” is a merger of The Communist Manifesto and the Koran. His own infamous manifesto, The Green Book, is a daft and sinister pseudo-intellectual excuse for his own absolute power. Don’t be fooled by Qaddafi’s court jester antics and buffoonish charisma. He is only funny and entertaining to watch from abroad. Libya is an Orwellian God-state with only Turkmenistan and North Korea as peers.

Read More

Iraqi Police Colonel Jubair Rashid Naief claims Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam (whose name means Sword of Islam) is sponsoring a terrorist group in Northern Iraq called the Seifaddin Regiment. This group is allegedly responsible for recent attacks in Mosul that killed and wounded hundreds. The U.S. military so far has no comment on the accusation one way or another. I’ve never heard of this group and am not even convinced it exists. But U.S. military officials believe 19 percent of foreign terrorists in Iraq come from Libya.

Robert H. Reid wrote in an Associated Press article that Seif al-Islam “seems an unlikely figure as a sponsor of terrorism. Touted as a reformer, the younger Gadhafi has been reaching out to the West to soften Libya’s image and return it to the international mainstream.”

Yes, Seif al-Islam is touted as a reformer – by journalists. Perhaps naïve government officials also believe Seif al-Islam is a reformer. His father has certainly been given a pass in the last couple of years even though he barely deserves it – if he deserves it at all.

I visited Libya as soon as the U.S. government lifted the travel ban, after Qaddafi supposedly gave up his weapons of mass destruction program. (Click here to see my photo gallery.) It is by far the most oppressive country I have ever been to. Freedom House ranks it the most oppressive of all Arab countries, lower than even Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Qaddafi’s government structure is modeled after Nicolae Ceauşescu’s totalitarian regime in Romania. His state ideology, the unexportable “Third Universal Theory,” is a merger of The Communist Manifesto and the Koran. His own infamous manifesto, The Green Book, is a daft and sinister pseudo-intellectual excuse for his own absolute power. Don’t be fooled by Qaddafi’s court jester antics and buffoonish charisma. He is only funny and entertaining to watch from abroad. Libya is an Orwellian God-state with only Turkmenistan and North Korea as peers.

Of course none of this means Qaddafi’s son Seif al-Islam sponsors a terrorist group in Iraq. I really have no idea if that’s true or not. What I do know is that he is ideologically committed to preserving his father’s prison state system, and that he wants to export that system to as many countries as possible. Gullible diplomats and journalists may sincerely believe he’s a reformer, but a close look at his own statements proves that he’s lying when he passes himself off as moderate. And he is not even a good liar.

“My father has been promoting the idea of direct democracy in Libya for almost 26 years now,” he said to New York Times reporter Craig S. Smith in December, 2004. “It’s quite rational and logical that we have to continue in that direction.”

So much for him reforming his father’s system. He is quite up front about that part of his agenda, at least. What he’s lying about is the nature of his father’s system. Libya is no more a direct democracy than the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea is a democratic republic.

In the same New York Times interview he said “We don’t have an opposition — there is no opposition.” Only “five people,” he claimed, oppose his father’s regime, and all five live in the United States.

It’s breathtaking, really, that even a totalitarian tool like Seif al-Islam doesn’t understand real democracy well enough to know that more than five people in any country will oppose the government regardless of its system or what it does. It takes real insularity from the modern world and its ways to say something like that to a reporter with a straight face. What’s even more striking is that reporters who actually live in a democratic country could take a serious look at this kid and think he’s a straight shooter. You might as well believe Saddam Hussein won 100 percent of the vote in Iraq. At least Syria’s dictator Hafez Assad only claimed to win 99.

I suppose it’s the “direct democracy” part of Seif al-Islam’s shtick that throws people off.

Here is what his father says about democracy in The Green Book: “Political struggle that results in the victory of a candidate with, for example, 51 percent of the vote leads to a dictatorial governing body in the guise of false democracy, since 49 percent of the electorate is ruled by an instrument of government they did not vote for, but which has been imposed upon them. Such is dictatorship.” His solution to the problem of “false democracy” is his version of “direct democracy” that enshrines himself as leader of 100 percent of the people rather than a mere 51. Political parties and political opposition are banned in Libya because they would divide that 100 percent. Libyan-style direct democracy is actually fascism or something very much like it. This is what Seif al-Islam is talking about when he says “we have to continue in that direction.”

The jury is out on whether he’s sponsoring a terrorist group in Iraq. I don’t have access to Iraqi Police Colonel Naief’s intelligence reports and cannot evaluate them. But the idea isn’t that much of a stretch. The Arab world has its reformers, but Seif al-Islam isn’t one of them.

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Endgame Iraq

Let’s hope Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki didn’t make himself a hostage to fortune today by announcing an upcoming “final war” on al Qaeda in Iraq. The recent smattering of suicide bombings in Mosul do demand decisive military action, and there’s plenty of reason to expect success once Iraqi forces take the fight north to this AQI stronghold. But those two unfortunate words could wind up in the same soundbite chamber as “mission accomplished” and “final throes.”

Hubris aside, al-Maliki’s further words were heartening: “Now we have a real army. The days when the militants could do anything in front of our armed forces are gone,” he said. For this, we can thank the tireless training and recruitment efforts of both U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The most useless trope in recent discussions about Iraq is the one about how military success means nothing without political progress. Political progress is an impossibility without the security furnished by ongoing military success. (Below, Peter Wehner has highlighted Iraq’s emerging political reconciliation and the operational progress that’s made it possible.) The battle for Mosul will be Iraqi-led. This is critical in showing Iraqis that the state’s military is now an effective instrument employed for the good of the country. Political reconciliation is predicated on this kind of reassurance.

“Final war” or not, the prospect of eradicating AQI, in what appears to be its final refuge, points both to past U.S. military success and to further political progress in Iraq.

Let’s hope Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki didn’t make himself a hostage to fortune today by announcing an upcoming “final war” on al Qaeda in Iraq. The recent smattering of suicide bombings in Mosul do demand decisive military action, and there’s plenty of reason to expect success once Iraqi forces take the fight north to this AQI stronghold. But those two unfortunate words could wind up in the same soundbite chamber as “mission accomplished” and “final throes.”

Hubris aside, al-Maliki’s further words were heartening: “Now we have a real army. The days when the militants could do anything in front of our armed forces are gone,” he said. For this, we can thank the tireless training and recruitment efforts of both U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The most useless trope in recent discussions about Iraq is the one about how military success means nothing without political progress. Political progress is an impossibility without the security furnished by ongoing military success. (Below, Peter Wehner has highlighted Iraq’s emerging political reconciliation and the operational progress that’s made it possible.) The battle for Mosul will be Iraqi-led. This is critical in showing Iraqis that the state’s military is now an effective instrument employed for the good of the country. Political reconciliation is predicated on this kind of reassurance.

“Final war” or not, the prospect of eradicating AQI, in what appears to be its final refuge, points both to past U.S. military success and to further political progress in Iraq.

Read Less




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