Commentary Magazine


Topic: Shiite militia

How the World’s Obsession With Israel Hurts Palestinians

Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian Jordanian researcher at Britain’s University of Bedfordshire, has a must-read piece in today’s Jerusalem Post on the price Palestinians pay for the world’s obsession with Israel: namely, the fact that many Palestinians in Arab countries suffer far worse conditions than those in the West Bank and Gaza, but remain faceless and voiceless, with nobody to lobby for improvements in their situation.

For instance, he notes, Israeli officials fear traveling to many European countries lest they be arrested for “war crimes” like the Gaza blockade (which is actually perfectly legal under customary international law). Yet that blockade, for all the outrage it produces, never reduced anyone to starvation; Israel always let in “food items and medications.”

In contrast, Nabih Berri commanded a Shiite militia, Amal, during Lebanon’s civil war, which “enforced a multi-year siege on Palestinian [refugee] camps, cutting water access and food supplies to them” and reportedly reducing residents to “consuming rats and dogs to survive.” But today, as speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Berri travels to Europe frequently, without fear. Being Lebanese rather than Israeli, the far more brutal blockade he imposed elicits no outrage whatsoever.

Moreover, Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps “are not allowed access to basics such as buying cement to enlarge or repair homes for their growing families. Furthermore, it is difficult for them to work legally, and [they] are even restricted from going out of their camps at certain hours.” Incredibly, this has been true for “almost 30 years.”

By contrast, Israel’s ban on cement imports to Gaza is only five years old, and stemmed from a real military threat: Hamas’s daily rocket launches at southern Israel. But somehow, the same people who are outraged about Palestinians in Gaza who can’t repair their homes couldn’t care less about Palestinians in Lebanon being unable to do the same for 30 years.

“Many other Arab countries are no different than Lebanon in their ill-treatment and discrimination against the Palestinians,” Zahran continued. “Why do the media choose to ignore those and focus only on Israel? While the security wall being built by Israel has become a symbol of ‘apartheid’ in the global media, they almost never address the actual walls and separation barriers that have been isolating Palestinian refugee camps in Arab countries for decades.”
In an earlier piece, for instance, Zahran wrote that Palestinians in Jordan have suffered “decades of systematic exclusion in all aspects of life expanding into their disenfranchisement in education, employment, housing, state benefits and even business potential, all developing into an existing apartheid no different than that formerly adopted in South Africa, except for the official acknowledgement of it.” Jordan has even begun stripping thousands of Jordanian Palestinians of their citizenship.

But Lebanese and Jordanian Palestinians “do not have someone to speak for them in the global media,” because the media is too busy obsessing over Israel.

That’s clearly good for the Arab states committing this abuse; they get a free pass. But it isn’t so good for the Palestinians who suffer it.

Unfortunately, it seems as though the world doesn’t actually care about Palestinians. What it cares about is demonizing Israel.

Mudar Zahran, a Palestinian Jordanian researcher at Britain’s University of Bedfordshire, has a must-read piece in today’s Jerusalem Post on the price Palestinians pay for the world’s obsession with Israel: namely, the fact that many Palestinians in Arab countries suffer far worse conditions than those in the West Bank and Gaza, but remain faceless and voiceless, with nobody to lobby for improvements in their situation.

For instance, he notes, Israeli officials fear traveling to many European countries lest they be arrested for “war crimes” like the Gaza blockade (which is actually perfectly legal under customary international law). Yet that blockade, for all the outrage it produces, never reduced anyone to starvation; Israel always let in “food items and medications.”

In contrast, Nabih Berri commanded a Shiite militia, Amal, during Lebanon’s civil war, which “enforced a multi-year siege on Palestinian [refugee] camps, cutting water access and food supplies to them” and reportedly reducing residents to “consuming rats and dogs to survive.” But today, as speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Berri travels to Europe frequently, without fear. Being Lebanese rather than Israeli, the far more brutal blockade he imposed elicits no outrage whatsoever.

Moreover, Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps “are not allowed access to basics such as buying cement to enlarge or repair homes for their growing families. Furthermore, it is difficult for them to work legally, and [they] are even restricted from going out of their camps at certain hours.” Incredibly, this has been true for “almost 30 years.”

By contrast, Israel’s ban on cement imports to Gaza is only five years old, and stemmed from a real military threat: Hamas’s daily rocket launches at southern Israel. But somehow, the same people who are outraged about Palestinians in Gaza who can’t repair their homes couldn’t care less about Palestinians in Lebanon being unable to do the same for 30 years.

“Many other Arab countries are no different than Lebanon in their ill-treatment and discrimination against the Palestinians,” Zahran continued. “Why do the media choose to ignore those and focus only on Israel? While the security wall being built by Israel has become a symbol of ‘apartheid’ in the global media, they almost never address the actual walls and separation barriers that have been isolating Palestinian refugee camps in Arab countries for decades.”
In an earlier piece, for instance, Zahran wrote that Palestinians in Jordan have suffered “decades of systematic exclusion in all aspects of life expanding into their disenfranchisement in education, employment, housing, state benefits and even business potential, all developing into an existing apartheid no different than that formerly adopted in South Africa, except for the official acknowledgement of it.” Jordan has even begun stripping thousands of Jordanian Palestinians of their citizenship.

But Lebanese and Jordanian Palestinians “do not have someone to speak for them in the global media,” because the media is too busy obsessing over Israel.

That’s clearly good for the Arab states committing this abuse; they get a free pass. But it isn’t so good for the Palestinians who suffer it.

Unfortunately, it seems as though the world doesn’t actually care about Palestinians. What it cares about is demonizing Israel.

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News from Sadr City

On the front page of today’s New York Times we read this:

Iraqi forces rolled unopposed through the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Tuesday, a dramatic turnaround from the bitter fighting that has plagued the Baghdad neighborhood for two months, and a qualified success for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. As it did in the southern city of Basra last month, the Iraqi government advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militia.

The Times story, written by Michael Gordon and Alissa Rubin, rightly contains caveats. Nobody can say just where the militias, who melted away in the face of Iraqi troops backed by American power, might re-emerge, or when Iraqi and American forces might need to fight them again. The main military question is whether the ISF can solidify their hold over Sadr City. And the main political question is whether the Maliki government will cement its gains by winning over a wary population.

Yet the Sadr City military offensive is impressive, especially when executed on top of the success we’ve recently seen in Basra. (After a shaky start, for the first time the Iraqi government has pacified and restored government control there). The Sadr City offensive is doubly impressive when you consider that no American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops into there. While we shared intelligence, helped the Iraqi’s in planning the operation and provided overhead reconnaissance, it was “totally Iraqi planned, led and executed,” the U.S. military told the Washington Post.

Sadr City’s “Operation Peace” was better coordinated than the operation in Basra–and it needed to be, since Sadr City is a densely populated neighborhood of more than two million and has been a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr. It helps, of course, that the Shiite militia has been badly damaged since late March. According to Col. John Hort, commander of the Third Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, we have killed the equivalent of a U.S. battalion. At the same time, he says we have seen a lot of indications that some of the senior leadership of the Jaysh al Mahdi and the “special groups” supported by Iran have left Sadr City.

Everything in Iraq is hard, Ambassador Crocker has rightly said, and Sadr City is a particularly difficult nut to crack. There will be hard days as well as good days–and Iraq remains in many ways a broken nation. But it is also a nation in the process of mending itself and, day-by-day, it is taking up the tasks of self-government. That Iraq is a far less violent country than it was is indisputable; just this week we’ve seen the lowest level of security incidents since April 2004. And as the Times says in an accompanying story today, what we are seeing is the first determined effort by Prime Minister Maliki to assert control over the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.

Violence will almost surely erupt in Sadr City at some point; the malevolent forces in Iraq aren’t defeated or going away. But for the time being at least, the Iraqi government seems to have the upper hand. This isn’t everything that needs to be done in Iraq–but it’s a necessary part of what needs to be done. And perhaps the skeptics and critics of this war can find the time to recognize this success and laud the efforts of Prime Minister Maliki, his government, and his people, who are–with the extraordinary help of the American military–trying to rebuild a shattered society. There is poignancy and courage in this effort–and now, finally, hope as well.

On the front page of today’s New York Times we read this:

Iraqi forces rolled unopposed through the huge Shiite enclave of Sadr City on Tuesday, a dramatic turnaround from the bitter fighting that has plagued the Baghdad neighborhood for two months, and a qualified success for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. As it did in the southern city of Basra last month, the Iraqi government advanced its goal of establishing sovereignty and curtailing the powers of the militia.

The Times story, written by Michael Gordon and Alissa Rubin, rightly contains caveats. Nobody can say just where the militias, who melted away in the face of Iraqi troops backed by American power, might re-emerge, or when Iraqi and American forces might need to fight them again. The main military question is whether the ISF can solidify their hold over Sadr City. And the main political question is whether the Maliki government will cement its gains by winning over a wary population.

Yet the Sadr City military offensive is impressive, especially when executed on top of the success we’ve recently seen in Basra. (After a shaky start, for the first time the Iraqi government has pacified and restored government control there). The Sadr City offensive is doubly impressive when you consider that no American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops into there. While we shared intelligence, helped the Iraqi’s in planning the operation and provided overhead reconnaissance, it was “totally Iraqi planned, led and executed,” the U.S. military told the Washington Post.

Sadr City’s “Operation Peace” was better coordinated than the operation in Basra–and it needed to be, since Sadr City is a densely populated neighborhood of more than two million and has been a bastion of support for Moktada al-Sadr. It helps, of course, that the Shiite militia has been badly damaged since late March. According to Col. John Hort, commander of the Third Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division, we have killed the equivalent of a U.S. battalion. At the same time, he says we have seen a lot of indications that some of the senior leadership of the Jaysh al Mahdi and the “special groups” supported by Iran have left Sadr City.

Everything in Iraq is hard, Ambassador Crocker has rightly said, and Sadr City is a particularly difficult nut to crack. There will be hard days as well as good days–and Iraq remains in many ways a broken nation. But it is also a nation in the process of mending itself and, day-by-day, it is taking up the tasks of self-government. That Iraq is a far less violent country than it was is indisputable; just this week we’ve seen the lowest level of security incidents since April 2004. And as the Times says in an accompanying story today, what we are seeing is the first determined effort by Prime Minister Maliki to assert control over the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.

Violence will almost surely erupt in Sadr City at some point; the malevolent forces in Iraq aren’t defeated or going away. But for the time being at least, the Iraqi government seems to have the upper hand. This isn’t everything that needs to be done in Iraq–but it’s a necessary part of what needs to be done. And perhaps the skeptics and critics of this war can find the time to recognize this success and laud the efforts of Prime Minister Maliki, his government, and his people, who are–with the extraordinary help of the American military–trying to rebuild a shattered society. There is poignancy and courage in this effort–and now, finally, hope as well.

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Good News From Sadr City

The degree of Prime Minister al-Maliki’s leverage over thug cleric Moqtada Sadr is becoming more clear. The New York Times reports that Iraqi troops poured into Sadr City on Tuesday and, meeting little resistance, claimed key positions deep inside the neighborhood that’s been a hub of Shiite militia violence since March. The Washington Post‘s Karen DeYoung says this operation is actually being carried out in accordance with last week’s ceasefire arrangement between Sadr and the Iraqi government. The government’s plan to root out criminals and militia members is underway and no one in this bastion of Sadr support seems to be doing a thing about it.

There have been no reported casualties. None. Moreover, “Iraqi troops moved forward without any major incidents.” Virtually every detail in the Times story is encouraging. Not the least of which is the report of Iraqi military self-suffiency:

No American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops, not even military advisers. But the Americans shared intelligence, coached the Iraqis during the planning and provided overhead reconnaissance throughout the operation. Still, the operation was very much an Iraqi plan.

This is not an American operation with an Iraqi face or even a joint-operation. This is simply what allies do.

The Los Angeles Times quotes U.S. forces spokesman Lt. Col. Steven Stover:

I think this is the turning point where we start seeing the Special Group criminals picked up by the Iraqi security forces and a lasting peace for the Iraqi people. . . And it will be because they did it, not us.

And at CBS News, lefty blogger Kevin Drum makes the following acknowledgment: “And it’s worth saying that the March operation in Basra looks better now than it did at the time too.” Though, with nothing worrying to write about, he tags his coverage thusly: “It may all go to hell tomorrow. Who knows? For now, though, keep your fingers crossed.”

The degree of Prime Minister al-Maliki’s leverage over thug cleric Moqtada Sadr is becoming more clear. The New York Times reports that Iraqi troops poured into Sadr City on Tuesday and, meeting little resistance, claimed key positions deep inside the neighborhood that’s been a hub of Shiite militia violence since March. The Washington Post‘s Karen DeYoung says this operation is actually being carried out in accordance with last week’s ceasefire arrangement between Sadr and the Iraqi government. The government’s plan to root out criminals and militia members is underway and no one in this bastion of Sadr support seems to be doing a thing about it.

There have been no reported casualties. None. Moreover, “Iraqi troops moved forward without any major incidents.” Virtually every detail in the Times story is encouraging. Not the least of which is the report of Iraqi military self-suffiency:

No American ground forces accompanied the Iraqi troops, not even military advisers. But the Americans shared intelligence, coached the Iraqis during the planning and provided overhead reconnaissance throughout the operation. Still, the operation was very much an Iraqi plan.

This is not an American operation with an Iraqi face or even a joint-operation. This is simply what allies do.

The Los Angeles Times quotes U.S. forces spokesman Lt. Col. Steven Stover:

I think this is the turning point where we start seeing the Special Group criminals picked up by the Iraqi security forces and a lasting peace for the Iraqi people. . . And it will be because they did it, not us.

And at CBS News, lefty blogger Kevin Drum makes the following acknowledgment: “And it’s worth saying that the March operation in Basra looks better now than it did at the time too.” Though, with nothing worrying to write about, he tags his coverage thusly: “It may all go to hell tomorrow. Who knows? For now, though, keep your fingers crossed.”

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Iran in Iraq: Why Do Sabers Now Rattle?

Yesterday morning, the New York Times noted the American government’s recent spotlight on Iran’s support for Shiite militia fighters in Iraq and questioned whether the Islamic Republic had increased its meddling in its neighbor’s internal affairs. “The administration’s focus on Iran has raised alarms among the war’s staunchest critics, who accuse the White House of overstating the threat and laying the groundwork for military action against Iran,” the paper reported. “This is not a new thing,” the Times quoted Senator Dianne Feinstein. “Why all of a sudden do the sabers start to rattle?”

Senator Feinstein, perhaps this is the better question: Why has Washington taken so long to speak candidly about Iran? Tehran has been involved with the Iraqi militias from the get-go. By now, it is apparent that diplomacy, behind-the-scenes and otherwise, has had little effect on Tehran. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Bush administration is resorting to tougher tactics. For instance, Friday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that the United States is preparing for “potential military courses of action” against Iranian forces. “It would be a mistake,” he noted, “to think that we are out of combat capability.”

If we should be in Iraq, we should be there to win. If we’re there to win, we have to stop Iranian activities that destabilize Iraq. I hope that Obama is right, and we can, in face-to-face negotiations, convince the mullahs to stop committing acts of war against the Iraqi nation. Yet if we cannot-and I don’t see how we can-then we have a choice to make: use force against Iran or commit ourselves to years of directionless combat. Sometimes, Madam Senator, choices are that simple.

Yesterday morning, the New York Times noted the American government’s recent spotlight on Iran’s support for Shiite militia fighters in Iraq and questioned whether the Islamic Republic had increased its meddling in its neighbor’s internal affairs. “The administration’s focus on Iran has raised alarms among the war’s staunchest critics, who accuse the White House of overstating the threat and laying the groundwork for military action against Iran,” the paper reported. “This is not a new thing,” the Times quoted Senator Dianne Feinstein. “Why all of a sudden do the sabers start to rattle?”

Senator Feinstein, perhaps this is the better question: Why has Washington taken so long to speak candidly about Iran? Tehran has been involved with the Iraqi militias from the get-go. By now, it is apparent that diplomacy, behind-the-scenes and otherwise, has had little effect on Tehran. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Bush administration is resorting to tougher tactics. For instance, Friday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced that the United States is preparing for “potential military courses of action” against Iranian forces. “It would be a mistake,” he noted, “to think that we are out of combat capability.”

If we should be in Iraq, we should be there to win. If we’re there to win, we have to stop Iranian activities that destabilize Iraq. I hope that Obama is right, and we can, in face-to-face negotiations, convince the mullahs to stop committing acts of war against the Iraqi nation. Yet if we cannot-and I don’t see how we can-then we have a choice to make: use force against Iran or commit ourselves to years of directionless combat. Sometimes, Madam Senator, choices are that simple.

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Yes, That Operation Against Sadr’s Militia Was Just a Disaster, Wasn’t It?

James Glanz of the New York Times, the chief peddler of the claim that the Iraqi government’s attack on the militia controlled by goon cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was a horrifying failures that called the entire surge into question, today files this dispatch from Baghdad:

 Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc has agreed to return to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s cabinet after a nine-month boycott, several Sunni leaders said on Thursday, citing a recently passed amnesty law and the Maliki government’s crackdown on Shiite militias as reasons for the move….[S]uch a return would represent a major political victory for Mr. Maliki in the midst of a military operation that has at times been criticized as poorly planned and fraught with risk.

To sum up, then. The Shiite government proved itself willing and able to take on the most powerful Shiite militia. As a result, it has brought the Sunni bloc back into the government, which is a major step on the road to national reconciliation. And this was made possible by the passage of an amnesty law that is a key step in the benchmarks established to gauge Iraq’s political progress.

James Glanz, you got some ‘splainin’ to do…

James Glanz of the New York Times, the chief peddler of the claim that the Iraqi government’s attack on the militia controlled by goon cleric Moqtada al-Sadr was a horrifying failures that called the entire surge into question, today files this dispatch from Baghdad:

 Iraq’s largest Sunni bloc has agreed to return to Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s cabinet after a nine-month boycott, several Sunni leaders said on Thursday, citing a recently passed amnesty law and the Maliki government’s crackdown on Shiite militias as reasons for the move….[S]uch a return would represent a major political victory for Mr. Maliki in the midst of a military operation that has at times been criticized as poorly planned and fraught with risk.

To sum up, then. The Shiite government proved itself willing and able to take on the most powerful Shiite militia. As a result, it has brought the Sunni bloc back into the government, which is a major step on the road to national reconciliation. And this was made possible by the passage of an amnesty law that is a key step in the benchmarks established to gauge Iraq’s political progress.

James Glanz, you got some ‘splainin’ to do…

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Getting Basra Wrong

On Sunday, Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr called on Shiite militia members “to end all military actions in Basra and in all the provinces” and “to cooperate with the government to achieve security.” The New York Times thinks this is very bad news indeed—“a serious blow for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.” According to a story by Erica Goode and James Glanz in today’s Times, Iraqi forces are virtually helpless against the militias in Basra and Prime Minister Maliki is turning to Sadr to help him out of the jam. This means all sorts of apocalyptic things for the future of Iraq, as indicated by this:

Asked if the erosion of support for Mr. Maliki could cause his government to fall, Mr. Daoud [a former national security adviser and Shiite party leader] paused and said, “Everything is possible.”

Is it the “pause” that’s supposed to make that non-declaration seem ominous?

According to New York Sun Middle East columnist Nibras Kazimi, writing on his Talisman Gate blog, Goode and Glanz don’t simply have it wrong. Rather, we’re witnessing one of the greatest journalistic shell games in recent memory. On Sunday, Kazimi wrote:

Too bad the Mahdi Army is losing very badly. There were a rash of violent outbreaks here and there in Hillah Province and in al-Hamza in the last few days, but today the situation there is one where the Iraqi Army and police—the Scorpion Brigade in particular—are hunting down the Sadrists with a vengeance with the active help of the local population, according to a well-placed and influential source from Hillah.

Across Baghdad, the situation turned against the Mahdi Army prior to Muqtada al-Sadr’s muddled calls not to disarm on the one hand and to clear the streets on the other. Sadrists were breaking down in terms of logistics and coordination even before government troops had the wherewithal to rally and respond to the security challenges posed by these outlaws.

I’m not the only one to pick up on the clearer picture emerging out of Iraq: most of these charlatans posing as pundits and experts are not total imbeciles, just intellectual fakes, so they have enough sense to realize that the “meltdown” they were praying [for] has not materialized despite the best propaganda efforts of ‘Agent’ Glanz and the Associated Press. Now these talking heads are feverishly administering the necessary spin to fig-leaf why they seemingly got it so utterly wrong. They are either going with “Muqtada saved the day” or “The Americans and the British, i.e. the grown-ups, stepped in and changed Maliki’s diaper after he’d made a boo-boo”.

While Sadr has issued his ceasefire, there is no word on whether Prime Minister Maliki has agreed to Sadr’s request for lenience in dealing with Mahdi Army members. This hardly sounds like Sadr is calling the shots. In fact, if Kazimi is right, it seems like the discredited Sadr is trying desperately to deal himself back in to a game where unity and progress now trump the sectarian violence that is his strong suit.

On Sunday, Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr called on Shiite militia members “to end all military actions in Basra and in all the provinces” and “to cooperate with the government to achieve security.” The New York Times thinks this is very bad news indeed—“a serious blow for Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki.” According to a story by Erica Goode and James Glanz in today’s Times, Iraqi forces are virtually helpless against the militias in Basra and Prime Minister Maliki is turning to Sadr to help him out of the jam. This means all sorts of apocalyptic things for the future of Iraq, as indicated by this:

Asked if the erosion of support for Mr. Maliki could cause his government to fall, Mr. Daoud [a former national security adviser and Shiite party leader] paused and said, “Everything is possible.”

Is it the “pause” that’s supposed to make that non-declaration seem ominous?

According to New York Sun Middle East columnist Nibras Kazimi, writing on his Talisman Gate blog, Goode and Glanz don’t simply have it wrong. Rather, we’re witnessing one of the greatest journalistic shell games in recent memory. On Sunday, Kazimi wrote:

Too bad the Mahdi Army is losing very badly. There were a rash of violent outbreaks here and there in Hillah Province and in al-Hamza in the last few days, but today the situation there is one where the Iraqi Army and police—the Scorpion Brigade in particular—are hunting down the Sadrists with a vengeance with the active help of the local population, according to a well-placed and influential source from Hillah.

Across Baghdad, the situation turned against the Mahdi Army prior to Muqtada al-Sadr’s muddled calls not to disarm on the one hand and to clear the streets on the other. Sadrists were breaking down in terms of logistics and coordination even before government troops had the wherewithal to rally and respond to the security challenges posed by these outlaws.

I’m not the only one to pick up on the clearer picture emerging out of Iraq: most of these charlatans posing as pundits and experts are not total imbeciles, just intellectual fakes, so they have enough sense to realize that the “meltdown” they were praying [for] has not materialized despite the best propaganda efforts of ‘Agent’ Glanz and the Associated Press. Now these talking heads are feverishly administering the necessary spin to fig-leaf why they seemingly got it so utterly wrong. They are either going with “Muqtada saved the day” or “The Americans and the British, i.e. the grown-ups, stepped in and changed Maliki’s diaper after he’d made a boo-boo”.

While Sadr has issued his ceasefire, there is no word on whether Prime Minister Maliki has agreed to Sadr’s request for lenience in dealing with Mahdi Army members. This hardly sounds like Sadr is calling the shots. In fact, if Kazimi is right, it seems like the discredited Sadr is trying desperately to deal himself back in to a game where unity and progress now trump the sectarian violence that is his strong suit.

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More on the Surge

During the last week there have been three noteworthy news stories regarding Iraq and what is unfolding there. There is this from yesterday’s Associated Press:

The monthly toll of U.S. service members who have died in Iraq is on track to being the lowest in nearly two years, with at least 36 troop deaths recorded as of Tuesday, but the military cautioned it’s too early to declare a long-term trend . . . At least 36 American service members have died so far in October, nearly a quarter from non-combat causes . . . It is the lowest number since 32 troops died in March 2006 and the second-lowest since 20 troop deaths in February 2004. . . . [Maj. Winfield Danielson, a military spokesman in Baghdad], welcomed the lower numbers but stressed it was too early to say it was a downward trend. “Have we turned a corner? It might be a little too early to say that,” he said. “It’s certainly encouraging.”

And this from Sunday’s Washington Post:

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said on Saturday that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq is disrupted and no longer operates in large numbers in any neighborhood of the capital. “In general, we think that there are no al-Qaeda strongholds at this point,” Petraeus said. He added: “They remain very lethal, very dangerous, capable at any point in time, if you will, of coming back off the canvas and landing a big punch, and we have to be aware of that.”

And this from the AP last week:

October is on course to record the second consecutive decline in U.S. military and Iraqi civilian deaths and Americans commanders say they know why: the U.S. troop increase and an Iraqi groundswell against al-Qaida and Shiite militia extremists. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch points to what the military calls “Concerned Citizens”—both Shiites and Sunnis who have joined the American fight. He says he’s signed up 20,000 of them in the past four months. “I’ve never been more optimistic than I am right now with the progress we’ve made in Iraq. The only people who are going to win this counterinsurgency project are the people of Iraq. We’ve said that all along. And now they’re coming forward in masses,” Lynch said in a recent interview.

This is additional evidence that the security situation in Iraq has made remarkable strides this year. Security is not the only metric of success—but it is vital. Nothing good could possibly happen in Iraq until we restored some measure of calm and order there. That is being done, in large measure because al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is absorbing devastating blows.

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During the last week there have been three noteworthy news stories regarding Iraq and what is unfolding there. There is this from yesterday’s Associated Press:

The monthly toll of U.S. service members who have died in Iraq is on track to being the lowest in nearly two years, with at least 36 troop deaths recorded as of Tuesday, but the military cautioned it’s too early to declare a long-term trend . . . At least 36 American service members have died so far in October, nearly a quarter from non-combat causes . . . It is the lowest number since 32 troops died in March 2006 and the second-lowest since 20 troop deaths in February 2004. . . . [Maj. Winfield Danielson, a military spokesman in Baghdad], welcomed the lower numbers but stressed it was too early to say it was a downward trend. “Have we turned a corner? It might be a little too early to say that,” he said. “It’s certainly encouraging.”

And this from Sunday’s Washington Post:

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said on Saturday that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq is disrupted and no longer operates in large numbers in any neighborhood of the capital. “In general, we think that there are no al-Qaeda strongholds at this point,” Petraeus said. He added: “They remain very lethal, very dangerous, capable at any point in time, if you will, of coming back off the canvas and landing a big punch, and we have to be aware of that.”

And this from the AP last week:

October is on course to record the second consecutive decline in U.S. military and Iraqi civilian deaths and Americans commanders say they know why: the U.S. troop increase and an Iraqi groundswell against al-Qaida and Shiite militia extremists. Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch points to what the military calls “Concerned Citizens”—both Shiites and Sunnis who have joined the American fight. He says he’s signed up 20,000 of them in the past four months. “I’ve never been more optimistic than I am right now with the progress we’ve made in Iraq. The only people who are going to win this counterinsurgency project are the people of Iraq. We’ve said that all along. And now they’re coming forward in masses,” Lynch said in a recent interview.

This is additional evidence that the security situation in Iraq has made remarkable strides this year. Security is not the only metric of success—but it is vital. Nothing good could possibly happen in Iraq until we restored some measure of calm and order there. That is being done, in large measure because al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) is absorbing devastating blows.

They, rather than we, look to be the “weak horse” right now.

The fact that AQI no longer operates in large numbers in any neighborhood in Baghdad is accepted in many quarters as almost commonplace (the story appeared on page A17 of the Washington Post). Yet this development is in reality staggering, especially if you consider where we were in December 2006, an awful month that was the capstone of an awful year. That this achievement occurred in only ten months ranks among the more impressive military operations we have ever seen. Even those who strongly supported the surge could not have imagined that it would do so much, so fast.

General Petraeus’ qualifications on the progress we’ve made are wise. We need to be vigilant and purposeful, since the task before us is still enormously difficult. Iraq remains a fragile, traumatized land, with between 1,000 and 2,000 Iraqis still fleeing their homes each day. The lives of Iraqis are still filled with daily hardships. The ethnic divisions remain real and deep. And the Iraqis must take greater responsibility for rebuilding and uniting their society. But we can now say, with some certainty, that the surge, rather than a failure (as Majority Leader Harry Reid recklessly declared months ago), has been hugely successful, and other good things (including efforts at ethnic reconciliation) are coming to pass.

The facts on the ground have changed dramatically in Iraq. What is notable is that many in the political class, weary of the war (and in some instances ideologically opposed to it), remain wedded to the old narrative. They have decided Iraq is a lost cause, regardless of evidence to the contrary (last night’s Democratic debate merely highlights this disposition). But a new narrative, with all the appropriate caveats, will eventually take hold. And those who declared Iraq as hopeless and therefore worth handing over to the enemies of civilization will be forced by developments to reconsider their judgment.

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Farewell Fatah al-Islam

“A crime of especial notoriety,” is what the Guardian called it in 2002 when Israel entered a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin to root out terrorists who had organized a suicide bombing that killed 29 at their seder tables in a hotel in Netanya on the first night of Passover. In all, 52 Palestinians, almost all of them terrorists, died in this supposed genocide, while Israel, in a costly effort to to conduct itself in the most humane fashion possible, lost 23 soldiers of its own.

In Tripoli right now, the Lebanese army is pounding a Palestinian refugee camp with tank shells and other heavy weapons far less discriminating in their lethal effects than anything fired by Israeli ground troops in Jenin—and many Lebanese are cheering them on. The choir of Europeans and American leftists who routinely champion the Palestinian cause is strangely silent—or maybe not so strangely silent. Perhaps their real interest lies not in defending Palestinian rights but in bashing Israel—and Israel, of course, is not engaged in this particular fray.

Whatever explains the silence, we should welcome it as an opportunity and join the Lebanese civilians who are cheering the Lebanese army on. On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and laid out a strategy for protecting our country from another disaster like September 11: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda,” he said, “but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”

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“A crime of especial notoriety,” is what the Guardian called it in 2002 when Israel entered a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank city of Jenin to root out terrorists who had organized a suicide bombing that killed 29 at their seder tables in a hotel in Netanya on the first night of Passover. In all, 52 Palestinians, almost all of them terrorists, died in this supposed genocide, while Israel, in a costly effort to to conduct itself in the most humane fashion possible, lost 23 soldiers of its own.

In Tripoli right now, the Lebanese army is pounding a Palestinian refugee camp with tank shells and other heavy weapons far less discriminating in their lethal effects than anything fired by Israeli ground troops in Jenin—and many Lebanese are cheering them on. The choir of Europeans and American leftists who routinely champion the Palestinian cause is strangely silent—or maybe not so strangely silent. Perhaps their real interest lies not in defending Palestinian rights but in bashing Israel—and Israel, of course, is not engaged in this particular fray.

Whatever explains the silence, we should welcome it as an opportunity and join the Lebanese civilians who are cheering the Lebanese army on. On September 20, 2001, George W. Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and laid out a strategy for protecting our country from another disaster like September 11: “Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda,” he said, “but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.”

Although the U.S. is not involved, the fighting in northern Lebanon between the Lebanese army and Fatah al-Islam, a Palestinian group affiliate of al Qaeda, is nonetheless a potentially important testing ground for the Bush doctrine of denying “safe haven to terrorism.”

Parts of Lebanon, like Afghanistan under the Taliban, have become lawless sanctuaries for terrorist groups of global reach. The Iranian-backed Hizballah is the most significant of these. Not only does this Shiite movement retain powerful influence throughout Lebanon, but it is organized to strike abroad and is widely believed to have sleeper cells in Europe, Latin America, and the United States.

Unlike the Taliban in Afghanistan, however, the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has never welcomed the terrorists in Lebanon’s midst. Rather, the terrorist presence is a consequence of his country’s chronic weakness, which flows from deep ethnic and religious divisions and continuing Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs.

Unwilling and unable to confront Hizballah directly, Siniora has deployed some 15,000 troops in Lebanon’s south, where the Shiite militia had enjoyed unlimited freedom of action until it provoked last summer’s war with Israel.

If Siniora successfully manages to extinguish Fatah al-Islam and the threat it represents to Lebanon, perhaps he will be emboldened to check more resolutely and ultimately disarm the Iranian-backed Hizballah. Movement in that direction could certainly be counted as a critical interest of the United States. We should be bending every diplomatic and military effort to help him accomplish it.

“We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest,” said President Bush on September 20, 2001. Time is running out on his administration. Let’s hope he keeps his word.

 

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