Turkey Made Its Point

Turkey has ended its incursion into northern Iraq, according to the Iraqi government, and its troops will return home shortly. The raid intended to wipe out PKK bases in the Zap valley, and some sources in Turkey claim that they have succeeded:

Turkey wound down its major ground offensive against Kurdish PKK rebels inside northern Iraq on Friday, although it declined to confirm an Iraqi minister’s statement that it had already withdrawn all its troops.
Turkey sent thousands of soldiers into remote, mountainous northern Iraq on February 21 to crush rebels of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who use the region as a base for attacks on Turkish territory. Washington feared the incursion could destabilize an area of relative stability in Iraq….
A Turkish military source, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, confirmed only that Turkish forces had fully withdrawn from the key Zap valley in northern Iraq, long a major PKK stronghold, and most had already arrived back in Turkey.

The invasion made its point. The Turks rightly had lost patience with the Iraqis over their inability to control PKK terrorists in Zap. The valley has not come under Iraqi control, and PKK had flourished there as a result. The terrorists used their isolation to conduct attacks in Turkey that Ankara could no longer tolerate.
The US had pressed Turkey to avoid attacks on Iraq, but in the end could not stop the Turks from retaliating against terrorists. Instead, the US tried to contain the fighting to Zap and keep the situation from escalating into the rest of Iraqi Kurdistan. In that, we seem to have succeeded; the Turks did not attack areas controlled by the Iraqi security forces.
Americans and Iraqis have to come to a better solution to the PKK menace. While Kurds in Turkey have legitimate grievances, we cannot allow terrorists to operate in Iraq, especially under our protection. It not only works against the entire mission in Iraq, it will eventually destabilize the relationship between what we hope will be the only two moderate Muslim democracies in the region.
We need both Turkey and Iraq as partners to bolster our fight against radical Islamist terrorists. We don’t need them fighting each other, with the US in the middle.

Sadr Extends Cease-Fire For Six More Months

It’s now official — Moqtada al-Sadr has sidelined the Mahdi Army for another six months. Imams at Sadr-connected mosques just made the announcement for Friday prayers on the day before the previous six-month halt expired:

Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his followers to prolong their Mahdi Army militia’s ceasefire for another six months Friday, after seeing a dramatic reduction in violence in Iraq.
Shiite imams in mosques across south and central Iraq opened sealed letters from the Sadrist movement’s leader and read his statement to supporters after Muslim weekly prayers on the half-year anniversary of the truce.
The decision to maintain the ceasefire was immediately welcomed by relieved US commanders, who once saw the Mahdi Army as the greatest threat to the future of Iraq but now hope Sadr can be a stabilising influence.
“I prolong the freeze in the activities of the Mahdi Army until the 15th day of the month of Shabaan,” Sadr said, using the Islamic calendar to indicate that the ceasefire will continue until at least August 16.

The American military commanders in Iraq have hailed the decision, taking care to refer to Sadr as al-Sayyed. The honorific notes the direct descent of Sadr from Mohammed, and is used as a sign of respect. The US forces have learned some of the nuances of interacting with the Shi’ite followers and how to keep from unnecessarily alienating them, and they used it to warn the Mahdis not to “dishonor” al-Sayyed.
Sadr himself did not appear. Some reports have him in Iran, although his spokesmen refuse to reveal where Sadr is at the moment. Sadr reportedly has gone to Qom to deepen his religious studies and attain the rank of Ayatollah. With that rank, Sadr feels that he could challenge Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for political and cultural influence.
He needs to keep the Mahdis on ice while he studies; one cannot run a war and complete the long study necessary at the same time. When he returns with that rank, he could use it to transform and broaden the Mahdis into a political movement. Alternately, he could have more credibility as a military jihadist as an Ayatollah and create a lot more havoc, but that seems less likely. By the time he becomes Ayatollah, no one will have the stomach for more internecine fighting.
Sadr hasn’t stopped his quest for power. He has just decided on some changes in strategy and tactics, and for the moment that bodes well for continuing progress in Iraq. Six more months of peace will allow for even more consolidation of the gains made over the last year. However, Sadr still bears close scrutiny.

Sadr To Extend Cease-Fire?

The six-month cease-fire ordered by Moqtada al-Sadr for his Mahdi Army soons expires, and many wondered what Sadr might do. Reuters reports that Sadr has decided to keep his militants sidelined for at least another few months. Sealed envelopes have gone to key Shi’ite mosques, with instructions to open them only in time for Friday prayers (via Hot Air):

Powerful Iraqi Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is expected to extend a six-month ceasefire by his Mehdi Army militia, two senior officials in his movement confirmed for the first time on Thursday.
They said Sadr had issued a declaration to preachers to be read during midday prayers on Friday at mosques affiliated with the cleric, whose militia was blamed for fuelling sectarian violence with minority Sunni Muslims in 2006 and 2007.
U.S. officials say the ceasefire has helped to sharply reduce violence in Iraq, and an extension of the truce would be widely welcomed.
“The general idea is that there will be an extension,” said one senior official in Sadr’s movement in Baghdad who declined to be identified or go into detail on the declaration.
“Sayed (Sadr) has distributed sealed envelopes to the imams of the mosques to be read tomorrow. They cannot be opened before tomorrow.”

Just the fact that the letters went out indicates that the cease-fire will get extended. Previously, the MA spokesmen have indicated that Sadr would extend it by February 23rd or not at all, and that silence would mean an end to the cease-fire. Sending an announcement gives a strong presumption of its continuance, and Reuters’ sources say that Sadr will give it another six months.
Sadr has explained that he needed the cease-fire to identify and eliminate rogues in his organization. Either he feels that he hasn’t finished that job, or he has grown accustomed to using the threat of ending the cease-fire as a political tool. If the Mahdi Army returned to fighting, they would find themselves much more outmatched than before, and tremendously less popular for restarting internecine hostilities in Iraq. It would also end the extortive value of the Mahdi Army, and Sadr would find himself even more marginalized than ever.
Sadr remains a dangerous foe. No doubt he sees a great deal of self-interest in maintaining the peace, or otherwise he wouldn’t have agreed to it in the first place. It helps keep Iraq calm, and the US has to be happy with that, but we’d be a lot happier if the Mahdi Army — and Sadr himself — disappeared altogether.

AQI In Final Meltdown

The terrorists of al-Qaeda in Iraq want to leave the country in the same manner they’ve lived in it. Not only have they killed as many of their perceived enemies and non-combatants possible, now they’re executing their allies as well. Coalition officials played a captured videotape of the executions, showing AQI punishing their partners for insufficient loyalty:

Video provided to CNN shows an al Qaeda in Iraq firing squad executing one-time allies — fellow Sunni extremists — who were not loyal enough to the terror organization, coalition military analysts said.
In the video provided by coalition military officials, armed men wearing masks are shown standing behind nine kneeling men, all of whom are wearing blindfolds or hoods with their hands presumably tied behind their backs. The video shows the men being executed.
“Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is foreign led and foreign dominated here inside Iraq, is killing off other Sunni groups that are certainly not supportive of the government of Iraq, currently, or of the foreign occupation, but are not sharing the same ideology that al Qaeda in Iraq has,” Rear Adm. Gregory Smith said.
The video was recovered late last year during a raid on a compound near Samarra that was being used for killing and torture, a coalition official said.
A number of documents — some found in the same raid — bolster the coalition notion that al Qaeda in Iraq is waging a violent campaign against its former allies, intelligence analysts said.

AQI seems to have the same curious impulse to document everything that the Nazis had during their reign of terror. Whenever coalition forces overrun an AQI position, they routinely find videos and handwritten records that document their atrocities. The information usually just reinforces the decision by Iraqis to oppose the jihadists.
In this case, however, the victims were jihadists themselves. They crossed AQI by attempting to make themselves into more moderate jihadists, pledging to avoid civilian deaths and perhaps remaining open to reconciliation with mainstream Sunnis. That was enough to make them suspect in AQI’s estimation, and their documentation shows their rejection of their potential allies against the American forces in Iraq, even as late as the end of last year.
AQI appears determined to alienate themselves from any potential allies, even in the dire straits in which they find themselves now. Rather than compromise on moderating their approach, AQI seems determined to kill even Islamist extremists that don’t acquiesce to their particular view of jihad. Their nihilism guarantees their eventual extinction in Iraq.

No Progress? Withdraw. Progress? Withdraw.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board not only contradicts its previous editorials on Iraq, today’s editorial contradicts itself. After pushing for withdrawal from Iraq on the basis that the US and Iraqis had made no real political progress, today they argue that we should withdraw because political progress has undeniably begun. And in conclusion, they wind up arguing for exactly the opposite:

It has taken nine bloody and difficult months, but the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops appears at last to have brought not just a lull in the sectarian fighting in Iraq, but the first tangible steps toward genuine political reconciliation.
Last week, the parliament passed a crucial package of legislation that reflects real compromise among the many factions on three of the thorniest issues that have bedeviled Iraq. First, a law requires that provincial elections be held by Oct. 1, and requires that a law spelling out the details on conducting the election be passed within 90 days.

Despite this progress, we still “must” leave, the LAT exhorts us. However, they recognize that the success may make withdrawal more “difficult”, because political and military leaders won’t want to surrender the gains already made and put at risk future progress. Does this come as a surprise to the LAT? Apparently, they haven’t had much cause to study war and politics, where surrendering gains and future progress are usually seen as, well, stupid.
In their concluding paragraph, they make the counterargument to their own editorial:

If the momentum of Iraq’s political surge is sustained, it’s conceivable that the United States, having torn the country apart in an ill-conceived invasion and a disastrous occupation, could help glue the biggest pieces together on its way out the door. But building a decent government will probably prove even harder than curbing the violence. And even under the rosiest scenario, it will be our moral duty to provide large-scale political, military and humanitarian aid, including support for the refugees who are beginning to trickle back home, for many years to come.

Well, in fact, that’s a great argument for staying engaged in Iraq. As John McCain notes, if the American presence in Iraq provides stability, promotes reconciliation, and strengthens democracy not just in Iraq but in the region without costing American lives, why would we leave? We did the same thing in Korea, Japan, and Europe, and in fact we’re still in Korea, Japan, and Europe, accomplishing all of those tasks and pressuring other regimes to change their ways.
This is just the latest volley from the retreat-and-defeat crowd. Instead of declaring the war lost, as Harry Reid did from the Senate floor, they’ve decided to call the war won — and demand the same retreat. It’s the same policy of retreat with a prettier, more electable message. We won! It’s over! It’s V-I Day, and now the troops and the US can just leave!
No, we can’t. The progress is real, and has been for months, even while people like Hillary Clinton called American commanders liars for saying so. It needs to continue and we have to push al-Qaeda in Iraq out of the country entirely. We have to continue stabilizing Iraq and supporting their national reconciliation. Our role will evolve as the Iraqis become more able to provide for their own security, but we need to ensure that Iraq doesn’t collapse.

Even The New York Times Notices Progress

Yesterday I noted the action by the Iraqi National Assembly in passing significant reform legislation, and predicted that opponents of our engagement in Iraq would shrug it off. Perhaps that was too cynical, as at least one anti-war platform has grudgingly acknowledged it as a major step forward. When the New York Times admits it, what can Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi say?

Good news is rare in Iraq. …

Only if you read the New York Times. But I digress ….

But after months of bitter feuding, Iraq’s Parliament has finally approved a budget, outlined the scope of provincial powers, set an Oct. 1 date for provincial elections and voted a general amnesty for detainees.
All these steps are essential for national conciliation.

No, all of these are indications that national conciliation has already begun. In a democracy, the conditions for these steps have to already exist before a legislature decides to pass them. The elected representatives of a republic don’t just decide to impose policy that the vast majority of their constituents reject.
Still, this sounds pretty optimistic for the editorial board of the New York Times. They seem to recognize it, too, because they follow it immediately with this:

As always in Iraq, it is best to read the fine print. Final details of the legislation aren’t known. The country’s three-member presidency council must still sign off. And then the laws have to be implemented.

Yes, that’s the way it works in a democracy. The legislature passes laws, the executive approves them, and then they get enforced. The Gray Lady may have noticed that here in America, too. Perhaps they just figure their regular readers need a civics lesson.
But still, this is progress. They wait until the fourth paragraph to complain that the Bush administration needs to press harder for action. They don’t even mention the parliament’s five-week break until the final paragraph.
They leave a few points out of this editorial. For instance, they leave out that none of this would have been possible had we listened to General Harry Reid and Admiral Nancy Pelosi, both of whom declared defeat — Reid doing so literally — and demanding a bug-out for the last two years. They don’t mention that Hillary Clinton all but called (the real) General David Petraeus a liar for telling Congress that the situation had greatly improved in Iraq. The editors also fail to mention their acceptance of an ad that called Petraeus a traitor, placed by MoveOn, which supports candidates like Reid, Pelosi, and Clinton.
Had we listened to them, Iraqis would be dying by the tens of thousands, al-Qaeda would have turned Iraq into their own state, and they would have their hands on Iraq’s oil resources. The Times doesn’t bother to mention that, either. Maybe in another year, they’ll figure it out.

More Progress In Iraq

The Iraqi National Assembly passed more reform legislation today, addressing a series of concerns that had American politicians impatient for progress. They have authorized provincial elections and provided limited amnesty for mainly Sunni detainees in Iraqi custody. The bill provided the finishing touch on the legislative session:

Iraq’s parliament on Wednesday passed three key pieces of legislation that set a date for provincial elections, allot $48 billion for 2008 spending, and provide limited amnesty to detainees in Iraqi custody.
The three measures were bundled together for one vote to satisfy the demands of minority Kurds who feared they might be double-crossed on their stand that the budget allot 17 percent to their semiautonomous regional government in the north.
The vote came a day after the Sunni speaker of the fragmented parliament, Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, threatened to disband the legislature, saying it was so riddled with distrust it appeared unable to adopt legislation.

The provincial elections will take place on October 1st. The bill then devolves some authority from Baghdad to the provinces, allowing for more local control over resources and investment. Congress demanded it as a means to leverage tribal influence over Iraqi policy, a direction that Iraq had taken without the legislation through the various Awakening movements.
Iraq’s parliament passed the de-Baathification reform law Congress demanded a few weeks earlier. They still have not formally addressed oil revenue sharing, but again, the Iraqis have been sharing revenue on a less formal basis now for months. The political reform process has shown steady improvement, if slower than the Americans desire, but moving in the right direction.
This progress will likely get poo-poohed by the opponents of the Iraq partnership. They will claim one of three things, which we’ve heard so often we can render them in song:
1. It’s too late, baby, it’s too late — it just doesn’t count unless it happened in 2005.
2. It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that (immediate) swing — Despite their calls for the Iraqi parliament to pass exactly this legislation, they will claim that the legislation is meaningless without implementation, but they won’t wait for the implementation.
3. We’re dreaming the impossible dream — Iraqis (and Arabs in general) won’t cotton to democracy, and all of this just is prelude to the genocidal war brewing between the Shi’ites and the Sunnis.
Those have been the goalpost-moving theme songs for the past year while the surge has transformed Iraq from a nation on the verge of collapse to a working, if contentious, democracy. I’ll expect to hear the reprises in the comments section.

US Forces Capture Militia Leader

US forces conducting raids in Sadr City captured a militia leader who has connections to Iran. The raids apparently prompted Moqtada al-Sadr to reaffirm the cease-fire for the Mahdi Army, and the US continued to pursue supposedly rogue elements attempting to foment violence in the capital:

U.S. soldiers captured a suspected Shiite militia commander and one other suspect Monday, the latest of several days of raids in Shiite holy cities south of Baghdad.
The arrests came a day after car bombs and gunmen struck new U.S. allies, police and civilians in northern Iraq, killing as many as 53 people in a spasm of violence that coincided with a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Baghdad.
The main suspect detained Monday is believed to be in charge of criminal operations for “special groups” in the Iraqi provinces of Wasit, Babil and Najaf, the U.S. military said in a statement. He was allegedly involved in coordinating weapons shipments and planning attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces, it said. It did not characterize the second suspect.

The attacks in northern Iraq involved al-Qaeda, which has its back against the wall in Mosul. They have had to moderate their operations of late, normally giving warnings now in order to minimize civilian deaths from their bombings. They have learned — a little late — that killing vast numbers of Muslims does not endear them to the rest of the Iraqis. The attacks yesterday show that not all forces got the memo to take the ETA approach to terrorism.
During the raids, the US has found more caches of Iranian-provided weaponry. They found 13 EFPs in the latest cache, a weapon designed and manufactured by Iran specifically to defeat the armor on American vehicles and kill American troops. This cache was found “deep” within Iraqi Shi’ite territory and appears to indicate that Iran has not relented in its efforts to arm Shi’ite militias as a counter to American efforts to pacify Iraq.
The capture of a commander could give the US plenty of intel on the activities of his units. It might also cause some political problems for Sadr and perhaps Nouri al-Maliki, as the men are reported to be on the staff of a member of the National Assembly. The reaction of the government to this capture and the raids that produced it should be interesting to watch.

AQI Diarist: Cheated, Betrayed, Mistreated

The US military captured no prisoners on one particular raid in Balad, but instead captured the heartbreak of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The leader of the group had left behind a diary he kept through October, and the November push as part of the surge had overrun his position. The emir bitterly recounted the disintegration of his unit and the manner in which the Iraqi people had turned against them:

On Nov. 3, U.S. soldiers raided a safe house of the insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq near the northern city of Balad. Not a single combatant was captured, but inside the house they found something valuable: a diary and will written in neat Arabic script.
“I am Abu Tariq, Emir of al-Layin and al-Mashadah Sector,” it began.
Over 16 pages, the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader detailed the organization’s demise in his sector. He once had 600 men, but now his force was down to 20 or fewer, he wrote. They had lost weapons and allies. Abu Tariq focused his anger in particular on the Sunni fighters and tribesmen who have turned against al-Qaeda in Iraq and joined the U.S.-backed Sunni Sahwa, or “Awakening,” forces.
“We were mistreated, cheated and betrayed by some of our brothers,” Abu Tariq wrote. “We must not have mercy on those traitors until they come back to the right side or get eliminated completely in order to achieve victory at the end.”

The diary gave military intelligence quite a clear look at AQI — its finances, its interactions with allies, and its collapse in the face of American and Iraqi aggressiveness. They earned money by purchasing and stealing cars and trucks and selling them later. AQI must have conducted some of these transactions on credit, because Tariq complains about uncollected debts. He gives inventories of weapons and the people who hold them, and notes one person with over 2000 rockets who suddenly refused to let AQI have them back.
Most helpfully, Tariq listed all of the people collaborating with AQI and the identities of the AQI terrorists themselves. Among them are tribal leaders in the Balad area, which might have prompted some of these leaders to either make peace quickly with the US and Iraqi forces or find somewhere else to live even more quickly. Tariq also named those who had “betrayed” AQI,and exhorted his remaining forces to show no mercy towards them.
Desertions became a theme towards the end of the diary. In the end, he listed 38 people still on his muster list, but noted that a number of them had not been seen in days. He lost 95% of his original number before taking a powder himself, in too much of a rush to grab the diary with all of the critical information within it. In the end, Tariq proved himself the greatest traitor of all, betraying himself and what was left of his terrorist cell.
AQI is on the run. They are collapsing, and the momentum belongs to the US and Iraq. AQI certainly sees it that way. (via Michael Yon)