Seed Corn

Having run out of men for terrorist activities, and apparently temporarily short on the mentally handicapped, al-Qaeda in Iraq has begun recruiting grade-school boys to conduct attacks. Children as young as 10 have received training on kidnapping and assassination in order to get past security processes and attack civilians. The US has it on tape:

Videotapes seized during U.S. raids on suspected al-Qaida in Iraq hide-outs show the terror group training young boys to kidnap and assassinate civilians, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Wednesday.
Footage aired for reporters showed an apparent training operation with black-masked boys — some of whom appeared to be about 10 years old — storming a house and holding guns to the heads of mock residents. Another tape showed a young boy wearing a suicide vest and posing with automatic weapons. …
The American military said some of the tapes were found in December during a U.S. raid in Khan Bani Saad, northeast of Baghdad, and said it indicated a pattern that al-Qaida in Iraq was increasingly using children for sinister means.
“Al-Qaida in Iraq wants to poison the next generation of Iraqis,” Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, a U.S. military spokesman, told reporters Wednesday inside the heavily guarded Green Zone. “It is offering children as the new generation of mujahedeen,” he said, using the Arabic term for holy warriors.

I’m reminded of the movie Taps, a rather clunky allegory for the Viet Nam War starring Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn, Tom Cruise, and Ronny Cox. Hutton, Penn, and Cruise have taken control of their military academy after the local town tries to close it, and Cox — a National Guard commander — tries to talk Hutton out of the impending tragedy. Cox tries to impress on Hutton that the school comprises mostly very young boys, as opposed to the teenagers of Hutton’s officer corps, and Hutton replies that the final mobilization is always the “seed corn”.
This appears to be the final mobilization of AQI. They’ve gone after the seed corn, killing not just this generation but generations to follow. Their desperation has grown so great that they’re willing to kill their own children for the cause.
Other reports have AQ looking for an exit strategy from Iraq. It seems like they may not have much of a force to withdraw at this point. Once they run out of children, what’s left?

The Despicable Nature Of Our Enemy

Baghdad got hit by two bombers today, but neither of them committed suicide. The al-Qaeda attack involved strapping remote-controlled bombs to two girls with Down’s Syndrome, and detonating the devices when they walked through the market. The explosions killed 73 people in one of the deadliest days since the surge pacified most of Iraq:

Remote-controlled explosives strapped to two mentally retarded women detonated in a coordinated attack on Baghdad pet bazaars Friday, Iraqi officials said, killing at least 73 people in the deadliest day since the U.S. sent 30,000 extra troops to the capital last spring.
The chief Iraqi military spokesman in Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, claimed the female bombers had Down syndrome and that the explosives were detonated by remote control, indicating they may not having been willing attackers in what could be a new method by suspected Sunni insurgents to subvert stepped up security measures.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said the bombings showed that a resilient al-Qaida has “found a different, deadly way” to try to destabilize Iraq. … Involving women in fighting violates cultural taboos in Iraq, but the U.S. military has warned that al-Qaida in Iraq is recruiting females and youths to stage suicide attacks because militants are increasingly desperate to thwart stepped-up security measures.

If nothing else has shown the remarkable bloodthirstiness and heartlessness of the AQI terrorists, this should do it. People who would exploit the mentally handicapped as walking bombs have no sense of humanity, justice, or peace. They are, simply put, evil people who have no capacity for negotiation or co-existence.
In a way, this shows how desperate AQ has become. They obviously cannot fill their ranks with willing participants, and even hostages won’t suffice. Instead, they exploit the weakest and most innocent and use them as commodities to kill as many people as possible.
The Iraqis have seen this evil up close and have rejected it. They understand now that there is no accommodation with evil. It has to be defeated, and defeated utterly.

Have Iraqi Forces Grown A Tail?

A new agreement between Iraq and the US will curtail American military operations and confine our troops to primarily support and logistics efforts. NBC News reports that the long-simmering bilateral security agreement would keep American bases in operation but with substantially reduced troop levels. Iraqis want their own forces in lead roles for security operations:

The United States and Iraq will soon begin negotiating a power shift for U.S. forces, nearly five years after they invaded Iraq and installed a new government, Iraqi and U.S. officials told NBC News on Thursday.
Both countries are working on assembling negotiating teams to shape a new long-term bilateral strategic agreement redefining the fundamental role of U.S. troops, whose mission would shift from combat operations to logistics and support, the officials told NBC News’ Richard Engel. …
But a senior member of the Iraqi negotiating team, which has been almost completely appointed, said they would seek to have U.S. troops — who for five years have conducted aggressive combat missions across the country against al-Qaida and other radical Muslim militias — largely confined to their bases.
U.S. troops would have only limited freedom of movement off base under Iraq’s position, leaving only when requested to provide intelligence, air support, equipment and other logistical support, the Iraqi negotiator said.

General David Petraeus apparently has signed off on this plan, telling NBC that the American role will begin changing. The move will come as a surprise to most, as analysts predicted a heavy American presence and lead for security efforts through the end of the year. This new plan does not have a specific announced timetable, but both Iraq and the US wants to adjust the partnership to account for the change in troop levels that will come as the surge rotations end.
Can Iraq handle it? NBC says that American military commanders have considered the Iraqi forces as “all teeth and no tail”, meaning that they lack the equipment and reserve capacity needed to maintain control of the borders and internal security. An extended American presence can provide that, while reducing the aggressive nature of the US troops in Iraqi lives. With the Iraqi Army built to a more competent level, the two countries have better options than existed a year ago, when only a heavier American presence could tamp down the violence that raged throughout Iraq in 2006.
If the Iraqis succeed in transitioning to the lead role, it will represent a significant victory in the war on terror, and will transform the 2008 election. Instead of debating whether to bug out or keep fighting, the issue will be how best to consolidate the gains and maintain an effective presence in the region to continue to fight the terrorists. Those who declared defeat less than a year ago will have to answer for their lack of fortitude.

Baghdad Security Improved Tenfold

Ten times more neighborhoods in Baghdad are secure now than at the start of the surge, according to the US military, and 75% of the Iraqi capital now qualifies for that status. The remarkable improvement comes on the anniversary of the shift in strategy and tactics known as the “surge”, and it highlights the dramatic turnaround in Iraq over the past year:

About 75% of Baghdad’s neighborhoods are now secure, a dramatic increase from 8% a year ago when President Bush ordered more troops to the capital, U.S. military figures show.
The military classifies 356 of Baghdad’s 474 neighborhoods in the “control” or “retain” category of its four-tier security rating system, meaning enemy activity in those areas has been mostly eliminated and normal economic activity is resuming.
The data given by the military to USA TODAY provide one of the clearest snapshots yet of how security has improved in Baghdad since roughly 30,000 additional American troops arrived in Iraq last year.

In February 2007, only 37 neighborhoods out of 474 were considered secure at all. Now only 78 of them fail to meet this standard. The rest of the neighborhoods do not have a significant American presence, so they do not qualify as secure. They are not necessarily violent, but have yet to get addressed by either Iraqi or American security forces. Because of the lack of verified security, these areas also have more problems in infrastructure, services, and economic revival.
Still, the rapid securing of the capital has brought its residents back into the streets and feeling more confident about their future. Although the USA Today report fails to mention it, the recent breakthrough on de-Baathification reform will help integrate the city’s Sunnis back into the mainstream of government and society, helping to assuage sectarian conflicts. (Jim Michaels notes a lack of progress on revenue sharing from oil, but somehow skips over the recent benchmark accomplishment on re-engaging Sunnis.) As the capital becomes more secure, infrastructure investment will escalate, helping to keep rivalries from becoming violent.
Momentum continues towards success, so much so that even anti-war groups have stopped pushing for immediate withdrawal. We need to continue our efforts to stabilize Iraq and see that the security and standard of living improves for Iraqis across the nation to keep terrorists from gaining a foothold in this strategic nation.

Doing What They Do Best

After watching their agenda get drop-kicked all throughout 2007 and with the surge proving much more successful than they had feared, anti-war groups have restrategized for 2008. Their new approach? They’ll take the political equivalent of “redeployment over the event horizon”:

After a series of legislative defeats in 2007 that saw the year end with more U.S. troops in Iraq than when it began, a coalition of anti-war groups is backing away from its multimillion-dollar drive to cut funding for the war and force Congress to pass timelines for bringing U.S. troops home.
In recognition of hard political reality, the groups instead will lower their sights and push for legislation to prevent President Bush from entering into a long-term agreement with the Iraqi government that could keep significant numbers of troops in Iraq for years to come.
The groups believe this switch in strategy can draw contrasts with Republicans that will help Democrats gain ground in November and bring the votes to pass more dramatic measures. But it is a long way from the early months of 2007, when Democrats were freshly in power and momentum for a dramatic shift in Iraq policy seemed overpowering.

Unfortunately, this new agenda has even less coherence than their prior position. One can at least understand the motivation of people to end all war in demanding a withdrawal from Iraq. It’s short-sighted and would have led to a massive paroxysm of violence and killed hundreds of thousands in short order, if not millions, but it’s the recognizable demand of pacifists in all ages and places.
Demanding an end to a military alliance with a stable Iraq makes much less sense. Why wouldn’t we want such a relationship with a democratic, representative government in the Middle East? It would not put American troops in combat situations, but instead help bolster the central Iraqi government to keep combat situations from arising. It would also provide stability and an example for other nations in the region to show that Arabs and Muslims can successfully operate a self-elected government, rather than the mullahcracies and kleptocracies surrounding it.
Since we’ve made the toughest part of the investment in the region, why not act to keep it viable?
The effort to undermine the alliance between Iraq and the US points to a much different agenda than pacifism or a “humble” foreign policy. It reveals the underlying hostility towards American influence in global politics, and especially an underlying partisan motivation against the Bush administration and the possibility of long-term success in Iraq as part of its legacy. It’s a purely electoral calculation, trying to throw a monkey wrench in a critical area of foreign policy just to get more Democrats elected in November — as its advocates admit.
They can expect the same level of success they saw in 2007 while trying to sabotage the war effort. Harry Reid and John Murtha’s declarations of defeat resonate ever stronger as Iraq progresses both militarily and politically. Voters will remember that in November as they envision what would have happened in Iraq if Democrats had had control of military policy in 2007.

De-Baathification Reform Law Passes In Iraqi Parliament

Note: I’m leaving this post on top for the morning; newer posts are below.
Those who claim that the surge strategy in Iraq has paid no dividends because it hasn’t met Congressional benchmarks may wish to skip to the next post. The Iraqi National Assembly has passed one of the two most critical benchmarks that the American government had pressed for Baghdad to adopt, the de-Baathification reform that will allow Sunnis to once again enter government jobs:

Iraq’s parliament adopted legislation Saturday on the reinstatement of former Baath party supporters to government jobs, a benchmark sought by the United States as a key step toward national reconciliation.
The voting was carried out by a show of hands on each of the law’s 30 clauses. The bill, officially called the “Accountability and Justice” law, seeks to relax restrictions on the right of members of Saddam Hussein’s now-dissolved Baath party to fill government posts. It is also designed to reinstate thousands of Baathists in government jobs from which they had been dismissed because of their ties to the party.

Without doubt, this is a critical step towards national reconciliation. It moves the official position of the Iraqi government from group think to individual responsibility. Those who committed serious crimes during the Saddam Hussein years will still face prosecution, but membership in the Ba’ath party will not disqualify Sunnis any longer from employment in the government.
This allows Sunnis to retake their jobs and join the Shi’ites and Kurds in administering government functions, especially in Sunni areas. It gives them a stake in the new, representative government instead of being shut out of it. Sunnis will now have every reason to support the central government in Baghdad rather than attempting to undermine it to get back what they lost in the fall of Saddam, and they won’t need to again adopt the fascist Ba’ath principles to do so.
This looks like progress to me. It’s progress that wouldn’t have come without lowering the violence and removing the provocations and depredations of al-Qaeda in Iraq. That wouldn’t have happened at all had we not ramped up our efforts and taken a much more aggressive posture against the terrorists — and the Sunnis would not have cooperated if we hadn’t signaled so strongly that we intended to beat AQI and stick it out.
I wonder how the anti-war crowd will spin this. My guesses:
1. It’s too late — the sky is already falling!
2. Too many people have died to make freedom worth it.
3. (crickets chirping)
Or is there spin I missed?
UPDATE & BUMP: My radio partner Mitch Berg adds, “Halliburton! HALLIBURTON!” (Say it like Shatner shouts “KHAN!” in Star Trek II). Also, it’s probably a bad day for Lubbock On-Line to run a letter to the editor calling Michelle Malkin “Bush’s Asian-babe PR shill” for supporting the surge.
UPDATE II: Moe Lane takes Door #3, and notes the original AP spin on the legislation as “pro-Baath”. Jules Crittenden thinks that Hell must have frozen over, or snow fell on Baghdad, for such a development to occur. Oh, wait ….

Iraq: We’ve Penetrated AQI — But Apparently Not The American Media

At the same time that the Iraqi National Assembly passed its long-awaited de-Ba’athification reform, the security services have apparently cracked al-Qaeda’s organization in the country. Muslim World News, a Muslim news agency in India, reports that the Iraqi Interior Ministry formed a unit recently dedicated to attacking AQI and will shortly take out the entire structure (via AJ Strata):

The Interior Ministry announced Friday that al-Qaeda in Iraq has been successfully penetrated by means of a recently formed government security apparatus and is virtually an “open book,” confirming that the sectarian sedition in the country was at the end of its rope.
Major General Abdul Karim Khalaf, director of operations at the Interior Ministry, told KUNA here “we have succeeded in establishing a capable intelligence apparatus to penetrate the al-Qaeda organization in Iraq and all armed groups targeting Iraqi national security.” He said emphatically that the sectarian sedition in Iraq has virtually ended, adding that the new intelligence apparatus is able to achieve its objectives regarding all armed groups operating in Iraq.
He went on to say that “al-Qaeda is now an open book for us, now that we have succeeded in penetrating it.” Khalaf did not reveal the extent of al-Qaeda’s reach in Iraq but asserted that trained Iraqi security elements currently operate under cover within this terrorist organization which he said will be dismantled soon.
Iraqi security forces had announced during the past 48 hours the arrest of the mastermind behind the second Samarra explosions and the killing of Abu Qataadah al-Saudi (who was one of the most prominent leaders of al-Qaeda in Iraq) in a military operation in south-west Samarra.

This certainly matches the latest developments in Iraq. The US launched a major offensive this week against AQI with an unprecedented use of airpower. That indicates a confidence in intelligence that had mostly gone unnoticed in most media reports. The US would have relied on infantry had it been less confident of the targeting on AQI assets around Baghdad.
It’s interesting that this news got reported by an outfit called Muslim World News. So far, I have not seen this in media outlets named Washington Post or the New York Times. The statement itself seems provocative enough to at least have reported it here in the US, as it seems a lot more relevant here than in India.
If the Iraqi government has penetrated AQI, doesn’t that mean something for their ability to fight terror and to stand on their own two feet? Isn’t a free and stable Iraq the victory we have awaited, and doesn’t this suggest that we’re coming close to achieving it? Doesn’t the joint military operations conducted in Iraq this week tend to confirm this Interior Ministry statement?
The silence is becoming deafening.

New Iraq Offensive Reveals Weakened Enemy

The US began a new offensive in northern Iraq, pursuing al-Qaeda in Iraq and affiliates even further outward towards the border. Military planners expected to meet some significant resistance, as they had predicted that AQI had found some space to regroup. Apparently, that level of resistance has not materialized:

The top U.S. commander in northern Iraq said Wednesday a nationwide operation launched against insurgents was meeting less resistance than expected, but that troops would pursue the militants until they were dead or pushed out of the country.
Maj. Gen. Mark P. Hertling told reporters in Baghdad that in his area of control alone, 24,000 American troops, 50,000 members of the Iraq army and 80,000 Iraqi police were taking part in the offensive against al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Diyala province northeast of Baghdad has not seen the same drop in violence that other parts of the nation have witnessed in the last six months. Commanders say that is because insurgents who were pushed out of Anbar province to the west and out of Baghdad fled north into Hertling’s territory, specifically into Diyala.

Operation Phantom Phoenix will take place in three stages, according to Hertling. First, the US forces will clear the area. They will then bring in Iraqi security forces, who will then coordinate with Awakening groups to hold the ground against a resurgence of terrorism. This plan mirrors the successful strategies of last year, which restored order in Anbar when most people considered the situation irretrievable.
One reason resistance has not risen to prediction levels is the probability that AQI got tipped off to the operation. Many of the terrorists have fled without attempting to engage American forces, which proves (a) that they do learn from experience, and (b) they’re in full retreat mode. If the US pushes them out of Diyala just by showing up, they will be left with few options. They will have to redeploy over the event horizon — ie, flee for their lives — and will likely try to find their way back to the relative safety of Pakistan, perhaps via Iran.
Time and momentum remain on the side of the US and Iraq. The longer we can maintain this pressure, the more trained troops become available from Iraq’s own security forces. That gives us increasing saturation for clear-and-hold operations, and puts more of the country back in control of the Iraqi government. It also exposes AQI as an abject failure, a stain on the reputation of Osama bin Laden and a loss that greatly reduces the credibility of radical jihad. By the time we start drawing down our own troops, we will have bridged the gap with many more Iraqis than Americans returning home.

WaPo, WSJ Agree: Democrats Clueless On Iraq

How often do the editorial boards of the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal not only agree, but coincide on foreign policy? Rarely enough so that today’s twin broadsides on the Democratic presidential contenders is worthy of special notice. Both editorial boards scold the Democrats for not only getting Iraq wrong, but also for seriously misrepresenting the progress achieved through the surge.
The Post’s criticisms get tart indeed:

A reasonable response to these facts might involve an acknowledgment of the remarkable military progress, coupled with a reminder that the final goal of the surge set out by President Bush — political accords among Iraq’s competing factions — has not been reached. (That happens to be our reaction to a campaign that we greeted with skepticism a year ago.) It also would involve a willingness by the candidates to reconsider their long-standing plans to carry out a rapid withdrawal of remaining U.S. forces in Iraq as soon as they become president — a step that would almost certainly reverse the progress that has been made.
What Ms. Clinton, Mr. Obama, John Edwards and Bill Richardson instead offered was an exclusive focus on the Iraqi political failures — coupled with a blizzard of assertions about the war that were at best unfounded and in several cases simply false. Mr. Obama led the way, claiming that Sunni tribes in Anbar province joined forces with U.S. troops against al-Qaeda in response to the Democratic victory in the 2006 elections — a far-fetched assertion for which he offered no evidence.
Mr. Obama acknowledged some reduction of violence, but said he had predicted that adding troops would have that effect. In fact, on Jan. 8, 2007, he said that in the absence of political progress, “I don’t think 15,000 or 20,000 more troops is going to make a difference in Iraq and in Baghdad.” He also said he saw “no evidence that additional American troops would change the behavior of Iraqi sectarian politicians and make them start reining in violence by members of their religious groups.” Ms. Clinton, for her part, refused to retract a statement she made in September, when she said it would require “a suspension of disbelief” to believe that the surge was working.

In fact, the Journal notes that only after it became clear that the US would not follow the Democratic policies of defeat and retreat did the Anbar sheikhs sign onto the Awakening in full:

But the Sunni Awakening, as it is called, with its fall in bloodshed, occurred only after the Anbar Sunnis were convinced that the U.S. troops would not abandon them to al Qaeda in Iraq. Sunni sheiks have said explicitly it was the new U.S. policy of sustaining the offensive against AQI that made it possible for them to resist the jihadists. The U.S. military has supported the spread of these “awakening councils” in other areas of Iraq. It is navel-gazing in the extreme for Mr. Obama to suggest U.S. Congressional elections caused this turn.

Both Obama and Clinton have track records on the surge and Iraq that they have to explain away with half-truths and foggy memories. As the Post noted, both of them tried to push an unconstitutional hijacking of military command from the executive to the legislature. Not only should they answer for their wrong-headedness on policy, but they should also be forced to explain whether they would as President allow Congress to intrude on the role of Commander in Chief so baldly and illegally.
The Journal wonders whether these candidates have become so self-contained that they think they can say anything on national TV and get away with it. The Journal forgets that the candidates right now are speaking to only the true believers in the primary process. They’re playing sing-along on defeatism, and no one wants to hear that the Left had it wrong all along. Hillary’s refusal to retract her “willing suspension of disbelief” comment underscores the willing suspension of reality that the anti-war activists on the Left have promoted.
This, of course, is hardly new. What’s new is that the Post, an establishment center-left paper, has come to the same conclusion as the Journal.

Who Lost Fallujah?

According to the Washington Times, the military reviewed the loss of Fallujah to Iraqi insurgents and al-Qaeda terrorists in 2004 to determine how the US lost control of the city. The Marine Corps should have beaten the terrorists in a straight up fight, but the Pentagon believes that the enemy had a lot of help from a surprising source — surprising for everyone except those who watched it happen in real time:

“The outcome of a purely military contest in Fallujah was always a foregone conclusion — coalition victory,” read the assessment, prepared by analysts at the U.S. Army’s National Ground Intelligence Center, or NGIC.
“But Fallujah was not simply a military action, it was a political and informational battle. … The effects of media coverage, enemy information operations and the fragility of the political environment conspired to force a halt to U.S. military operations,” concluded the assessment. …
The authors said the press was “crucial to building political pressure to halt military operations,” from the Iraqi government and the Coalition Provisional Authority, which resulted in a “unilateral cease-fire” by U.S. forces on April 9, after just five days of combat operations.
During the negotiations that followed, top Bush administration officials demanded a solution that would not require the Marines to retake the town, according to the assessment.

What happened? During the initial effort to retake Fallujah in April 2004 — following the brutal murders of four Blackwater contractors — Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya began broadcasting propaganda that Western media immediately repeated. The two Arab news services showed video of babies in hospitals and claimed the Marines had wounded these and killed more. Both channels made explicit comparisons to the Palestinians, and the American and European press ate it up.
The propaganda efforts worked. The Marines withdrew and the terrorists made Fallujah the center of their oppression over the people of western Iraq. It took months for the US to mount another offensive, this time with media embeds to counter the propaganda that the Western press seemed eager to indulge. In November 2004, the US finally cleared Fallujah, but not before losing a lot of credibility with the Iraqis who felt abandoned to the terrorists.
This is just a repeat of the Peter Arnett story. In the first Gulf War, Arnett famously repeated without any hint of skepticism the notion that the US bombed a baby-milk factory instead of a weapons factory. Years later, Eason Jordan would admit that CNN cooked its reporting to curry favor with Saddam Hussein, and would occasionally just read copy into the camera provided by the Saddam regime as though it was CNN’s own. Rather than treat the Al-Jazeera propaganda with any skepticism at all, the Western media instead regurgitated it while insisting that American military sources could not be trusted to provide honest accounting of the fight.
We saw this at the time, and tried to point out the contradictions. It cost the lives of American Marines and soldiers, and it cost many more Iraqi lives. The media lost Fallujah, and had it not been for the determination of the Bush administration, they would have lost the entirety of Iraq to al-Qaeda terrorists as well.