October 15, 2007

AQI On The Run, Not Vanquished

In a rare case where all sides appear to be displaying some sense, the military has not said that al-Qaeda in Iraq has been defeated, and a media outlet isn't hiding the fact that AQI has suffered a rout. The Washington Post reports on the delicate matter of what to make of the tremendous progress the US has made against the terrorists in western Iraq, and the likelihood that a premature declaration of victory would get used as a propaganda stunt by our enemies:

The U.S. military believes it has dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al-Qaeda in Iraq in recent months, leading some generals to advocate a declaration of victory over the group, which the Bush administration has long described as the most lethal U.S. adversary in Iraq.

But as the White House and its military commanders plan the next phase of the war, other officials have cautioned against taking what they see as a premature step that could create strategic and political difficulties for the United States. Such a declaration could fuel criticism that the Iraq conflict has become a civil war in which U.S. combat forces should not be involved. At the same time, the intelligence community, and some in the military itself, worry about underestimating an enemy that has shown great resilience in the past.

"I think it would be premature at this point," a senior intelligence official said of a victory declaration over AQI, as the group is known. Despite recent U.S. gains, he said, AQI retains "the ability for surprise and for catastrophic attacks." Earlier periods of optimism, such as immediately following the June 2006 death of AQI founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a U.S. air raid, not only proved unfounded but were followed by expanded operations by the militant organization.

There is widespread agreement that AQI has suffered major blows over the past three months. Among the indicators cited is a sharp drop in suicide bombings, the group's signature attack, from more than 60 in January to around 30 a month since July. Captures and interrogations of AQI leaders over the summer had what a senior military intelligence official called a "cascade effect," leading to other killings and captures. The flow of foreign fighters through Syria into Iraq has also diminished, although officials are unsure of the reason and are concerned that the broader al-Qaeda network may be diverting new recruits to Afghanistan and elsewhere.

One point the Bush administration has made over and over again has been proven, at least. The US forces had insisted for the past two years that AQI presented the deadliest challenge in Iraq. Critics claimed that the Pentagon and the administration were lying, and that the AQ forces only represented 10% of all insurgents in Iraq. Yet now, with AQI dispersed, demoralized, and mostly defeated, the plunge in casualties has been far greater than the 10% number critics and skeptics tossed around so casually as late as this summer.

Momentum clearly shifted to our side in Iraq since the surge. It accomplished exactly what it intended -- the elimination of destabilizing violence, especially in western Iraq and the Baghdad environs. And peace has become a habit that the Iraqis have enjoyed. They have reached out and built ground-up coalitions, even reaching across sectarian lines, in order to keep the progress going forward towards stability.

The Maliki government has not yet taken full advantage of this situation, although Maliki has not been moribund. He's been working on building coalitions quietly, as is the Arab wont. He has almost completely succeeded in marginalizing Moqtada al-Sadr, no mean feat, and he has brought Sunni tribal leaders into the political conversation. He needs these coalitions before pursuing the agenda of the US Congress, but it will take some time to cement -- just like a victory over AQI.

Why not rush to declare victory? Plenty of reasons come to mind, but one overriding concern is credibility. We're in a credibility war with radical Islamist terrorists, and in a weird way, it has a dynamic in reverse of terrorism. We often tell ourselves, and correctly so, that we can defend against a thousand terrorist attacks successfully and feel like nothing's changed, but the terrorists only have to be successful once.

However, that's at the tactical level. At the strategic level, the situation is really reversed. The Islamists base their entire system on the supposition that God (Allah) has ordained them to beat the infidel and recover the ummah for Islam. They can't afford to be seen to have lost land to the infidels, because it would disprove their entire raison d'etre. If they can't hold the ummah, then they're not chosen by Allah at all.

A defeat in Iraq (and Afghanistan) will strip them of their legitimacy among Muslims. They cannot abide defeat and retreat, because they cannot run from the ummah and claim at the same time to be its holy defenders. That's one reason among several why victory in Iraq is so critical -- and why it's critical to get it right in declaring it.


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Wow! Before I head into work, I wanted throw this up real quick. After reports of declining casulaties, we now get reports from military that our enemy is crippled! I know the liberals don’t want to hear it, but victory is starting to look lik... [Read More]

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