Despite the recent shrieks of hysteria coming from the Democratic caucus in Congress, one of their most respected members says that the American-led Coalition has Iraq in “pretty good shape” and expects that troop drawdowns can begin late next year or early 2007 as long as progress continues. Senator Joe Lieberman took the opportunity to actually travel through Iraq, and his recommendation follows the administration’s plan to key troop withdrawals based on the buildup of the Iraqi army, and not on calendar due dates as suggested by Joe Biden last week:
Senator Lieberman of Connecticut, fresh from a two-day visit to Iraq over the Thanksgiving holiday, said yesterday he was hopeful American forces could begin a “significant” withdrawal by the end of next year or in 2007.
“The country is now in reach of going from Saddam Hussein to self-government and, I’d add, self-protection,” the Democrat said in a conference call with reporters. “That would be a remarkable transformation.” …
Mr. Lieberman has visited Iraq four times in 17 months. He said there are signs life is returning to normal, including a profusion of cell phones and satellite TV dishes on rooftops.
“About two-thirds of the country is in really pretty good shape,” he said, noting most attacks are in the so-called “Sunni Triangle” region. “Overall, I came back encouraged.”
That will come as quite a shock to the Chicken Little Democrats who spent most of November 18th predicting falling skies if Americans stayed in Iraq any longer. It also comes as a surprise to most of the American media, who failed to report the conference call to their readers. The New York Times and the Washington Post all skip over this story for their print editions today, although both the Times and the Post does have the AP wire story based on the NY Sun article in its web edition.
It also appears that they skipped over more good news about the status of the Iraqi army, coming from the CENTCOM spokesman in Washington. Since a Congressional briefing in September which analyzed almost three dozen Iraqi battalions as Level 2 — able to lead operations with only logistical support from Americans — that number has now increased by ten battalions, five more than just four weeks ago:
Lt. Col. Fred Wellman, a spokesman in Baghdad for the U.S. command that is responsible for the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces, said approximately 130 Iraqi army and special police battalions are fighting the insurgency, of which about 45 are rated as “in the lead,” with varying degrees of reliance on U.S. support.
The exact numbers are classified as secret, but the 45 figure is about five higher than the number given on Nov. 7 at a briefing by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who previously led the training mission. It is about 10 higher than the figure Gen. Petraeus offered at a Pentagon briefing on Oct. 5.
As another measure of progress, Col. Wellman said about 33 Iraqi security battalions are now in charge of their own “battle space,” including parts of Baghdad. That figure was at 24 in late October. Col. Wellman said it stood at three in March.
Also, American forces have pulled out of 30 “forward operating bases” inside Iraq, of which 16 have been transferred to Iraqi security forces. The most recent and widely publicized was a large base near Tikrit, which U.S. forces had used as a division headquarters since shortly after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003.
This progress shows that the notion of only 1,000 Iraqi troops able to operate independently is malarkey, a deliberate misrepresentation by Joe Biden. No matter how much we may draw down forces in Iraq, we intend to stick around the area to offer logistical support, just the same as we do with our NATO allies. The measure of the training in Iraq — in which we have built the army from the ground up — is to have them capable of taking command of territory, holding it, and enforcing the constitutional law set by civilian authority. The “clear-hold-build” strategy for places like Ramadi and Falluja has shown increasing success in denying territory for insurgents, turning them into rootless bands of terrorists rather than any real security threat.
This process dictates the troop reductions we want to see from Iraq, reductions that will allow us the flexibility to redeploy to other hot spots of terrorist activity as we find them. Calendar-based commitments for withdrawal as demanded by the Democrats last week and the week before focus on politics rather than ensuring successful missions; this approach puts the mission first, and the data shows that the mission has become increasingly successful.