Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Hints Of Victory Over Al-Qaeda In Iraq War News

While the New York Times and L.A. Times, as usual, are preoccupied with every piece of negative news on the Iraq war that they can possibly emphasize, the tide of battle in the war has been changing. The Washington Post seems to be following this more carefully than either of the other two newspapers.

An article yesterday by Thomas Ricks and Karen DeYoung in the Post, headlined "Al-Qaeda In Iraq Reported Crippled," pays attention to what should preoccupy us: how the war is actually going, and it contains quite a bit of good news.

Ricks in particular has been no booster in the past, of the war effort. His book, "Fiasco," detailed at great length all the failures that marked the first years of the American counterinsurgency effort following our invasion of 2003.

So it may be particularly significant that Ricks has been reporting for some time now that there have been gains in the war in recent months, especially against the Al-Qaeda extremists. This follows the turnaround in Anbar province, where Arab tribal leaders have turned against Al-Qaeda and now are, for at least the time being, allied with American forces. The number of enemy attacks in Anbar has declined so substantially that there are now suggestions, reported in the past week in the New York Times, that U.S. Marines be relieved in Anbar by Army troops and perhaps be sent to Afghanistan, where, recently, the war has not been going so well.

In their article yesterday, Ricks and DeYoung report what has become obvious to careful watchers of the war: The number of violent incidents, especially suicide bombings, is down, the number of casualties among American and other allied forces is half what it was, the number of foreign infiltrators from Syria has gone down, and there are now a greater number of pacified neighborhoods in the city of Baghdad.

The Ricks-DeYoung article was picked up last night by CNN and became the focus of the lead report on the nightly news. But, strangely, the NBC Nightly News did not so much as mention it.

The Post writers are appropriately cautious. There have been false hopes before, only to be followed by an upsurge of Al-Qaeda and other enemy attacks.

But they report that Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, head of the Joint Special Forces Operations Command, has gone so far as to suggest that the U.S. proclaim victory over Al-Qaeda in Iraq. and they quote Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq under Gen. David Petraeus, the overall commander, as saying that Al-Qaeda forces in Iraq "are less and less coordinated, more and more fragmented."

At the same time, Ricks and DeYoung quote a senior unnamed intelligence official as expressing the opinion that it would be "premature" to claim victory, since Al-Qaeda retains "the ability for surprise and for catastrophic attacks."

In another piece of war news, there are reports this week of Shiite elements turning against the Mahdi militias that have also caused so much trouble for American forces. A Shiite group went to predominantly-Sunni Anbar just this week to meet with Sunnis who have turned against Al-Qaeda, and at this meeting there was talk between Shiites and Sunnis of a reconciliation that could bring more peace to Iraq.

All this is worth our close attention. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times editorial writers have in past months joined Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate Democratic majority leader, and some other Democrats in Congress as saying the war in Iraq is lost and that the only question should be how fast we can withdraw from that country.

I felt at the time that this sentiment, at the very least, was premature. The war is not lost, unless we agree it is lost, and the recent news would indicate we are beginning, with the effort of thousands of gallant American troops, and some assistance by Iraqi Army units, to turn the tide. When Thomas Ricks and other past critics of the war begin saying so, it is a good sign.

It could even be that the stubbornness of President Bush in pursuing the war effort, and the recent statements of three leading Democratic presidential candidates -- Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama and former Sen. John Edwards -- that they would envision American troops staying in Iraq in some numbers through their prospective first terms of office, have dfiscouraged our enemies. It has long seemed to me that once the Arab terrorists understood we were not about to withdraw our forces, they would become discouraged and perhaps decide to deemphasize Iraq and transfer their struggle against us elsewhere.

We have an immense stake in eventual success in Iraq. We must not be fainthearted in pursuing it.

At the same time, we have to recognize that as Al-Qaeda fades and internecine struggle within Iraq fades too, there remains considerable danger of neighboring Iran successfully making trouble in Iraq. Just last week, Gen. Petraeus warned the Iranians are becoming more active.

Therefore, there are contrary signs, and we can't afford to ignore them. But, still, the balance, the tide of battle, has turned in our direction, and that should be cause for some optimism that in the end we will win this long and costly war, in which nearly 4,000 brave American soldiers have lost their lives.

--

I'm told by a friend this morning that Sam Zell, prospective new owner of the Tribune Co., with his wife and friends, either has already gone or will shortly leave on a trip to
China and the Middle East, in part to bring himself up to date with developments in these two vital regions.

It is to be hoped that whatever he learns will be turned to good use on the editorial pages of Tribune newspapers, including the L.A. Times, so that some of the craziness that has marked these editorials of late could be diminished.

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