Thursday, July 17, 2008

Is It Time To Declare V-I Day?

So have we won the war in Iraq?

And if so, what next?

The counterinsurgency phase of the war - the one that started after the six week victory over Saddam's military, the one that picked up steam between Iran's creation of the Mahdi Army and al Qaeda's barbarous acts, is over. We have won. New war may well yet come, but you can mark the calendar on the counterinsurgency.

Al Qaeda in Iraq has been crushed and is no longer a coherent force. Sadr's Mahdi Army has been crushed and is now demobilized. Many of its leaders and thousands of followers have fled to Tehran. There are remnants of al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army still inside Iraq and they are able to conduct discrete acts of mayhem. But they are being relentlessly pursued by U.S. and Iraqi forces, they are unable to regroup. Both have been broadly rejected by the people of Iraq, and Iraq no longer presents a hospitable environment for these organization to again easily take root.

There is no ongoing civil war inside Iraq. Ethno-sectarian deaths were at zero in May and June 2008. The Iraqi government controls virtually all of Iraq, including Sadr City and Basra, and the Iraqi government has emerged as a nationalist force. The Iraqi government has met 15 of the 18 bench marks that were set by the U.S. - and embraced by Mr. Obama - as the measures of progress towards reconciliation and a stable country. The bench mark regarding the oil law is moot for the moment as all oil revenues are being fully and fairly shared even in the absence of a law. Provincial elections will be held this year.

Today, the U.S. military turned over full control of Diwaniya Province to the Iraqi government. That marks the tenth province turned over to Iraqi control. Anbar Province, deemed lost a little over a year ago, is expected to be turned over to Iraqi control in a matter of days. The other seven provinces are expected to be turned over by years end.

Virtually all of the goals of the surge have been met. And as to our forces in Iraq, if current trends continue for July, it will result in the lowest loss of U.S. life to hostile fire in Iraq during any one month period since June, 2003. This continues a steady decline in U.S. casualties in Iraq over the past months. The biggest enemy many of our soldiers in Iraq face now is boredom.

Michael Yon, taking stock of the current situation in Iraq, had this to say:

The war continues to abate in Iraq. Violence is still present, but, of course, Iraq was a relatively violent place long before Coalition forces moved in. I would go so far as to say that barring any major and unexpected developments (like an Israeli air strike on Iran and the retaliations that would follow), a fair-minded person could say with reasonable certainty that the war has ended. A new and better nation is growing legs. What's left is messy politics that likely will be punctuated by low-level violence and the occasional spectacular attack. Yet, the will of the Iraqi people has changed, and the Iraqi military has dramatically improved, so those spectacular attacks are diminishing along with the regular violence. Now it's time to rebuild the country, and create a pluralistic, stable and peaceful Iraq. That will be long, hard work. But by my estimation, the Iraq War is over. We won. Which means the Iraqi people won. . . .

Read the entire article. Michael Totten is a bit less sanguine, but not all that much: "The war in Iraq is all but over right now, and it will be officially over if the current trends in violence continue their downward slide. That is a mathematical fact." Read the entire article.

While we can claim victory in the counterinsurgency, the threats to Iraq are still extant. Al Qaeda is a transnational organization and al Zawahiri would love nothing more than an opportunity to reinfest Iraq and destroy the Awakening movements. Iran, currently housing thousands of Sadrists who escaped the offensives, is training and rearming these people, hoping to reintroduce them into Iraq and take another crack at Lebanization. Indeed, Iraq is an existential challenge to Iran and, like a shark that will die should it ever stop swimming, Iran's theocracy may come to an end if they fail to dominate Iraq.

Fred Kagan, writing at the WSJ, views the situation similarly and has several recommendations:

. . . The Iranian leaders responsible for Iranian policy in Iraq – principally Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Brigadier General Qassim Soleimani, commander of the Qods Force – also remain determined. They are retraining and re-equipping thousands of fighters who fled the most recent Iraqi and Coalition operations in Basra, Baghdad, and Maysan Provinces.

Past patterns suggest those fighters will return to Iraq and attempt to restart attacks against Coalition Forces in time to disrupt Iraqi elections and to affect America's voting. Their attacks are likely to be more spectacular, but less effective at disrupting Iraqi government and society.

If America remains firm in its commitment to success in Iraq, success is very likely. The AQI and Shiite militias at present do not have the capacity to drive Iraq off course – unless both the U.S. and the Iraqi government make a number of serious mistakes.

The most serious error would be to withdraw American forces too rapidly. That would strengthen the resolve of both al Qaeda and Iran to persevere in their efforts to disrupt the young Iraqi state and weaken the resolve of those Iraqis, particularly in the Iraqi Security Forces, who are betting their lives on continued American assistance.

The blunt fact is this. In Iraq, al Qaeda is on the ropes, and the Shiite militias are badly off-balance. Now is exactly the time to continue the pressure to keep them from regaining their equilibrium. It need not, and probably will not, require large numbers of American casualties to keep this pressure on. But it will require a considerable number of American troops through 2009.

Recent suggestions in Washington that reductions could begin sooner or proceed more rapidly are premature. The current force levels will be needed through the Iraqi provincial elections later this year, and consideration of force reductions makes sense only after those elections are over and the incoming commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, has evaluated the new situation.

The benefits to the U.S. from seeing the fight through to the end far outweigh the likely costs. For one thing, Iraqis have shown their determination to increase their oil output, currently averaging 2.5 million barrels a day, as fast as they can – something that can only happen if their country is secure.

Far more important is the opportunity in our hands today to work with a Muslim country in the heart of the Arab world to inflict the most visible and humiliating defeat possible on al Qaeda. Success in Iraq also makes it possible to establish a strategic partnership with a legitimate, democratic majority-Shia state that is aligned with the U.S. against Iran.

Recent comments by some Iraqi leaders about the current negotiations for a status-of-force agreement – made in the context of an increasingly heated election season in Iraq, and with the desire to improve Iraq's bargaining position in the negotiations – do not call the U.S. partnership into question. As we recently found in Baghdad, even the most outspoken advocates of rapid American force reductions strongly insist on a strategic partnership with America that helps Iraq stand up to Iran. Most of Iraq's military leaders are unequivocal about the need for a continued U.S. force presence.

The Iraqi government and people – whose surging anti-Persian feeling is more obvious every day – have already shown their willingness to push back against Iranian intervention. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's attack on Iranian-backed forces in Basra, followed by Iraqi-led operations in Baghdad, central Iraq and Maysan, is proof of Baghdad's willingness. Helping Iraq to succeed is our best hope of finding a way of resolving our differences with Iran over the long term without coming to blows.

It is time for Americans to recognize it's a whole new ballgame in Iraq. The civil war is over, American troops are not an "irritant" fueling the unrest, and far from becoming dependent upon us, the Iraqi government and the army show more determination every day to run their country and to protect it. But they continue to want and need our assistance.

Read the entire article.

We will likely see significant force reductions from Iraq over the next several months and I would not be surprised to see force reductions below those of pre-surge levels by September. There is still a mission to keep the remnants of al Qaeda and the Special Groups under constant pressure. And there is a need to maintain significant combat power to dissuade Iran from any unwise moves for the foreseeable future.

And lastly, while this victory may come as good news to most Americans, clearly that is not the case for all who nominally claim the title of "American." TNOY has an exclusive on the efforts of a coalition of the far left Code Pink, the Breasts Not Bombs group and Congressional Democrats, all of whom are in crisis mode over the issue of how to shore up al Qadea before it is too late:

The news that Al Qaeda in Iraq has been soundly beaten and is on the verge of annihilation, was met with worries and a quick call to action on Capitol Hill today. In an attempt to salvage some semblance of victory for the embattled fighters, Congressional Democrats voted early Thursday to approve funding that would provide desperately needed supplies for the group.

“There is no question but that they are in a bad way,” said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. “What began as a glorious campaign against the American occupiers, has taken a turn for the worse. These culturally equal individuals have been shot at, had missiles fired at them, and been made to miss at least one of their five daily prayers on several occasions. What’s more, our polling data shows that a full 100% of them are living below the poverty line! If it weren’t for that fact that many of them have dual citizenship between their home countries and Holland, they wouldn’t even be receiving welfare payments or free health care. But I have sponsored legislation that will go a long way towards turning the tide back in favor of these brave freedom fighters.”

Pelosi’s bill calls for two battalions of Code Pink protesters to be sent to Iraq immediately. They will be deployed at key positions to block advancing U.S. Marines. . . .

Read the entire post. There is much more.

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