June 5, 2008
Number 06/08 #02
This Update deals with some recent discussion of the improved situation in Iraq, and what it may mean for the longer term.
First up is new proof of the consensus that the situation in Iraq has improved markedly, not just militarily but also politically. According to not only UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, but over 100 national delegations meeting at a conference in Stockholm, the political and economic progress in Iraq has been “remarkable.” Moon says that Iraq is “stepping back from the abyss that we feared most,”and now could fulfil its “vision of becoming a free, secure, stable and prosperous nation.” For this important evidence that there is general agreement in the international community that progress in Iraq is both real and significant, CLICK HERE. Agreeing recently with this assessment that “things are better” in Iraq is French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. Plus, here is some more reporting on the claims by US military sources, related to the weakened state of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Next up, A Washington Post editorial analyses the implications of this reality. The paper points to recent coalition successes, including competent showings by the Iraqi armed forces, in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul, and says a tipping point, “one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country” may be near. The paper argues that, given the new reality in Iraq, it is time for critics of the war to re-think calls for immediate pull-outs or arbitrary deadlines, and plan to coordinate any pull-outs with the ability of Iraqi forces to take over. For this take on the implications of the situation in Iraq from one of the most important mainstream US newspapers, CLICK HERE. Another editorial on the opportunity to “Win the War” not only in Iraq, but against al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism generally, comes from the Weekly Standard. The Wall Street Journal also commented on claims by CIA Director Michael Hayden that al-Qaeda in Iraq is “near strategic defeat.”
Finally, former Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens, now at the Wall Street Journal, says one lesson of the Iraq war is that, despite the frequently heard claim to the contrary, there indeed are military solutions to terrorism. He analyses the Iraq situation alongside increasingly successful counter-terror efforts in Colombia and Sri Lanka, and says it is exactly backward to argue that “political reconciliation” is a precondition of military success, when it is actually a product of it. He points out that undefeated insurgencies are very effective at blocking political reconciliation, and while dealing with them militarily is very hard, it is nonetheless the path to such reconciliation. For his full analysis, CLICK HERE. Also, military historian Victor Davis Hanson argues that too many commentators are refusing to accept that the change in Iraq, as well as the growing critiques in the Muslim world of Islamist terrorism, are the result of US policy.
Readers may also be interested in:
- A soldier in Iraq reports on the situation after May saw the lowest number of US casualties since 2003.
- A detailed report on the recent American battle to secure the northern city of Mosul, reputedly the last al-Qaeda in Iraq bastion.
- An inside account of the improving life in Mosul. More on the Mosul situation here.
- A report on the US success in the former so-called “triangle of death”.
- Noted American Middle East academic Fouad Ajami calls for judging what to do about Iraq based on the situation now, and not obsessing over arguments about the reasons for the war.
- Claims that Afghan insurgents are also “on the brink of defeat” according to the British commander in Afghanistan.
- More on developing Islamic critiques of Islamist terrorism. Meanwhile, some Muslim women complain it is discriminatory that al-Qaeda will not let them join.
- US Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff says that Hezbollah in many ways makes al-Qaeda look “minor league“.
- Two important new websites – Middle East Strategic Information, a project directed by former Israeli Ambassador to Australia Yehuda Avner, and the Palestinian Rocket Report, which collates information, analysis and news about rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza. Some readers may also be interested in the new British magazine, Standpoint, which has some interesting material on the Middle East, among other topics.
- With the US primaries now more or less sewn up, and following up on the Barack Obama interview by Jeffrey Goldberg, focussing on issues related to Israel and the Middle East that we featured last week, here is Goldberg’s parallel interview with Republican nominee John McCain. In addition, both Obama and McCain gave major speeches on the Middle East at the AIPAC conference this week, and they are, respectively, here (pdf) and here.
- Plus, an Israeli columnist regrets Hillary Clinton’s departure from the race.
AFP, May 30, 2008
STOCKHOLM (AFP) — World leaders, including UN chief Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on Thursday hailed Baghdad’s progress in combatting violence and stabilising Iraq.
A declaration adopted by 100 delegations at a Stockholm conference said the participants “recognised the important efforts made by the (Iraqi) government to improve security and public order and combat terrorism and sectarian violence across Iraq.”
It also acknowledged political and economic progress made, and said that “given the difficult context, these successes are all the more remarkable.”
In a speech earlier to the conference, Ban said Iraq was “stepping back from the abyss that we feared most,” adding that with international help the war-torn country could fulfill its “vision of becoming a free, secure, stable and prosperous nation.”
He cautioned however that “the situation remains fragile.”
The one-day conference in Stockholm, hosted by Ban and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, was attended by Rice, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband among others.
Rice said that while Iraq was “making good progress there remain challenges. Not everything that needs to be accomplished has been accomplished.”
Miliband was also optimistic and noted that at the conference, “instead of talking about the last five years every speaker has talked about the next five years, and that is a really profound change of perspective.”
Their comments came as two suicide bombings targeted police and security forces in northern Iraq, killing at least 20 people and wounding another 42, officials said.
The attacks shattered a relative calm, after the US military said violence across the nation had hit a four-year low last week.
In Stockholm, Maliki stressed that great progress had been made toward creating long-term stability in all areas, and asked world leaders “to end the international sanctions that were imposed on Iraq because of the previous regime and to write off debts.”
He noted that his country was not poor thanks to its rich oil resources, but said the debt was weighing down reconstruction efforts.
According to the Iraqi government, Iraq’s total debt, excluding interest, is some 140 billion dollars, including 10 billion dollars owed to Saudi Arabia and a little less to Kuwait.
Iraq’s debt has been reduced by 66.5 billion dollars, US State Department figures show.
Rice urged the world community and especially Iraq’s Arab neighbours to re-establish diplomatic ties with Baghdad.
“I encourage everyone to increase their diplomatic, economic, social and cultural engagement with the people of Iraq,” she said.
“We especially urge Iraq’s neighbours and friends to strengthen these ties through official visits to Iraq, the reopening of embassies and consulates and the appointment of ambassadors,” she said, adding that Iraq could do its part by “appointing Iraqi ambassadors to Arab countries.”
The Stockholm conference was the first follow-up meeting since the International Compact with Iraq, a five-year peace and economic development plan, was adopted in Egypt in May 2007.
At that meeting senior officials from more than 60 countries and organisations promised to cancel 30 billion dollars of Iraqi debt.
Maliki said he wanted Iraq to host the next follow-up meeting in 2009, and in a sign of the meeting’s upbeat tone, Ban said he was “quite confident that the Iraqi government will be able to hold this meeting next year.”
In one of the few signs of criticism, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki fired a salvo at the United States, saying the major security problems remaining in Iraq were “due to mistaken policies by occupiers in Iraq.”
“Security in Iraq is now so grave that it has cast a shadow over” the lives of all Iraqis, he added.
Back to Top
Don’t look now, but the U.S.-backed government and army may be winning the war.
Washington Post, Sunday, June 1, 2008; Page B06
THERE’S BEEN a relative lull in news coverage and debate about Iraq in recent weeks — which is odd, because May could turn out to have been one of the most important months of the war. While Washington’s attention has been fixed elsewhere, military analysts have watched with astonishment as the Iraqi government and army have gained control for the first time of the port city of Basra and the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, routing the Shiite militias that have ruled them for years and sending key militants scurrying to Iran. At the same time, Iraqi and U.S. forces have pushed forward with a long-promised offensive in Mosul, the last urban refuge of al-Qaeda. So many of its leaders have now been captured or killed that U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, renowned for his cautious assessments, said that the terrorists have “never been closer to defeat than they are now.”
Iraq passed a turning point last fall when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in early 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence and quelled the incipient sectarian war between Sunnis and Shiites. Now, another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country, dispersing both rival militias and the Iranian-trained “special groups” that have used them as cover to wage war against Americans. It is — of course — too early to celebrate; though now in disarray, the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr could still regroup, and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence before the U.S. and Iraqi elections this fall. Still, the rapidly improving conditions should allow U.S. commanders to make some welcome adjustments — and it ought to mandate an already-overdue rethinking by the “this-war-is-lost” caucus in Washington, including Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).
Gen. David H. Petraeus signaled one adjustment in recent testimony to Congress, saying that he would probably recommend troop reductions in the fall going beyond the ongoing pullback of the five “surge” brigades deployed last year. Gen. Petraeus pointed out that attacks in Iraq hit a four-year low in mid-May and that Iraqi forces were finally taking the lead in combat and on multiple fronts at once — something that was inconceivable a year ago. As a result the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki now has “unparalleled” public support, as Gen. Petraeus put it, and U.S. casualties are dropping sharply. Eighteen American soldiers died in May, the lowest total of the war and an 86 percent drop from the 126 who died in May 2007.
If the positive trends continue, proponents of withdrawing most U.S. troops, such as Mr. Obama, might be able to responsibly carry out further pullouts next year. Still, the likely Democratic nominee needs a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than an arbitrary timetable; Iraq’s 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City. When Mr. Obama floated his strategy for Iraq last year, the United States appeared doomed to defeat. Now he needs a plan for success.
Back to Top
Wall Street Journal,
June 3, 2008
Sadr City in Baghdad, the northeastern districts of Sri Lanka and the Guaviare province of Colombia have little in common culturally, historically or politically. But they are crucial reference points on a global map in which long-running insurgencies suddenly find themselves on the verge of defeat.
For the week of May 16-23, there were 300 “violent incidents” in Iraq. That’s down from 1,600 last June and the lowest recorded since March 2004. Al Qaeda has been crushed by a combination of U.S. arms and Sunni tribal resistance. On the Shiite side, Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army was routed by Iraqi troops in Basra and later crumbled in its Sadr City stronghold.
In Colombia, the 44-year-old FARC guerrilla movement is now at its lowest ebb. Three of its top commanders died in March, and the number of FARC attacks is down by more than two-thirds since 2002. In the face of a stepped-up campaign by the Colombian military (funded, equipped and trained by the U.S.), the group is now experiencing mass desertions. Former FARC leaders describe a movement that is losing any semblance of ideological coherence and operational effectiveness.
In Sri Lanka, a military offensive by the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has wrested control of seven of the nine districts previously held by the rebel group LTTE, better known as the Tamil Tigers. Mr. Rajapaksa now promises victory by the end of the year, even as the Tigers continue to launch high-profile terrorist attacks.
All this is good news in its own right. Better yet, it explodes the mindless shibboleth that there is “no military solution” when it comes to dealing with insurgencies. On the contrary, it turns out that the best way to end an insurgency is, quite simply, to beat it.
Why was this not obvious before? When military strategies fail – as they did in Vietnam while the U.S. pursued the tactics of attrition, or in Iraq prior to the surge – the idea that there can be no military solution has a way of taking hold with civilians and generals eager to deflect blame. This is how we arrived at the notion that “political reconciliation” is a precondition of military success, not a result of it.
There’s also a tendency to misjudge the aims and ambitions of the insurgents: To think they can be mollified via one political concession or another. Former Colombian president Andres Pastrana sought to appease the FARC by ceding to them a territory the size of Switzerland. The predictable result was to embolden the guerrillas, who were adept at sensing and exploiting weakness.
The deeper problem here is the belief that the best way to deal with insurgents is to address the “root causes” of the grievance that purportedly prompted them to take up arms. But what most of these insurgencies seek isn’t social or moral redress: It’s absolute power. Like other “liberation movements” (the PLO comes to mind), the Tigers are notorious for killing other Tamils seen as less than hard line in their views of the conflict. The failure to defeat these insurgencies thus becomes the primary obstacle to achieving a reasonable political settlement acceptable to both sides.
This isn’t to say that political strategies shouldn’t be pursued in tandem with military ones. Gen. David Petraeus was shrewd to exploit the growing enmity between al Qaeda and their Sunni hosts by offering former insurgents a place in the country’s security forces as “Sons of Iraq.” (The liberal use of “emergency funds,” aka political bribes, also helped.) Colombian President Álvaro Uribe has more than just extended amnesty for “demobilized” guerrillas; he’s also given them jobs in the army.
But these political approaches only work when the intended beneficiaries can be reasonably confident that they are joining the winning side. Nobody was abandoning the FARC when Mr. Pastrana lay prostrate before it. It was only after Mr. Uribe turned the guerrilla lifestyle into a day-and-night nightmare that the movement’s luster finally started to fade.
Defeating an insurgency is never easy even with the best strategies and circumstances. Insurgents rarely declare surrender, and breakaway factions can create a perception of menace even when their actual strength is minuscule. It helps when the top insurgent leaders are killed or captured: Peru’s Shining Path, for instance, mostly collapsed with the capture of Abimael Guzmán. Yet the Kurdish PKK is now resurgent nine years after the imprisonment of Abdullah Ocalan, thanks to the sanctuary it enjoys in Northern Iraq.
Still, it’s no small thing that neither the PKK nor the Shining Path are capable of killing tens of thousands of people and terrorizing whole societies, as they were in the 1980s. Among other things, beating an insurgency allows a genuine process of reconciliation and redress to take place, and in a spirit of malice toward none. But those are words best spoken after the terrible swift sword has done its work.