Wednesday, July 11, 2007

New Approach in Iraq Shows Every Sign of Success

Kimberly Kagan, in today's Wall Street Journal, provides a much needed correction to the dour defeatism gripping the Congress over the mission in Iraq. Kagan suggests that current perceptions of poor progress for the new strategy are inaccurate:

Reports from the field show that remarkable progress is being made. Violence in Baghdad and Anbar Province is down dramatically, grassroots political movements have begun in the Sunni Arab community, and American and Iraqi forces are clearing al Qaeda fighters and Shiite militias out of long-established bases around the country.

This is remarkable because the military operation that is making these changes possible only began in full strength on June 15. To say that the surge is failing is absurd. Instead Congress should be asking this question: Can the current progress continue?

From 2004 to 2006, al Qaeda established safe havens, transport routes, vehicle-bomb factories and training camps in the rural areas surrounding Baghdad, where U.S. forces had little or no footprint. Al Qaeda used these bases to conduct bombings in Baghdad, to displace Shia and Sunni from local towns by sparking sectarian killings, and to force Iraqis to comply with the group's interpretation of Islamic law. Shiite death squads roamed freely around Baghdad and the countryside. The number of execution-style killings rose monthly after the Samarra mosque bombing of February 2006, reaching a high in December 2006. Iranian special operations groups moved weapons across the borders and into Iraq along major highways and rivers. U.S. forces, engaged primarily in training Iraqis, did little to disrupt this movement.

Today, Iraq is a different place from what it was six months ago. U.S. and Iraqi forces began their counterinsurgency campaign in Baghdad in February. They moved into the neighborhoods and worked side-by-side with Baghdadis. As a result, sectarian violence is down. The counterinsurgency strategy has dramatically decreased Shiite death squad activity in the capital. Furthermore, U.S. and Iraqi special forces have removed many rogue militia leaders and Iranian advisers from Sadr City and other locations, reducing the power of militias.

As a consequence, execution-style killings, the hallmark of Shiite militias, have fallen to the lowest level in a year; some Iranian- and militia-backed mortar teams firing on the Green Zone have been destroyed. Equally important, U.S. and Iraqi forces have restricted al Qaeda's bases to ever smaller areas of the city, so that reinforcements cannot flow easily from one neighborhood to another.

Kagan argues that the new surge strategy has not just shifted terror operations out of the large urban sectors. While this has happened to an extent, U.S. forces are actively eliminating enemy safe havens, rather than ignoring them. American troops have now built large "security belts" around Baghdad, which prevents insurgents from mounting operations in the capital. The fight has moved beyond the city center, with agressive peripheral campaigns disrupting the logistics and efficiency of enemy cells. This is the Baghdad security plan.

Kagan concludes with a assessment:

This is war, and the enemy is reacting. The enemy uses suicide bombs, car bombs and brutal executions to break our will and that of our Iraqi allies. American casualties often increase as troops move into areas that the enemy has fortified; these casualties will start to fall again once the enemy positions are destroyed. Al Qaeda will manage to get some car and truck bombs through, particularly in areas well-removed from the capital and its belts.

But we should not allow individual atrocities to obscure the larger picture. A new campaign has just begun, it is already yielding important results, and its effects are increasing daily. Demands for withdrawal are no longer demands to pull out of a deteriorating situation with little hope; they are now demands to end a new approach to this conflict that shows every sign of succeeding.
The military strategy of the surge is not predicated on a short, political timetable. President Bush has been pushing Congress for more time to allow the new tactics to succeed. The president hopes that some of the positive indicators from the release of this week's preliminary Iraq assessment will help the administration make the case.

I've had a debate or two recently with other bloggers over progress in Iraq. Kagan's case for early successes in the new strategy are bolstered by reports in the field. Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch reported last week
that U.S. and Iraq security forces are making substantial progress in the overall offensive against the insurgency. Lynch argued that a pullout now would be a huge mistake, and would leave the country in a mess.

first hand reporting from the battlefield finds a growing acceptance of the U.S. military presence across Iraq. Indeed, people on the streets are remarkably gay and jubilant, with children running around trying to have their pictures taken. Their main fear is that U.S. forces will pull out and leave them at the mercy of the terrorist barbarians.

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