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On Point

Al-Qaida's Emerging Defeat


by Austin Bay
November 27, 2007

The postwar relationship between Iraq and the United States is now a broader public topic. This week, the White House and the Iraqi government announced that state-to-state discussions are taking place with the goal of reaching detailed agreements that will govern Iraq and America's long-term political, economic and military ties. Iraqis have asked for "an enduring relationship with America."

I use the term "broader public topic" because this matter has been a subject of constant discussion since April 2003, with little of that discussion hush-hush.

When I reported in May 2004 for duty in Iraq, the first document dropped on my desk was a draft of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546. After reading it with great interest, I discussed it with one of the very smart young majors in the Multi-National Corps-Iraq plans section. The very smart young major was already in the polymathic process of analyzing requirements and aligning "capabilities with tasks" (who will do what) in order to support the resolutions stipulation that Iraq hold "direct democratic elections ... in no case later than 31 January 2005."

Resolution 1546 was officially passed on June 8, 2004. If you're a wire-service editor, eight months is an eon -- but if you're trying to politically reinvent Mesopotamia, it's a millisecond. The January 2005 Iraqi election succeeded, giving terrorists and tyrants a disturbing "purple finger" -- the very public ink stains marking the fingers of Iraqi voters.

That election was an incremental success, but one of many. This week's publicized call for a more "normalized" U.S.-Iraq relationship is another indication that the incremental successes are accumulating. Every increment can become a decrement, but war is a dynamic process -- and from a historical perspective the dynamic direction in Iraq has favored the United States -- in other words, the big trend suggests an emerging success.

I know, that runs counter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's April 2007 declaration that the United States "lost" in Iraq, but it was Reid's choice to make himself a sad historical footnote.

This emerging success required lots of money and unfortunately involved lots of blood. I had another document on my Baghdad desk, Musab al-Zarqawi's February 2004 letter to al-Qaida's leaders, in which he lamented al-Qaida's looming defeat.

He also described his counter-strategy: a Shia-Sunni sectarian war. That's war's hideous dynamic, effort met by effort -- with death, pain and suffering in each terrible collision. Zarqawi's murderers did their best to incite a sectarian debacle. Oh, they got headlines, they enlisted a motley array of criminal allies, they set Iraq's democratic timetable back 12 to 24 months -- but they failed.

The evidence that al-Qaida has suffered a major strategic information defeat in Iraq continues to mount. StrategyPage.com noted on Oct. 27, 2005, that "the Moslem media is less and less willing to be an apologist for al-Qaida, at least when it comes to killing Moslem civilians" and that the Iraqi media in particular "really has it in for al-Qaida." On Oct. 1, 2006, StrategyPage.com argued that "dead Iraqis were killing al-Qaida. ... Westerners, unless they observe Arab media closely, and have contacts inside the Arab world, will not have noted this sharp drop in al-Qaida's fortunes."

Within the last three months, the "trend" (made of incremental successes) has become "fact."

Is this victory in Iraq? No. But it suggests we've won a major battle with potentially global significance. What the Pentagon calls "the governmental (political participation and structure building), information (intel, media and political perception) and economic (economic development, infrastructure creation) lines of operation" will ultimately secure victory in Iraq, and these operations will take another six to eight years of effort.

As for the "security line of operation" (military), the U.S.-Iraqi "postwar relationships" discussion indicates both are preparing for "strategic overwatch," where U.S. "quick reaction" forces are positioned to help Iraq deter external (e.g., Iranian) threats. Strategic overwatch may be a couple of years away, say mid-to-late 2009. Achieving that would constitute a limited victory.

Could these positive trends reverse? Yes. Al-Qaida and Saddamist enemies will continue to test the will of Free Iraq and the United States. Harry Reid and his faction could quit and declare defeat. But I doubt that they will -- I very much doubt they will.

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