Iraq: We Won?

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June 20, 2007: After weeks of maneuvering in and around Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi forces have isolated and cornered large numbers of terrorists in Diyala province (northeast of Baghdad), and especially in the provincial capital, Baqouba. This is a major operation, with 9,000 Americans and a thousand Iraqi troops (and police) involved. In addition, there are several hundred local irregulars, who have switched sides. This is a big change in the Baghdad suburbs. While tribal leaders and warlords in the west (Anbar province) have been turning on terrorist groups, especially al Qaeda, for several years, the gangs of Baghdad were more resistant to changing sides. That's because Baghdad is the home of Saddam's staunchest supporters. These guys are prime candidates for war crimes prosecutions, for the many atrocities committed by Saddams' secret police over the decades. While the government has been willing to offer amnesty to many lower ranking Baath party members, the Baghdad neighborhoods and suburbs are full of people considered too dirty to qualify. This is the no-surrender crowd. But let's face it, these guys are also all over the lists Shia death squads carry. Iran has even offered cash rewards for the deaths of many Saddam lieutenants who were involved in the 1980s Iran-Iraq war, or subsequent murders of Shia clergy. The Kurds have their death lists as well. These are desperate and dangerous people.

Years of collecting data on the bad guys has paid off as well. Month by month, the picture of the enemy became clearer. This was literally the case, with some of the intelligence software that created visual representations of what was known of the enemy, and how reliable it was. The picture is clear enough to maneuver key enemy factions into positions that make them easier to run down. Saddam's henchmen were no dummies. They were smart enough, and resourceful enough, to build a police state apparatus that kept Saddam in power for over three decades. For the last three years, that talent has been applied to keeping the henchmen alive and out of jail. Three years of fighting has reduced the original 100,000 or so core Saddam thugs, to a few thousand diehards. Three years ago, there were hundreds of thousands of allies and supporters from the Sunni minority (then, about five million people, now, less than half that), who wanted to be back in charge. Now the remaining Sunni Arabs just want to be left in peace. Thus the Sunni nationalists of Baqouba are shooting at, and turning in, their old allies from Saddams Baath party and secret police. This isn't easy for some of these guys, but it's seen as a matter of survival. While the Battle of Baqouba is officially about rooting out al Qaeda, and hard core terrorists, it's also about taking down the Baath party bankers and organizers who have been sustaining the bombers with cash, information and encouragement.

Both the terrorists and U.S. troops know that victory has been defined as several weeks with no bombs going off in Baghdad. The media is keeping score, and they use their ears and video cameras. No loud bangs and no bodies equals no news. That's victory.

Not really. The real war is within the Iraqi government. The terrorists lost two years ago, when the relentless slaughter of Moslem civilians turned the Arab world against al Qaeda. Journalists missed that one, but not the historians. The war in Iraq has always been about Arabs demonstrating that they can run a clean government, for the benefit of all the people, not just the tyrants on top. So far, there have lots of victories and defeats in this, and no clear decision overall. Elections have been held several times, but the people elected have proved to be as corrupt and venal as their tyrannical predecessors. Everyone admits that this bad behavior is not a good thing, but attempts to stop it have been only partially successful. Changing thousands of years of custom and tradition is not easy. The clay tablets dug up in the vicinity of Baghdad, reveal similar scandal and despair over four thousand years ago. Most Iraqis realize, however, that if the chain of corruption is not broken, the dreary past will again become a painful present.

 

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