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« Freezing Or Uploading? | Main | Armadillo Uprising »

No Time To Quit

Optimism about Iraq, from unlikely sources:

After the furnace-like heat, the first thing you notice when you land in Baghdad is the morale of our troops. In previous trips to Iraq we often found American troops angry and frustrated — many sensed they had the wrong strategy, were using the wrong tactics and were risking their lives in pursuit of an approach that could not work.

Today, morale is high. The soldiers and marines told us they feel that they now have a superb commander in Gen. David Petraeus; they are confident in his strategy, they see real results, and they feel now they have the numbers needed to make a real difference...

...In Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, which has seen some of the worst sectarian combat, we walked a street slowly coming back to life with stores and shoppers. The Sunni residents were unhappy with the nearby police checkpoint, where Shiite officers reportedly abused them, but they seemed genuinely happy with the American soldiers and a mostly Kurdish Iraqi Army company patrolling the street. The local Sunni militia even had agreed to confine itself to its compound once the Americans and Iraqi units arrived.

We traveled to the northern cities of Tal Afar and Mosul. This is an ethnically rich area, with large numbers of Sunni Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens. American troop levels in both cities now number only in the hundreds because the Iraqis have stepped up to the plate. Reliable police officers man the checkpoints in the cities, while Iraqi Army troops cover the countryside. A local mayor told us his greatest fear was an overly rapid American departure from Iraq. All across the country, the dependability of Iraqi security forces over the long term remains a major question mark.

I think that this is very important:

The additional American military formations brought in as part of the surge, General Petraeus’s determination to hold areas until they are truly secure before redeploying units, and the increasing competence of the Iraqis has had another critical effect: no more whack-a-mole, with insurgents popping back up after the Americans leave.

In war, sometimes it’s important to pick the right adversary, and in Iraq we seem to have done so. A major factor in the sudden change in American fortunes has been the outpouring of popular animus against Al Qaeda and other Salafist groups, as well as (to a lesser extent) against Moktada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

These groups have tried to impose Shariah law, brutalized average Iraqis to keep them in line, killed important local leaders and seized young women to marry off to their loyalists. The result has been that in the last six months Iraqis have begun to turn on the extremists and turn to the Americans for security and help. The most important and best-known example of this is in Anbar Province, which in less than six months has gone from the worst part of Iraq to the best (outside the Kurdish areas). Today the Sunni sheiks there are close to crippling Al Qaeda and its Salafist allies. Just a few months ago, American marines were fighting for every yard of Ramadi; last week we strolled down its streets without body armor.

While I do think that the new tactics are being successful, and to take nothing away from General Petraeus and the troops, it remains unobvious to me that this would have been possible, or at least worked as well, earlier. It may well have been that the Iraqis had to go through a crucible of violence and Islamist oppression before they could realize where their true interests lay. And Americans are not known for their patience. Few of them are familiar enough with history to even recall that it took us eight years from the end of the revolution until we had our current constitution.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Michael Totten has a first-hand report on a night raid in Baghdad:

When we arrived outside the mosque, some of the soldiers squatted in driveways across the street and scanned the roof. I joined them as Eddy and the others took the suspect to the gate.

I crouched near the ground.

“There are four men on the roof,” a soldier said. “You can’t see them anymore. They just ducked away as we got here.”

“They have a little bunker up there,” he continued. “You can’t see it from here, but it has sand bags and sniper netting around it.”

“What are you going to do?” I said.

“Nothing,” he said. “It’s a mosque.”

“They’re violating curfew,” I said, “and stalking us in the dark from a militarized mosque. And you aren’t going to do anything?”

“Our rules of engagement say we can’t interfere in any way with a mosque unless they are shooting at us,” he said.

We left our stalker with his “co-workers” and walked away.

We continue to fight with one hand tied behind our back, against an enemy that has no respect for the rules of war, or for human life.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 30, 2007 07:05 AM
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It's obvious that the Times editors are asleep at the wheel. How could they allow truth to go reported?

I predict a major front-page retraction, followed by a week's worth of op-eds all titled: Bush Lied, Troops Died.

It's about time that reality stepped up and slapped the Times in the face. It will be really interesting to see if any of the barely-majority party even acknowledge it.

Thanks for the link, Rand.

Posted by Dave G at July 30, 2007 07:22 AM

And I suppose that this do-nothing Congress is the reason why their hands are tied.

Posted by Bryan Price at July 30, 2007 08:53 AM

Yes Bryan, it is. This "do nothing" Congress is ruled by leftist democrats, and the restrictive ROE is at least in part due to what their reaction would be, and in the past has been, anytime the US military kills innocents by accident. They portray every such incident as due to overly aggressive, blood thirsty, Naziesque US troops. Therefore in order to avoid such headlines in the leftist media the military is forced to bend over backwards to prevent situations which could be construed by the media as being supportive of their hate filled views of the US Military.

Posted by Cecil Trotter at July 30, 2007 11:12 AM

If the Iraqis make it, it will be the greatest success story for (classically) liberal democracy in nigh on 200 years.

It could be that this has penetrated the NYT's skull armor, and they want to lay some groundwork so that, when Hillary "Rod 'em" Clinton takes the oath of office on 20 January 2009, it will be easier for the Democrats to take credit for the ultimate success of the Iraq project.

Posted by Carl Pham at July 30, 2007 11:54 AM

The Dems hate Bush more than they want America to win.

Posted by at July 30, 2007 01:31 PM

I'm not going to make a comment on whether I agree or disagree with their comments, but I'd hardly call Pollack and O'Hanlon "unlikely sources". This isn't the first time they've taken a visit to Iraq and then written a report about how well things were going and how we are really winning. You have to remember that for all the hate and vitriol against NYT by pro-war writers, some of the most egregiously bogus pro-war reporting in the run-up to the war was printed in the New York Times. So, regardless of if they are right or not, such statements from them are hardly "unlikely" or even surprising.


Posted by Jonathan Goff at July 30, 2007 01:50 PM

Congress isn't "do-nothing." They're doing all they can to bring about a humiliating, bloody defeat in Iraq.

Posted by Trimegistus at July 30, 2007 02:00 PM

Jonathan Goff wrote: "I'm not going to make a comment on whether I agree or disagree with their comments, but I'd hardly call Pollack and O'Hanlon "unlikely sources". This isn't the first time they've taken a visit to Iraq and then written a report about how well things were going and how we are really winning."

Do you have some examples? If I understand correctly, Pollack co-authored a book this year titled, "Things Fall Apart: Containing the Spillover from an Iraqi Civil War." O'Hanlon a month ago stated in a panel, "Iraq is being ethnically segregated. Ethnic cleansing is on its way, it's happening, and at least a couple million people have been displaced. It's becoming Bosnia in some ways."

Posted by Neil H. at July 30, 2007 02:29 PM

We continue to fight with one hand tied behind our back, against an enemy that has no respect for the rules of war, or for human life.

Yeah, a resistance movement will do that.

Posted by Adrasteia at July 30, 2007 08:06 PM

"Yeah, a resistance movement will do that."

Do what????

Posted by Bill Maron at July 30, 2007 10:01 PM

We continue to fight with one hand tied behind our back, against an enemy that has no respect for the rules of war, or for human life.

Man I'm tired of this statement, or permutations of it. The fact that they act as they do is what has made them our enemy. IF, and I say that loudly for effect, IF they had the same values we did, would we be fighting? We alway have and always will do this. We always fight from a position of being morally and ethically superior to our enemies. The reason for that is that we are the good guys, in the white hats, who man up, who arm up, who go out to save the farm, save the town, and generally save the world from evildoers, fascists, communists, religious fanatics and anyone who wants to subjugate people on this big blue marble.

Now that may seem simplistic to many of you.

But I bet it rings pretty friginn' true for anyone who stuck their young trembling and sweaty paw in the air and took a military oath here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

NEXT caller please.

Posted by Steve at July 31, 2007 03:36 AM

Yeah, a resistance movement will do that.

For it to be a resistance, the fighters would have to be citizens of an occupied country, not mercs brought in by other foreign countries. But, on one hand, you are correct. America in its fight for freedom so many years ago, in several cases employed guerilla warfare itself. It was an effective form of fighting.

Posted by Mac at July 31, 2007 05:17 AM

Yeah, a resistance movement will do that.

But so will lawless brigands and ordinary criminals. How do we tell the difference? Do we just ask them? If so, every thug anywhere will claim to be a resistance fighter.

Gee hold on, judge, before you pass sentence, 'cause, see, I cut the wife's throat after coming home from the bar at 3 AM because...uh... because she's been oppressin' me with her constant nagging about morals 'n' drinkin' and I'm resistin' her an' her church's attempted takeover of public morals...yeah, that's the ticket...

Perhaps to avoid complete chaos we might think of judging whether it's a "resistance movement" or just a bunch of pillaging bastards by how they act. Whether they target the occupying troops or random children on the streets, just for example.

Posted by Carl Pham at July 31, 2007 12:53 PM

O'Hanlon testifies at a Congressional sub-committee:

31 Jul 2007 01:42 pm

O'Hanlon totally backed down. Said the progress has only been against aqi, that sectarian violence and the civil war is as bad as ever, and that the current strategy will probably fail. He thinks we should partition the country. Why the turnabout from the optimistic op-ed? He didn't say.

Posted by Bill White at July 31, 2007 02:06 PM

Why the turnabout from the optimistic op-ed?

Pressure from the publishers to not show successes? That would be my first guess.

Posted by Mac at July 31, 2007 02:32 PM

Not going after enemies who are quite obviously holed up in a Mosque does seem crazy to me.

I used to think all-out war was the only kind that made sense--do everything to win whatever the cost, and get it over with--else why fight at all?

But one comment by Bujold in one of her novels (possibly not original to her but I hadn't seen it before) was along the lines of the purpose of war not being to just destroy the enemy but to find a better peace after the war. I think we're wrong to assume the Iraqis will turn against us if we go after people who are holed up in mosques for military purposes, but it is indeed wise to consider how any particular military action is going to affect the long term prospects for an Iraq that looks like we hope it will eventually.

Posted by Jeff Mauldin at July 31, 2007 11:30 PM

Not going after enemies who are quite obviously holed up in a Mosque does seem crazy to me.

Its who we are and how we fight. 'Sides...they gotta come out sometime...

Posted by Mac at August 1, 2007 07:36 AM

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