Day By Day

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Positive signals from Iraq

Fareed Zakaria says that his contacts tell him that Baathist insurgents are desperately trying to cut a deal with US forces to end the "nationalist" aspect of the insurgency. The reasons:

1) they fear that the movement is being taken over by Islamist radicals.

2) they fear that Iran will gain from the continued turmoil in Iraq.

The Baathists have moved from outright opposition, to trying to deal directly with the US authority, to finally agreeing to negotiate with the Iraqi interim government. They have also articulated a set of demands to serve as a basis for negotiations. These are all positive developments and point toward a possible negotiated settlement.

Read the piece here.

Jack Kelly cites Debkafile [admittedly not the most reliable source] to the effect that Al Qaeda is planning to shift its efforts away from Iraq and toward Europe. If true, this is a tacit admission that the insurgency in Iraq is dying down [Kelly calls it a "quagmire" for the radicals, drawing their attention and resources away from their larger goals.]

Kelly also points to other encouraging trends in Iraq. He writes:

except in news reports, the war in Iraq has been going poorly for al-Qaida. Retired Gen. Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the Army, said in a speech July 25 that so far this year, U.S. and Iraqi security forces have killed or captured more than 50,000 insurgents, including a significant portion of the leadership. While the majority of these have to be people who were interviewed and released, that's still an impressive total.

Car bombings, al-Qaida's specialty, have fallen from (a record high of) 170 in April to 151 in May to 133 in June, with less than 100 so far in July. (Journalists describe this as a "worsening" trend.) Al-Qaida could be storing up for an offensive when the new Iraqi constitution is unveiled next month. We'll know soon enough.

The targets have shifted in emphasis from American forces to Iraqi forces to Shiite civilians to, most recently, Sunni Arabs who are cooperating with the government. This does not suggest growing capability or rising support. Nor do the increasing number of gun battles between al-Qaida and its ex-Baathist allies in the insurgency suggest harmony in the resistance.

Suicide attacks have been successful in gaining headlines, but have not slowed enlistment in the Iraqi armed forces, or prevented prominent Sunnis from taking part in the writing of the constitution.

American commanders are now talking openly about a major withdrawal of troops after the Iraqi elections scheduled for December. While this may reflect concerns about the strains the massive deployment in Iraq is placing on the Army and Marine Corps as much as an improving situation, it is doubtful these statements would be made publicly if the situation weren't in fact improving.

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-D.C. -based think tank, has been pessimistic about Iraq. He returned from a recent visit singing a different tune:

"If current plans are successfully implemented, the total number of Iraqi military and police units that can honestly be described as trained and equipped should rise from 96,000 in September 2004, and 172,000 today to 230,000 by the end of December and 270,000 by mid-2006," he said.

Strategic Forecasting, a private American intelligence service, thinks al-Qaida is engaged in the terrorist equivalent of the Tet Offensive: "launching a series of attacks -- some significant, others mere psyops -- in an effort to turn the tide in a war it has been losing."

Kelly notes, quite cannily, that as al Qaeda begins to abandon Iraq, critics of the war will begin [actually already have begun] to characterize the insurgency there as a "training ground" or "incubator" for global terrorism. But he responds to the critics with a pertinent question:

what, pray tell, do the promoters of this theory imagine Zarqawi and his minions would have been doing these past two years if there had been no war in Iraq? Origami?
All in all, an interesting perspective and a useful corrective to the doom and gloom broadcast daily in the MSM.

Read it here.

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