Iraq and the Election
Iraq and the Election
This spring, the Iraqi army routed insurgents in three of their most important urban strongholds. These gains follow the success of the surge in crushing al Qaeda in the Sunni triangle, meaning that we are at last on the verge of winning in Iraq and securing a strategic victory in the Middle East. Question: Is this emerging victory – achieved at a cost of more than 4,000 American lives – something we are prepared to abandon after November?
The good news in Iraq is increasingly undeniable, even to the media. In March, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered Iraqi troops to retake the southern Shiite city of Basra from Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. After a shaky start, the city has now been liberated from Sadrist goon squads, and it is mostly peaceful. "The presence of the Iraqi army has made people safe, not 100%, but 90%," a Basra barber told the Washington Post. The army is pursuing the Sadrists in their last redoubt, Amarah, while other radicals have followed Moqtada to Iran.
Mr. Maliki then repeated the exercise in Sadr City, the Mahdi Army's Baghdad stronghold. Mr. Sadr backed down from a full-scale confrontation, following an Iranian-brokered "truce" that had all the hallmarks of a de facto surrender. Meanwhile, Iraqi army operations in the northern city of Mosul recently netted more than 1,000 suspected Sunni insurgents in al Qaeda's last major urban sanctuary. The remaining terrorists were forced to scatter to the countryside or flee for Syria. "They've never been closer to defeat than they are now," says U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who is not given to claims of premature progress.
For three consecutive weeks, the number of violent incidents have been at their lowest level since the spring of 2004. The number of U.S. combat fatalities last month, 19, was the lowest of the entire war, and Iraqi military and civilian deaths are also sharply down. In the first five months of this year, 4,500 insurgent weapons caches were found, compared to 6,900 for all of 2007. These numbers have sometimes moved in the wrong direction and may do so again, particularly during major combat operations. But the trend is unmistakably positive.