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Why We Are Winning in Iraq By: Frank J Gaffney Jr.
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The characterization of the post-war situation in Iraq as a "failure" - or, even a "miserable" one - has become so frequently and so vociferously applied that an observer could be forgiven for believing it is accurate.  It is not.

I have just returned from a trip facilitated by the U.S. military to Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit, among other places in Iraq.  The visit featured in-depth briefings by senior American and Coalition civilian and military leaders, informal conversations with them and their subordinates and a chance to interact with a number of Iraqi interim national, regional and local officials.

Like most others who have had a first-hand chance to take stock of the situation (to date, executive branch officials and a number of legislators), I have concluded that - far from a failure - the U.S.-led effort to consolidate a Free Iraq is on a decided, if still tentative, trajectory for success.

This conclusion is supported by the following observations:

[1] An improving military situation:  Each of the commanders with whom our delegation of high-ranking retired U.S. officers and civilian national security experts met - from the man responsible for the Iraqi theater, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez on down - expressed confidence that the military situation in their areas of responsibility was satisfactory and improving. 

To be sure, each was experiencing incidents of various kinds and was prepared for the possibility of a further intensification of the fighting in their sectors.  Still, they see evidence of the success of the Coalition's operations against former regime loyalists in the latters' increasing reliance upon indirect attacks, involving improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and mortars. 

While these strikes often entail some casualties, they do not, in and of themselves, pose a significant military threat.  Rather, they seem intended by an enemy on the defensive to show its continued relevance - in the face of much evidence to the contrary - by bloodying Coalition forces.  To the extent that such attacks sometimes actually wind up killing innocent Iraqis instead, they seem to be further weakening what little support remains even in Sunni-dominated central Iraq for Saddam Hussein's regime and its operatives.

The relatively recent introduction of foreign fighters, principally radical Wahhabi and other Islamists crossing into Iraq from Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia is another complicating factor.  At present, however, the numbers of such "mujahedeen" have been too small to constitute a real security problem.  Whether they will do so in the future will depend fundamentally on the most important task at hand - standing up Iraqi security forces - and the Coalition's ability to support them properly.

[2] An Ever-greater Iraqi "Face":   Civilians in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and its military counterparts are seized with the urgency of recruiting, training and empowering Iraqi personnel to take responsibility for their country's security.  Real progress is being made on this front, too. 

Specifically, Iraqi police are now patrolling with American forces in many areas and responding to "112" calls - their newly established equivalent to the American 911 emergency number.  Iraqis are also joining a Civil Defense Corps, assuming responsibilities for protecting pipelines, electrical grids and other high-value assets and manning border posts.  Their presence has not only freed up American and other Coalition forces for missions they are better suited to perform.  The Iraqi "face" presented to their countrymen has also greatly improved the availability, quantity and quality of intelligence needed to avert enemy attacks and eliminate those who would mount them.

[3] Success in Reconstructing Iraq:   Perhaps most importantly, as the security situation steadily improves, significant achievements are being made in rebuilding the country.  Critical to these successes have been the industriousness and innovation of Iraqi engineers, scientists, technicians and laborers.  For decades, their skills were largely suppressed - or at least not rewarded - by the Baathist regime.  Now they are being turned loose, with transformative effects.

No less important, however, has been the intrepidness of American officers responsible for the various military regions of Iraq in identifying and enabling projects that are making a real and rapid difference in the Iraqi people's lives.  Naturally, the restoration of Iraq's dilapidated and poorly maintained power, oil, water and sewage infrastructures have been a primary focus of such efforts.  As we flew over much of Iraq on successive nights, however, the effects of work aimed at restoring electricity were palpable as illuminated cities and towns were visible across the country.

Other, more prosaic, but no less palpable, achievements are also making a difference.  Roads are being reopened, bridges rebuilt, schools by the thousands refurbished and equipped with books, pencils, paper and other necessary educational tools.  Looted government buildings are getting rapidly overhauled and turned over to what are, in many cases, elected city councils, mayors and governors who are earning the confidence and support of their constituencies. 

Absolutely critical to these successes, however, has been something called the Commanders' Emergency Relief Fund (CERF).  CERF monies have afforded senior officers the latitude and the wherewithal to spend tens of millions of dollars - to this point, all of it drawn from Saddam's frozen assets in the United States or recovered in-country from the Iraqi regime - to finance or kick-start projects in their areas of responsibility.

One such commander, Major General David Petraeus, storied commander of the 101st Airborne, is fond of saying that in Iraq today, "money is ammunition."  When he was told that it would take $23 million to restart an immense concrete factory near Mosul, he provided a small fraction of that amount in seed money from his CERF fund.  To their credit, the Iraqis were thus able to prime the pump; the plant is now in business, employing large numbers of Iraqis and producing vast quantities of a key ingredient in their country's reconstruction.

Unfortunately, Gen. Petraeus and his counterparts are rapidly running out of such "ammunition."  Haggling over replenishing their CERF funds, whether in Washington or at Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters in Baghdad, risks denying these brilliant commanders their most important resource for consolidating the liberation of Iraq and lubricating necessary reconciliation among its long-suffering peoples. 

It likely will prove calamitous if new projects like the Mosul cement factory are not nurtured in the future and grounds thus denied for hope of further progress - particularly with respect to the employment of more and more Iraqis and the improvement of their quality of life.  Even worse would be for projects already launched to lose their funding, thereby underminingthe trust in America being so painstakingly restored after our failure to eliminate Saddam twelve years before.

[4] The Iraqis Can Get By Without the UN:   The situation in Iraq does not "require" the help of the United Nations.  If anything, Iraqis we talked to expressed little appetite to have the UN play a significant role in their country, apart perhaps from facilitating the provision of humanitarian relief.  As one regional governor put it, the UN lacks the equipment, the wealth, the power or the credibility to replace the United States as the midwife for Iraq's freedom.  Not unreasonably, it appears that the last thing most of the Iraqi people want is for a nation that has these attributes and that undertook to liberate them - in the face of persistent UN opposition - to leave their fate to the tender mercies of those who supported Saddam's regime.

The possibility that the accomplishments that underpin this guardedly up-beat assessment could be easily undone at this juncture should not be allowed to diminish their reality.  Neither should they discourage us from building quickly upon our success to date. 

More than one of our interlocutors - Iraqi, American and allied alike - impressed upon our delegation that we are in a race against the clock.  The forces of tyranny (secular or Islamist), of civil strife and chaos are anxious to defeat us and, by so doing, to deny the people of Iraq, those of the region and, for that matter, the world, a very different model of an Arab Muslim nation. 

For the next six months to perhaps a year, we have a window of opportunity to help Iraqis consolidate their freedom and become in their own way what President Reagan used to call "a shining city on the hill."  While the costs associated with continuing on the present trajectory are significant, they pale by comparison with the certain costs of failure.  We simply cannot afford to permit the liberation of Iraq to become what surely is not now - a miserable failure.

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. formerly held senior positions in the Reagan Defense Department.  He  is currently the President of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the founder, president, and CEO of The Center for Security Policy. During the Reagan administration, Gaffney was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy, and a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator John Tower (R-Texas). He is a columnist for The Washington Times, Jewish World Review, and Townhall.com and has also contributed to The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New Republic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, and Newsday.

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