If the old saw “no news is good news” has any truth to it, then things must be going very well indeed in the Iraq war. Increasingly obvious signs of success as a result of the “surge” under the able leadership of General David Petraeus have all but rendered the mainstream media speechless on the warfront. From the days of constant television showing video of black smoke billowing from burning car bombs in marketplaces, we have now reached a virtual blackout. When was the last time you saw a detailed listing of U.S. and Iraqi casualties in the top right column of the New York Times or Washington Post?
The media are not going to report good news, which leaves Americans with the impression that the war is going as poorly now as it was a year ago. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Friendly casualties are lower than they have been in years, across the board: U.S. and allied forces, Iraqi security forces, and Iraqi civilian losses are all at near-record lows. Contrasted to this time last year, the comparison is staggering. And for all the recent caterwauling from craven Foreign Service Officers about a tour in Iraq being a “death sentence, and you know it,” so far the State Department has not lost anyone except contractors hired at extravagant cost to protect its officers. (Can anyone say “Blackwater”?)
On the rise, however, are al-Qaeda In Iraq's losses, although you can expect to see them falling in the near future, too -- not because these foreign fighters are not being hunted down and killed, but because AQI targets populations are declining. Fewer and fewer recruits are coming through Syria into Iraq to join the fight.
Huge attrition rates have reduced AQI presence in Iraq dramatically. Partially as a result of these high losses, the brightness of the al Qaeda’s appeal among foreign fighters from Saudi Arabia, Chechnya, and other disturbed places around the region has dimmed. Yes, the terrorist training camps in Syria are still functioning and Damascus does little to impede foreign jihadists' travel through Syrian territory. But it appears some radicals who prefer to fight the infidel face to face are either waiting for another time (like after the 2008 elections) or are seeking more accommodating ground. Hence, the recent resurgence of fighting in Chechnya and Afghanistan.
According to Rear Admiral Greg Smith, spokesman for the Multi-National Force–Iraq, this largely unreported good news is attributable to the strategy General Petraeus brought with him on this his third tour of duty in Iraq. “More than a majority in Anbar Province area have morally and physically rejected al Qaeda,” Smith reported in a conference call on October 31. “The movement called Concerned Local Citizens – often referred to as the Anbar Awakening – has now spread across the entire country.” This is decidedly good news for those who love freedom and extraordinarily bad new for Al Qaeda Iraq.
“There are more than 120 separate Concerned Local Citizens groups around the country,” Greg notes, “Many in the predominately Sunni areas that were former AQI strongholds.” By rejecting the terrorists and embracing a solution within the Iraqi government, tribal leaders and sheiks – still the key opinion formers in the new republic – have “tilted the kinetics” hard in the direction of a non-violent solution to Iraqi problems.
This kinetic shift has enabled the military to take advantage of a broader range of targets. “We continue to go after foreign fighters,” Smith said, “and have expanded our targeting to include AQI propaganda arm, money laundering and finance, and operations.” According to Smith “with the capture of the eighth AQI media cell, al-Qaeda’s ability to broadcast or make propaganda videos inside Iraq is severely degraded.”
Forces on the ground are careful not to overstate this success. “We’ve still got a long way to go,” Smith affirmed. He was cautiously optimistic about returning Iraqi provinces to the responsibility of Iraqi security forces. “Eight of 18 provinces are now under Iraqi control,” he noted. “We expect two more to transfer shortly.”
And as for the final eight provinces? “They won’t be transferred this year, although we had originally hoped to achieve that goal. However, we expect that not far into 2008 the transfers will be complete.”
How about the sectarian militias that media pundits have gloomily characterized as portending a civil war? “Muqtada al-Sadr has ordered his followers to support the Iraqi government,” Smith noted. His forces were among those considered most threatening to stability.
Jaysh al Mahdi (JAM) forces, under the titular control of Muqtada al Sadr, were described in a report to Congress in August 2006 as “increasingly linked to retaliatory violence.” According to Smith, JAM has now assumed a much diminished role. A returning British general officer described JAM activities in Basra and the south of Iraq as drifting increasingly into a criminal, mob-rule rather than one that is ideologically Shi’a based. He characterized activities as more “mafia-like” than religious or sectarian, and observed that from the “glass-half-full” perspective the various organized crime gangs were at least committed to keeping Iranian agents out of their business affairs.
The secularization movement seems to be growing rapidly within JAM and the Mahdi Army community. While controlling criminal gangs present their own set of challenges, at least for the moment the threat of civil war or partition of the country seems increasingly remote.
As Smith confirmed, “I have spoken with representatives high and low from all over Iraq, and none favor partition or breakup. They all identify themselves first as Iraq citizens and then as part of a religious affiliation or tribe.” This is, indeed, good news, at least for those other than NBC, which pompously announced last year that after “due consideration” it had decided “a civil war exists in Iraq.”
On the infrastructure side, Smith explained that more power is being generated than in pre-war Iraq -- though electric power requirements still exceed supply. “Power shortages continue from time to time in Baghdad,” he elaborated, “but that is because in the old days Saddam directed that most of the power be allocated to Baghdad. Now we are spreading it across the entire country.” He is now making up for Saddam’s previous policy of discrimination.
That’s the good news from Iraq. Not violent, sexy, or especially titillating, but strongly indicative of a rising confidence level and improving security situation among a people who have lived far too long with a knife at their throats.