Thursday, March 1, 2007

News From the Surge

Ralph Peters has an article in the NY Post summarizing the news he is receiving from U.S. military officers on the ground in Baghdad. According to Peters, the officers with whom he has spoken "agree unanimously that the administration made terrible mistakes from which we and the Iraqis are still recovering. But not one of these soldiers is ready to quit."

Here are the key points I've heard . . . :

* Of the five additional U.S. brigades headed for Baghdad, only one is in place, with the second starting to arrive. Yet the city is already quieter and safer. The terrorists continue to detonate their bombs - with suicidal fanatics targeting the innocent - but sectarian killings (death-squad hits) have dropped from over 50 each night down to single digits.

* The tactic of stationing U.S. units and their Iraqi counterparts down in the Baghdad 'hoods is already paying off. (It should have been used from the outset - instead of hunkering down on massive bases. But better late than never.) The effort has triggered a flood of intelligence tips: When citizens feel safe, they cooperate. And when they help us, our success compounds.

* U.S. commanders now have a lot of experience in Iraq. They're not wide-eyed kids at the circus anymore. They understand there are no uniform, easy answers to Iraq's violence and complex allegiances. As a senior officer put it, "Every neighborhood and city is unique, with their own challenges."

I'll leave it to The New York Times to betray our military secrets, and just say I'm very impressed by the insight shown by our brigade and battalion commanders these days.

* We hear the bad news from the rest of Iraq, such as this week's monstrous car bombing of children at play on a soccer field in Ramadi, but we don't hear that such attacks by al Qaeda operatives have infuriated mainstream Sunni sheiks and their tribes - who increasingly make common cause with us and their government. And winning over the Sunni "middle" is crucial to Iraq's future.

* We'll never stop all suicide bombers and car bombers, but our security crackdown has already taken out two major Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) factories. And we took down a huge arms cache late last week.

* No one's getting any "Mission Accomplished" banners ready to go, but front-line leaders in Iraq are convinced the situation just isn't as hopeless as politicians back home insist. I don't know a single officer in-country who believes the reporting from Iraq gives an honest, balanced picture.

Of course, there are serious worries:

* Above all, senior leaders worry that, thanks to political shenanigans back home, they won't be given the time it would take to win. Even with improved tactics, this just isn't easy work.
. . . .
* The sectarian violence between Sunni Arabs and the Shia that gathered strength after last year's Golden Mosque bombing has "damaged trust between the two sects enormously," as a U.S. official put it. It's possible that the damage is too deep to be repaired - we just don't know. At best, reconstructing a shared national identity is going to be hard. But many gruesome conflicts have ended in national reconciliation.

Read the whole story here.

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