By Robert Dreyfuss
Who is the enemy? Who, exactly, are we fighting in Iraq? Why are we there? And what’s our objective?
Nearly five years into the war, the answers to basic questions like these ought to be obvious. In the Alice in Wonderland-like wilderness of mirrors that is Iraq, though, they’re anything but.
We aren’t fighting the Sunnis. Not any more, anyway. Virtually the entire Sunni establishment, from the moderate Muslim Brotherhood-linked Iraqi Islamic Party (which has been part of every Iraqi government since 2003) to the Anbar tribal alliance (which has been begging for U.S. support since 2004 and only recently got it) is either actively cooperating with the American military or sullenly tolerating what it hopes will be a receding occupation. Across Sunni-dominated parts of Iraq, the United States is helping to build army and police units as well as neighborhood patrols — the Pentagon calls them “concerned citizens” — out of former resistance fighters, with the blessing of tribal leaders in Anbar, Diyala, and Salahuddin provinces, parts of Baghdad, and areas to the south of the capital. We have met the enemy, and — surprise! — they are friends or, if not that, at least not active enemies. Attacks on U.S. forces in Sunni-dominated areas, including the once-violent hot-bed city of Ramadi, Anbar’s capital, have fallen dramatically.
Among the hard-core Sunni resistance, there is also significant movement toward a political accord — if the United States were willing to accept it. Twenty-two Iraqi insurgent groups announced the creation of a united front, under the leadership of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, a former top Baath party official of the Saddam era, and they have opened talks with Iyad Allawi, a secular Shia who was Iraq’s first post-Saddam prime minister.
We aren’t fighting the Shia. The Shia merchant class and elite, organized into the mostly pro-Iranian Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council and the Islamic Dawa party, are part of the Iraqi government that the United States created and supports — and whose army and police are armed and trained by the United States. The far more popular forces of Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army aren’t the enemy either. In late August, Sadr declared a ceasefire, ordering his militia to stand down; and, since then, attacks on U.S. forces in Shia-dominated areas of Iraq have fallen off very sharply, too. Though recent, provocative attacks by U.S. troops, in conjunction with Iraqi forces, on Sadr strongholds in Baghdad, Diwaniya, and Karbala have caused Sadr to threaten to cancel the ceasefire order, and though intra-Shia fighting is still occurring in many parts of southern Iraq, there is no Shia enemy that justifies a continued American presence in Iraq, either.
And we certainly aren’t fighting the Kurds. For decades, the Kurds have been America’s (and Israel’s) closest allies in Iraq. Since 2003, the three Kurdish-dominated provinces have been relatively peaceful.
We’re not exactly fighting Al Qaeda any more either. Despite President Bush’s near-frantic efforts to portray the war in Iraq as a last-ditch, Alamo-like stand against Osama bin Laden’s army, U.S. commanders on the ground in Iraq are having a hard time finding pockets of Al Qaeda to attack these days, though the group still has the power to conduct deadly attacks now and then. In recent weeks, General David Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, and other authorities have pretty much declared Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) dead and buried. That happy funeral is the result not of brilliant U.S. counterinsurgency efforts, but of the determination of our newfound Sunni allies to exterminate the group. No lesser authority than General Petraeus himself now admits that Al Qaeda has been expelled from every single one of its strongholds in Baghdad. In Anbar Province, according to Crocker, “People do feel the weight’s off. Al Qaeda is simply gone.”
And, nearly a year after President Bush proclaimed Iran to be Public Enemy No. 1 in Iraq, blaming Tehran for supporting both Al Qaeda and Shia militias, things are even getting better on that front. Last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates declared that Iran had quietly promised to halt the smuggling of weapons and advanced roadside bombs into Iraq. “I don’t know whether to believe them. I’ll wait and see,” he said, in what was a rather dramatic downgrading of the White House’s warnings about Iran.
Confirming Gates’ comments, General Ray Odierno, the commanding general of the multinational forces in Iraq, noted a sharp decline in the use of EFP’s (explosively formed penetrators), the sort of IED that the United States blames Iran for supplying. In July, Odierno said, there were 99 EFP’s used against U.S. forces; in August, 78; in September, 52; and in October, 53. Partly as a result, Crocker announced that he is resuming a dialogue with his Iranian counterpart, Ambassador Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, soon. At the same time, the United States announced its intention to release a number of Iranians detained in Iraq, a move seen as a good-will gesture toward Tehran.
Surge or Not, Things Are Getting Better
All in all, violence in Iraq has dropped precipitously since late summer. With Al Qaeda declared dead, former Sunni resistance fighters wearing American-supplied uniforms, and the Mahdi Army lying low, killings in Iraq are way down. The security situation in Iraq is far better than it’s been at any time since 2005. Many American antiwar critics, who are invested in the notion that no good news can come out of Iraq and who (secretly or openly) revel in the Bush administration’s Iraqi failures, are reluctant to admit that things are getting better.
Perhaps they worry that, if the situation in Iraq improves, the prospect of Democratic gains at the polls next November will diminish. Perhaps they’ve convinced themselves that Iraq’s ethnic and sectarian divide is so enormous that partition is the only solution, and that Iraq doesn’t deserve to be a country anyway. Perhaps their distaste for President Bush (which I share) is so all-consuming that they fear any improvement in the situation will be credited to the President — something they can’t tolerate.
If so, that’s perverse…
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Robert Dreyfuss is an independent investigative journalist in Alexandria, Virginia. He is a regular contributor to Rolling Stone, The Nation, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and the Washington Monthly. He is also the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Henry Holt/Metropolitan, 2005). His web site is RobertDreyfuss.com.
Copyright 2007 Robert Dreyfuss
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