Iraq War Over – We Won!

In case you missed the news, as I did, Andrew Bolt informs us that “The war in Iraq has been won.” You’d think somebody might have mentioned that before now.

THERE is a reason Iraq has almost disappeared as an election issue. Here it is: The battle is actually over. Iraq has been won.

I know this will seem to many of you an insane claim. Ridiculous! After all, haven’t you read countless stories that Iraq is a “disaster”, turned by a “civil war” into a “killing field”? Didn’t Labor leader Kevin Rudd, in one of his few campaign references to Iraq, say it was the “greatest … national security policy disaster that our country has seen since Vietnam”?

You have. And you have been misled.

Here is just the latest underreported news, out this week. Just 27 American soldiers were killed in action in Iraq in October – the lowest monthly figure since March last year. (This is a provisional figure and may alter over the next week.) The number of Iraqi civilians killed last month – mostly by Islamist and fascist terrorists – was around 760, according to Iraqi Government sources. That is still tragically high, but the monthly toll has plummeted since January’s grim total of 1990.

What measures of success do critics of Iraq’s liberation now demand?

Violence is falling fast. Al Qaida has been crippled. The Shiites, Kurds and Marsh Arabs no longer face genocide. What’s more, the country has stayed unified. The majority now rules. Despite that, minority Sunni leaders are co-operating in government with Shiite ones. There is no civil war. The Kurds have not broken away. Iran has not turned Iraq into its puppet.

And the country’s institutions are getting stronger. The Iraqi army is now at full strength, at least in numbers. The country has a vigorous media. A democratic constitution has been adopted and backed by a popular vote. Election after election has Iraqis turning up in their millions. Add it all up. Iraq not only remains a democracy, but shows no sign of collapse.

I repeat: the battle for a free Iraq has been won. Now the task is one familiar to every democracy, and especially any in the Middle East: eternal vigilance.

If you doubt my assessment of Iraq, ask Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaida’s media arm last week released a video on the internet in which bin Laden – or a man masquerading as him – revealed how disastrously his war against democracy in Iraq was going. He called for intensified fighting against the Americans and pleaded for Muslims in the region to come help. “Where are the soldiers of the Levant and the reinforcements from Yemen?” he demanded. “Where are the knights of Egypt and the lions of Hejaz (in Saudi Arabia)? Come to the aid of your brothers in Iraq.”

I do agree that there are positive signs, both militarily and politically. The Surge has been more successful than most of us had any reason to hope; then again, that’s not a high bar. But it’s one thing to say that things are moving in the right direction and quite another to say that victory is in hand.

Nor, incidentally, is this good news underreported. While it’s true that the press has over-emphasized the kinetic aspect of the war and largely ignored the logistical, the rise and fall of casualty figures, the purple fingered Iraqis lining up to vote, and other major milestones have certainly been given prominent attention. Indeed, the front page of today’s WaPo touts the declining casualty numbers, as does today’s NYT. But great news in Iraq has often been followed by an escalation of violence or a dramatic incident that results in a major setback.

AQI does appear to have suffered a major setback and violence is undeniably down. How much of that is a function of the brutal efficiency of ethnic cleansing and how much is a result of Coalition action is debatable.

Even our commanders aren’t quite ready to declare victory:

“This trend represents the longest continuous decline in attacks on record and illustrates how our operations have improved security since the surge was emplaced,” Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day military operations in Iraq, said at a briefing for reporters. The momentum, Odierno said, was “positive” but “not yet irreversible.”

But Iraq defies sweeping statements about safety or danger. Both Iraqis and U.S. soldiers are wrestling with a basic question: Is the declining violence a lull in the war or the beginning of a long road to peace?

“My feeling is that this decrease in the violence is temporary,” said Saleh al-Mutlak, a secular Sunni who leads the Iraqi National Dialogue Front political party. “It’s temporary because the United States cannot maintain this number of troops in the areas where they are in. And if they do so, there will be no normal life in these areas.”

And, as a shopkeeper points out, the decline in violence is relative:

“The people used to talk all about ‘security is bad, security is bad,’ but in the past month, everywhere we go, everyone is talking about how things are improving,” he said. “Before the war, it was still much better than now. It has not gotten to that level yet.”

And it’s by no means over:

Even with lower casualty numbers, the quantity of violence indicates that militias and insurgents remain active in many areas. Large parts of southern Baghdad remain a battleground where U.S. soldiers, steadily encroaching Shiite militias and persistent fighters from al-Qaeda in Iraq clash. Attacks, unless particularly deadly, often pass with little notice outside the neighborhood in which they occur.

Many formerly mixed Sunni-Shiite areas have become largely the domain of one sect, since millions of Iraqis have fled their homes for other countries or other parts of Iraq over the years. “It’s much harder to conduct sectarian cleansing if you’ve got a homogenous neighborhood which has a local volunteer security force which is on the lookout for those people,” Miska said.

And, of course, there’s always the possibility of a Turkish invasion into northern Iraq.

I’m more optimistic than I have been in months that we can salvage a positive outcome from the fiasco that was post-invasion Iraq. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves in declaring victory.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Rodney Dill says:

    The way I read the excerpts it reads more tongue-in-cheek than as a serious declaration of victory.

  2. Patrick T McGuire says:

    What!? Does this mean that Harry Reid’s proclamation that “the war is lost” wasn’t true?

  3. Pug says:

    THERE is a reason Iraq has almost disappeared as an election issue.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a better example of starting an essay with a false premise.

    Am I the only one who didn’t get the memo that the Iraq War is no longer an election issue?

  4. Mike says:

    Great we won – now cut the number of troops and let the Iraqis do something for themselves.

  5. Jeff says:

    Nice to see someone reporting some good news. By the way, you might be interested in The Wounded Warriors Project. It’s a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness for U.S. troops severely wounded in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. It really puts a face on the cost of this conflict. Here’s a link:

    http://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/aarwebs

    Jeff

  6. Grewgills says:

    THERE is a reason Iraq has almost disappeared as an election issue.

    What some have failed to notice is that the author of this statement is an Australian conservative.
    I am not certain that Iraq has “almost disappeared as an election issue” in Australia. If it has that probably has something to do with Australia only having on the order of 500 troops in Iraq. If we were down to 7-8K troops* in Iraq it would certainly fade as an election in the US as well.

    * an equivalent presence corrected for differences in population.

  7. Wayne says:

    “THERE is a reason Iraq has almost disappeared as an election issue.”

    The reasoning behind that comment is that the Dems have gone from mentioning Iraq every few minutes to barely mentioning it at all.

  8. Well, if you deny victory long enough, maybe your wishes will come true.

    Crittenden nailed it though, in response to the WaPo’s hesitancy in announcing Iraq progress (it’s a “lull” in the violence):

    This and other lull articles are lullabies for war opponents who might be alarmed at the prospect of a Bush victory, and the implications that could have for their own congressional and presidential aspirations.

    Might your post be in the same vein?