StrategyPage has an interesting look at the failure of al-Qaeda in Iraq. While Qaeda terrorists continue to kill and take hostages, they’ve ensured that the Iraqi people have decisively turned against them. The capture of over a dozen Iraqi National Guard troops has illustrated quite clearly to the Iraqi people that the terrorists do not have their interests in mind. Tactically such moves are idiotic, and show that Iraq isn’t in the throws of an insurgency so much as a massive crime wave. The backlash in even Muslim countries against the beheadings has been massive, and Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid-i-Jihad organization has been forced to make ridiculous demands to try and justify their tactics (such as the demand to release female Iraqi prisoners when there but a few who are all former regime members).
Rather than an organized insurrection, what we’re seeing is essentially the same kind of gang warfare and petty thuggery that is prevalent in many countries across the world. The kidnappings are less about politics and more about ransom demands. Moqtada al-Sadr’s movement has fizzled from a potential threat to just more thugs running around.
The Iraqi government needs to show strength. By taking such actions as severely punishing kidnappers up to and including the death penalty, as well as disarming gangs like Sadr’s “Mahdi Army” the Iraqi government can stabilize the country and build legitimacy. However, this is a long-term project that must be squeezed in before the elections in January. At the same time, this is a doable project, especially if the US military assists by clearing out the viper’s nests of the Sunni Triangle. When this is accomplished, the security situation in Iraq will improve dramatically. Our mistake in not doing this in April when we should have has continued to come back to haunt us. Clausewitz’ exhortation that audacity is infinitely preferable to timidity is one the political leaders who stalled the Fallujah offensive should have considered. The goal of war is to be on the offensive, and we’ve been playing defense for months. This needs to change.
The pessimism over Iraq is largely misplaced. The Ba’athists and the jihadis do not have legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people – the Iraqis are as much victims of the terrorists as the Americans are and now even more so. The terrorists are behaving like children – having temper tantrums that they can’t get their way in Iraq. It will soon be time to continue the offensive and end the terrorist threat. As Rudy Guiliani notes in his speeches, the way to combat crime, be it vandalism, murder, or kidnapping, is to make it very clear that such crimes will not go unpunished and those who commit them will be found and will be dealt with severely. Iraq is not descending into chaos, it is making the long and difficult transition into stability and democracy. If we pull out like cowards before that transition is complete, we will pay the price for years. It remains critical to finish the job and take the fight to the terrorists so that the transformative power of democracy has a chance to thrive in the cradle of civilization.