The Surge and the Defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq
In his latest message sent out as an audio statement through al Jazeera, Osama bin Laden essentially recognized the fact that al Qaeda in Iraq is no longer a functional force. Al Qaeda is regrouping its resources, largely outside of Iraq and looking for new ways to exert their influence. They managed to prove that terrorists don’t belong in an actual ground war, and by crumbling they have certainly make it seem as if President Bush’s ‘surge’ in Iraq has worked.
In fact, the defeat of al Qaeda in Iraq is not so much the result of the additional troops sent there, as it is the result of changes in strategy implemented by General David Petraeus who has been able to win over frustrated Sunni tribal leaders in Anbar province and elsewhere and shown them that their best interests lay with turning on al Qaeda. Al Qaeda had already been dealt serious blows by heightened urban security from Iraqi and coalition forces and had been driven out of the cities to try to take their campaign of terror to the rural towns. This infringed on the territory of the Sheikhs, causing them to unify against al Qaeda and work with the Americans and the Iraqi government with the result that al Qaeda forces had nowhere left to go and no one left supporting them and they were crushed in a series of small raids and battles over the last few months.
This does not mean we should count al Qaeda out, but they are now viewed in Iraq as the interlopers and foreign invaders which they are and will no longer find a sympathetic and supporting population there. Average Iraqis have grown very tired of terrorist gangs telling them how to dress and act in public, and even telling them where they can and cannot live based on their religious beliefs. What remains to be seen is whether Petraeus and his allies in Iraq can achieve the same sort of results in Basra and other strongholds of Iranian backed Shiite militias.
The best news out of Iraq is that these successes have led to a massive reduction in violence. People are now walking the streets in Baghdad neighborhoods which used to be danger zones, they are traveling through a city no longer choked by check-points, and areas like the Anbar province which used to be in open warfare have become remarkably safe and peaceful. Overall violent incidents are down 70% since June. Car bombings are down 67%. Roadside bombings are down 40%. Violence is down so much that one article reports complaints from workers at a major Shiite cemetery that burials are down below pre-war levels, which means less revenue and fewer jobs for cemetery workers.
ABC Poll Finds Iraqis Chimerical
The results of a recent ABC News poll raises the question of whether the Iraqis have developed or always had a national character of irrational pessimism. Such a trend would certainly be understandable given the trials they have gone through in recent years. The poll of a large number of Iraqis divided by ethnic, religious and regional classifications shows Iraqis highly pessimistic when asked specific questions about their situation, but strangely much more positive when asked more general questions about essentially the same issues.
For example, while 57% say the security situation in their area is bad and most Iraqis rate security issues as their highest concern, 61% of the Iraqis polled describe their life as ‘not bad’. In another example, while 80% of Iraqis say that the coalition forces have done a ‘bad job’, 81% don’t blame them for the violence in the country and 53% believe that coalition forces should stay at least until the security situation is stabilized.
Notably Kurdish respondents were characterized by enormously more positive feelings about coalition forces and their current situation and prospects for the future, not surprising since they have been largely autonomously ruled and relatively free of violence since early in the war. However, compared to earlier polls there also seems to be a significant change in attitudes among other groups, with Sunni Iraqis in the Anbar province noticeably more positive about their situation, reflecting the successes there against terrorists, while Shiites nationwide seemed much more negative about how things were working out for them.
The poll was completed in August, so it doesn’t reflect the successes against al Qaeda and in reducing violence substantially in the last two months.
Turkey Poised to Invade Kurdistan
Right now, when other things seem to be going better, the worst news from Iraq is the fear of a full-scale Turkish invasion. With the election of a new hard-line religious faction to power in Turkey the threat to Iraqi Kurdistan has never been higher. The one area of Iraq where the aftermath of the war has been truly positive is now threatened with external invasion.
Since before the recent election Turkish forces have been massing on the Kurdish border, and this week some Turkish units crossed the border into Kurdistan in pursuit of suspected terrorists. In the latest development, the Turkish military today shelled targets within Kurdistan. While the Kurdish military and police forces are of high quality they are not sufficient to repel a full Turkish invasion and Kurds are appealing to the Iraqi government and coalition forces for support should an invasion take place.
At the heart of the crisis is the PKK or Kurdish Workers Party, a terrorist group with a long history of attacks within Turkey which has been blamed for 50 Turkish deaths in the last month. The Iraqi government has promised to crack down on PKK activities to try to remove any excuse the Turks might have for taking military action which they would be very ill-prepared to deal with, but newly elected Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has promised to take action if the PKK is not brought to heel swiftly.
Also adding to the tension are destabilizing messages coming from Washington politicians, including the failed effort by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pass a resolution condemning Turkey for the Armenian Genocide of the early 1900s and a proposal from Presidential candidate and Senator Joe Biden for a legislative resolution in support of a partitioning of Iraq along religious and ethnic lines, which would result in an independent Kurdistan, something to which Turkey is adamantly opposed and would respond to militarily.