U.S. forces now sit in the main square of Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, after encountering only scattered resistance. About two weeks of attention from coalition air forces and a spec ops raid (uncharacteristically accompanied by tanks) two days ago left few Iraqis able or willing to fight. When the Marines showed up yesterday, there was a brief but furious fight. Now the search of Saddam’s palace and the surrounding area begins.
Iraqi National Congress sources had said many times that there was an extensive tunnel complex under the palace and the man made lake next to it. At one point, I was told that a company of “Iraqi frogmen” guarding the lake. When I told that to a certain former SEAL operator, he laughed so hard I though he would hurt himself. I suspect you could have taken a platoon off the SEALs “injured reserve” list (yes, they do have a bunch of guys, not currently assigned to one of the teams, held on active duty while they recuperate from combat and training injuries) and deal with the “Iraqi frogmen” one dark night. No matter. They, if they ever existed, have taken a powder by now.
We are now in the last stages of major military operations. But that is not to be confused with an end to this war. Thousands of false fedayeen–as many as five thousand from Syria alone–are still operating in Iraq. We are dealing with them quickly, because the local people are giving them up to us as fast as they can find a G.I. to talk to. This will go on for months, or longer if we don’t stop them from coming in, which means stopping the governments that send them from doing so.
Syria, among others, continues to send them into Iraq. U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw continues to say that Syria is not next on the list. We can only hope that the Ba’athist government there can gauge the weight of the iron fist in that velvet glove. The signals we send won’t be so subtle, and shouldn’t be. Nations such as Syria are governed by leaders whose stature is built upon oppression and bellicose statements. In that regard, the Syrians are not much different from North Korea, which cannot seem to say anything without descending into hyperbole.
What the Syrians–and Egyptians, Iranians, North Koreans and others– haven’t yet been able to come to grips with is the restrained rhetoric that precedes decisive action. Were they to do so, it would save a great many lives on both sides. But to admit our ability to remove them would be fatal to them. Their ability to oppress, and maintain the loyalty of the forces they use to oppress and loot their own nations, depends on the illusion of invulnerability. That illusion toppled to the ground with the Saddam statues, but those who depend on the illusion can only deny any ripple in their pond.
We now have to get the new Iraqi government in place, and quickly. Ahmad Chalabi said yesterday that he’s not a candidate for any office in the new government. As much as I like Chalabi, that would be a betrayal of his own decades-long ambition. If true, I have underestimated him. But if he’s waiting to be drafted, it’s a false hope.
Police from the old regime are now trying to get their old jobs back in Baghdad. It’s probably a good idea to put many of them back. In doing that, we will make mistakes. Some who we think are innocent of crimes, will be guilty. Very few of these guys should be employed, and only at the grunt level. Policy and structure needs to be worked out between the coalition and the new leadership. Meanwhile, some of the old regime grunts–those without any known connection to brutality, which will be a very small number–can be put back on the streets to help get things back in order. Those later accused of crimes can be tossed out while charges against them are pending.
Attention in Iraq now has to turn north, to the places where forces have not yet been, and to the areas in which old rivalries and hatreds may cause further fighting. The Kurds have performed superbly so far, and have kept their forces under coalition command. But the Turks are still very worried.
The Kurds regard most of southeastern Turkey as part of what they regard as Kurdistan. Churchill is said to have regretted not creating Kurdistan as a separate state while the Brits were redrawing the Middle East map in the 1920s and 1930s. Had they created Kurdistan, it would have included what is now the Turkish city of Diyarbakir, which the Kurds regard as the capital of Kurdistan. That country would have stretched across northern Iraq into Iran, a considerable piece of real estate. And on the Iranian side, it would include the area where the Iranian-run terrorists, Ansar al-Islam, still operate.
All the analyses of Iran say that the regime there is on the verge of toppling. But Ansar al-Islam is a here and now problem. So long as those terrorists are shooting at Americans in Iraq or elsewhere, that problem cannot be long unresolved.
GIMME A BREAK, TONY
Tony Blair won’t give up on the U.N. Even worse, he seems to have invited them into the single most important process in reshaping Iraq. This afternoon, addressing Parliament, Blair said that the U.N. will participate with the coalition in choosing which of the Iraqis–those who have lived under Saddam and those who opposed him from abroad–will be a part of the government between now and the first elections, to be held next year. This is a very simple issue, and to the U.N.’s involvement the answer must be not only “no” but “hell no”.
The good news is that the major ground operations in Iraq are about over. Fewer American lives are at risk today than there were a week ago. There are still some places coalition forces haven’t been, but the Saddam regime is done. We will fight the imported terrorists for months. Iraq is not at all a safe place for our friends. Whatever Saddam loyalists still exist are gone to Syria or through Syria to what other countries may take them. China and North Korea would, but they seem unlikely destinations for the Iraqi playboy set. They’re not about to be limited in their recreation by the lack of heat and light that pervade those countries’ colder nights.
Many are guessing that we are content to threaten Syria, and will take no action now. But don’t be fooled by the rotation of two of the five carrier battle groups home from the Persian Gulf. That move and the redeployment of the B-2s and F-117A’s back to the states are not proof that the fuse is being pulled out of the stick of dynamite Bashar Assad is sitting on. We can take down the Baathist Syrian government with a lot less firepower than was required in Iraq. And the targeting of military assets there is already under way. Syria is making itself a target. There is simply too much information that most of the major Saddamites–including Mrs. Saddam herself–are there. Much of the technology of Saddam’s WMD programs may be there as well.
Syria’s own chemical weapons program dates back to 1984 when it built two plants to make sarin and VX, both very nasty nerve agents. Whether Syria has WMD or not, their harboring of escaped Saddamites and support for terror should put them on the top of our list.
The sad fact is that if we deal with Syria now, it will be easier and cheaper than if we do it later. We’ve spent an enormous amount of money building our forces up in the Persian Gulf. Sending them home now, and back over later to deal with Syria isn’t a good idea. Iran and others should take notice as well. Iraq took us three weeks to bring to this stage. Syria–a vastly weaker state with fewer usable military assets–would be over in less than ten days.
If the President gives Bashar Assad a week to turn over the escaped war criminals, the money they stole, and the WMD both nations have, it will be just enough time for the 4th I.D. to take a left turn at Baghdad. We probably won’t do that. There’s slim chance that Assad will learn from what has just happened in Iraq. And with our forces there, we can wait out the hot summer to see what muscular diplomacy can do to cause an emotional breach in Damascus.
The search for Saddam continues. My old pal Col. Ken Allard, MSNBC military analyst, reminded me today of how much more complicated the world has become. Now, Gen. Franks had to search out a sample of Saddam’s DNA in order to identify whatever pieces of the former Iraqi “president” we may find. Ken pointed out how much simpler were the days of Bill, when the only presidential DNA we had to worry about belonged to our own president, not someone else’s.
On to the new schedule. One a day unless something happens, and the warblog will stop when K-Lo declares victory. Until the next campaign begins, in a war that will–I fear–outlast most of us.