Politics & Policy

The Other Side of The Story

There's good news from Iraq.

After I recently wrote a piece for NRO reporting on some good news from Iraq, I got a fair number of e-mails criticizing me for trying to distort the actual situation. I never meant to give a comprehensive account of how things are going in Iraq. I’m not, as my grandmother used to say, “trying to put lipstick on a pig.” There is a lot of bad news to reports, and I understand that. But the bad news is already being covered in the mainstream media just fine. What’s not being covered adequately is the good news. It is impossible to form an accurate opinion of the situation in Iraq unless both the progress and the failures are taken into account. My aim is only to tell the rest of the story–the part most people are not so well acquainted with. And that’s what I’ll continue here.

To begin with, there was a noteworthy report presented to Congress by General John Abizaid entitled “United States Central Command Posture for 2006.” It covered all areas of CENTCOM responsibility, but there are certain parts worth noting that deal with Iraq. First, regarding Iraq’s security forces:

The most significant change in terms of troop levels in 2005 was the number of trained and equipped Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). In January 2005, there were 127,000 total Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior security forces, or 78 battalions. About a year later, there were approximately 231,000 combined security forces constituting more than 160 battalions. More important, these increasingly capable Iraqi forces are assuming greater responsibility for combating the insurgency.


In 2004, some Iraqi Army and police units disintegrated when confronted by insurgents. Now they are standing, fighting, and prevailing over the enemy on the battlefield. They are also increasingly planning and conducting independent operations. Iraqi security forces are fighting and dying for their country, taking significantly higher casualties than our own. There is no shortage of Iraqis volunteering to serve their country.

Regarding reconstruction:

Over 3,600 schools have been rehabilitated, and over 47,000 school teachers and administrators have been trained. Approximately 240 hospitals and more than 1,200 clinics have reopened. Baghdad’s three sewage plants, which serve 80% of the city’s population, have been rehabilitated. Thirteen power plants have also been rehabilitated, providing approximately 60% of power generation in Iraq. And Umm Qasar’s status as an international port has been restored with up to 80 ship offloads of a wide range of commodities occurring each month.

There’s plenty more in the report worth reading–this is just a sampling.

Continuing a theme from my earlier article, al Qaeda has become the huntedin Iraq:

Residents reported curious declarations hanging from mosque walls and market stalls recently in Ramadi, the Sunni Muslim insurgent stronghold west of Baghdad. The fliers said Iraqi militants had turned on and were killing foreign al-Qaeda fighters, their one-time allies.

A local tribal leader and Iraq’s Defense Ministry have said followers of Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, have begun fleeing Anbar province and Ramadi, its capital, to cities and mountain ranges near the Iranian border.

The leader of one Sunni tribe said that 75 percent of al Qaeda fighters have fled from their one-time stronghold of Anbar Province, and that they have captured and handed over to the government hundreds of foreign fighters. Most interesting is that these Sunnis aren’t interested in sectarian violence, which deals another blow to al Qaeda’s hopes of a civil war:

“We are against the killing of civilians for sectarian or ethnic reasons. That’s why we are shedding the blood of Muslim extremists, especially al-Qaeda,” said Abul-Rahman Mansheed, a top Sunni politician in Hawija.

In another operation, five members of al Qaeda were killed in Anbar province by local Sunnis.

After originally welcoming the presence of foreign fighters, Sunni insurgents in the region have also turned against al Qaeda:

Insurgent groups in one of Iraq’s most violent provinces claim they have purged the region of three-quarters of al Qaeda’s supporters after forming an alliance to force out the foreign fighters.

If true, this would mark a significant victory in the fight against Abu Musab Zarqawi, the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, and could partly explain the considerable drop in suicide bombings in Iraq recently.

Ralph Peters also noted the unpopularity of al Qaeda in Iraq:

Expanding terrorism. On the contrary, foreign terrorists, such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, have lost ground. They’ve alienated Iraqis of every stripe. Iraqis regard the foreigners as murderers, wreckers and blasphemers, and they want them gone. The Samarra attack may, indeed, have been a tipping point–against the terrorists.

Foreign terrorists leaving Anbar have relocated to central and eastern Iraq. A major attack will be launched there in the near future to rid that area of any foreign terrorists:

Army Maj. Gen. Anwar Mohammed Amin, in the nearby city of Kirkuk, said the military soon would launch a major attack, with help from the local tribesmen, to clear that region of al-Qaida as well.

Operation Swarmer is right on time. Here is the progress reported so far, as of Saturday, March 18:

Iraqi and Coalition forces continue to search a 100-square-mile area for terrorists northeast of Samarra as Operation Swarmer progresses.

So far troops have detained approximately 50 people and released 17, while approximately 30 remain in custody for tactical interviews.

Initial reports indicate six caches have been uncovered containing mortar rounds and rockets of various calibers, bomb-making materials, land mines and rocket propelled grenades.

Moqtada al-Sadr has called for Musab al Zarqawi to be declared a non-believer:

Iraqi Shiite leader Moqtada Al-Sadr called upon all Iraqi parties and classes to join in signing a memorandum calling for peace and calm, and asking the Iraqi Sunni clergies to declare Al-Zarqawi and his followers infidels.

Another sign of progress against terrorists in Iraq is that the number of foreign fighters flowing into the country from Syria is down.

CNN has chosen not only to ignore all this bad news for al Qaeda in Iraq, but is posting stories about how successful Zarqawi is and how the local tribes are loyal to him.

A group of Iraqi veterans said recently that U.S. and Coalition forces are “getting the job done” against terrorists in Iraq:

“I am not here to debate the choices that were made, only to tell you that today, the job is getting done” in Iraq, Marine Corporal Richard Gibson said during a news conference hosted by the conservative group America’s Majority at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Gibson based his optimistic assessment of the situation in Iraq on several factors, including the strength of coalition forces. “The old Iraqi army was no match for what we, the Marines, had to offer and neither is the insurgency,” he said.

They should know. More on the press conference.

In related news, members of an Arizona National Guard MP unit recently returned from Iraq, proud of what they had accomplished:

“We got the Iraqi police on their feet and headed in the right direction,” explained Palmer. “I hope the people back home continue to give us a chance to do our job–and they too will start seeing the changes.”

Marine Corporal Paul Bennett expressed similar feelings of pride:

“Every day we have the opportunity to get weapons out of the hands of insurgents or make some building a little safer to work in,” Barajas said. “It makes me proud to know I am helping to save Marines lives.

Pride is evident even among wounded troops:

Durgala’s injuries haven’t dampened his aspirations to make a career out of the military but his slight limp may prevent him from rejoining the infantry. While he knows there will always be people who question military actions like those in Iraq, he said he would “go back in a heartbeat.”

“They don’t actually see the way (Iraqi) people’s faces light up when we walk down the street,” Durgala said. “We’re there to help them.”

With great soldiers and Marines like Durgala, is it any wonder we are winning?

The media is full of stories about kidnappings in Iraq, but one rarely hears about the ones that end in a rescue. In one particular case the rescue was performed by an elite anti-terror unit of the Iraqi army, which could explain the silence:

“Jackpot!” American advisers shouted after members of the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Force, or ICTF, blew open the building’s front door and found the haggard and bruised hostage in a pitch-black, concrete room. The elderly man threw one free arm into the air and shouted for the Iraqis to free him as other members of the unit chased down and captured three of the suspected kidnappers.

We have witnessed plenty of failures in reporting about Iraq, most recently after the attack on the Golden Mosque in Samarra. Lt. General Peter Chiarelli discussed the problem recently:

“I recall reports of hundreds of mosques attacked and 30 mosques burning in Baghdad one night,” said Chiarelli. “These reports were terribly inaccurate.” The general explained that watching the news reports led him and the rest of the world to believe Iraq’s thousands of mosques were all under attack, but as Coalition forces physically checked the 81 reports of damaged mosques, they found only 17 damaged, two completely destroyed and none burned.

The Iraqi air force opened a new base in Baghdad:

“It is important for Iraqis,” said Maj. Gen. Kamal of the base. “It is important for them to see tangible results and cooperation,” he said. “Building up an air force takes so much work, finance and dedication.”

Although Iraq’s Air Force is much smaller now compared to Saddam’s, now it is better than before, said Col. Jabber. “Now our Air Force supports the government and the people. In the past the Air Force only supported Saddam,” he said. “We are humanitarian now.”

Soldiers of the 5th Iraqi army division uncovered 30 weapons caches in just eleven days. There is a reason this should be newsworthy:

“This type of operation denies the anti-Iraqi forces resources. It costs them their money, it costs them their mobility and it costs them their time,” said Maj. Thomas Baccardi, the S-3 operations officer in charge for 3rd HBCT, 4ID, Task Force Band of Brothers. “Efforts in this regard disrupt their tempo and facilitates our ability to target their nodes.”

Many stories from Iraq report on the actions of American combat engineers, and the hazardous duty of disarming IEDs. The Iraqi army also has EOD teams of its own:

An Iraqi Explosive Ordnance Disposal team helped make a route east of Baghdad safer March 11 by ridding it of a roadside bomb found by Multi-National Division–Baghdad Soldiers.

They also have their own snipers.

Another theme from my earlier article was the increasing number of tip-offs being provided by Iraqis to security forces. This trend continues. Eight suspected insurgents were captured after a tip from an Iraqi citizen. In Tikrit, a tip resulted in the discovery of a weapons and explosives cache. Tips from Iraqis were a main driving force behind Operation Swarmer.

U.S. soldiers from the 4th ID found a weapons cache so large that it will severely hamper the enemy’s IED capability:

The cache consisted of 30 antennas, 595 relays, 1,000 transistors, one Kenwood charger, three Kenwood batteries, two remote-control timers, one cell phone, 64 two-way radios and two bags of bomb-making material.

EOD technicians estimated that the cache seized took 637 roadside bombs from terrorists’ hands.

From the “Winning Hearts & Minds” file, members of the 4th ID delivered supplies to an orphanage in central Baghdad:

“Giving gifts to people is probably one of the best things we do here in Iraq,” said U.S. Army Capt. Scott Ginsburg, civil affairs officer, Company A, 425th Civil Affairs Battalion.

After my earlier report was posted here at NRO, I received many e-mails arguing that stories about our troops delivering supplies to schools or orphanages just don’t count as important news. This is flat-out wrong. From the same story:

According to Ginsburg, every civil affairs mission is gratifying, and establishing good relationships is essential to help perpetuate peace for the Iraqi people.

An international airport is being planned in Najaf. Financing for the project is being provided with low interest loans:

The USD73.8 million facility, to be known as Imam Ali International Airport, is being built around an old Iraqi air force base with a two-mile-long asphalt runway that is big enough to take jumbo jets. The control tower will be shaped like the minaret of a mosque, underlining Najaf’s stature as the holiest city in Shia Islam.

Iraq’s stock exchange is about to get a makeover. The $6 million upgrade will include the installation of an electronic trading system. The stock exchange has grown significantly in the last two years, with 700 million shares now traded each session, and that figure is expected to jump 500 percent after the electronic trading system goes online.

The United Arab Emirates announced plans to build three new hospitals in Iraq. One hospital will be built in each of three Iraqi cities: Sadr City in Baghdad, the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniya, and in the southern city of Nasiriya. In addition, the UAE will be funding mobile medical clinics to provide health care to remote parts of the country.

USAID’s economic assistance has been critical in increasing the opportunities for women in Iraq:

Nearly 60 percent of the small business development grants administered by USAID in the reconstruction effort have been awarded to women. The newly-formed Iraq Investment Promotion Agency (IIPA) is composed entirely of women trained in economic development and investment promotion. A grant for nearly $1.3 million is being finalized for a women-focused international Micro Finance Institute, combining loans with one-on-one technical assistance to develop business ideas.

Iraq’s communication and media commission has called for bids on mobile telecommunications licenses. Cell phone use in Iraq has increased 300 percent in just the last twelve months.

Opponents of the war are touting a recent poll released by Zogby that says U.S. troops serving in Iraq are now against the war, but as this economist notes, the results can hardly be termed accurate:

For example, the widespread finding that three in four soldiers think the United States should withdraw from Iraq within a year has only one option for troops who think otherwise: stay indefinitely. This infamous question asks, “How long should U.S. troops stay in Iraq?” But the first three answers are not phrased in terms of staying, they are phrased “withdraw…,” “withdraw…” and “withdraw… .” Where are the options for troops who think the United States should stay for “one to two years” or “two to five years”? Zogby omits such nuance. It’s stay or go. Now or never.

Recently released documents reveal that not even Saddam’s top military leaders knew the country had no WMD stockpiles:

A report by the U.S. military shows that even top commanders of the Iraqi army didn’t know that there were no WMD($ only):

[Saddam] was so secretive and kept information so compartmentalized that his top military leaders were stunned when he told them three months before the war that he had no weapons of mass destruction, and they were demoralized because they had counted on using the hidden stocks of poison gas or germ weapons.

One of the main reasons Saddam kept up the charade of having WMDs is because he feared an Israeli attack, and senior Iraqi officials still believed they possessed WMDs months after Saddam fell:

“According to Chemical Ali, Hussein was asked about the weapons during a meeting with members of the Revolutionary Command Council. He replied that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) but flatly rejected a suggestion that the regime remove all doubts to the contrary,” the report states. Ali explained that such a declaration could encourage Israel to attack, the report says.

None of this will end the anti-war Left’s tired mantra of “Bush lied, people died,” but it should convince most rational Americans that our government did not know that WMD stockpiles didn’t exist, and had good reason to believe otherwise.

One last thing: The documents reveal that Iraq was aware of al Qaeda’s presence in the country.

There is another twist in the WMD story. A former Iraqi air force general says that Iraq’s WMDs were moved to Syria just prior to start of the war. According to General Sada, 56 flights were required to move the weapons. These allegations are supported by two of the pilots, as well as other former Iraqi military officers.

The president is giving a series of speeches on the war. CBS chose not to air them, but did air the results of a recent poll:

In laying out on Monday’s CBS Evening News a series of poll findings, including how 66 percent feel Bush has been describing the “things in Iraq” as “better than they are,” both skipped the finding that, while the media fare better than Bush, nearly a third (31 percent) say the media “make things sound worse in Iraq than they really are,” compared to 24 percent who perceive the media are describing things “better than they are” and 35 percent who think journalism on Iraq “accurately” reflects the situation.

In a speech on March 14, the one that CBS chose to ignore, the president said that most security would be handed over to Iraqi Security Forces by the end of the year:

President Bush vowed for the first time Monday to turn over most of Iraq to newly trained Iraqi troops by the end of this year, setting a specific benchmark as he kicked off a fresh drive to reassure Americans alarmed by the recent burst of sectarian violence.

The president reiterated our policy that “as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” We did the same in post-World War II Germany and Japan. As their governments and security forces became more capable, the U.S. role was diminished.

The Iraqis are in fact standing up. On March 9, Forward Operating Base Hope was transferred to Iraqi control. The 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army Division will now patrol Sadr City in Baghdad:

The ceremony reflects the increasing responsibility for the Iraqis as their army gains control of more battle space throughout the region.

Restive Anbar Province will soon be under the control of the Iraqi army. If you listen to what Iraqi soldiers have to say, you realize it isn’t much different from what an American soldier might say:

“The terrorists are just like Saddam,” he said. “Explosions, killing, robbery–all terrorism. If I had authority, I would kill the terrorists directly.”

He said most of the Iraqi soldiers here are truly dedicated to the new Iraqi government, and are not part of Iraq’s new army “just for the money.”

“We are all eager to serve Iraq and be a part of Iraq’s future,” said Muhammed, who added that voting in last year’s national elections was a freedom he never thought he’d live to see in Iraq. “I was afraid to show my (ink-stained) finger because the terrorists, they could kill me.”

“Only thing we want is safety. I want my family to walk down the streets without any guards or any protection,” said Muhammed. He said he is anxiously waiting for that day, but for now, Iraqis “don’t have that freedom.”

The amount of battle space controlled by Iraqis has tripled since January, and they now control 50 percent of the country. That figure will rise to 75 percent by the end of August 2006. There are now 130 Iraqi battalions fighting against terrorists in Iraq.

Bolstered by poll numbers showing support for the war decreasing, opponents are pushing hard with an agenda that would end our presence in Iraq, but they conviniently never address the consequences such actions would have.

A report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service makes it clear that a U.S. withdrawal would have disasterour consequences if a stable government isn’t in place:

A secret study by Canada’s spy agency says insurgents wreaking havoc in Iraq would see a U.S. withdrawal of troops as “a significant victory” unless Baghdad first has a stable government.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service paints a bleak picture of “dire proportions” in which determined fighters are exploiting divisions between the Shiite majority and Sunni minority in Iraq.

Headlines reading “Iraq is a mess” greeted many of us back on March 13. The story was about remarks made by Britain’s Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells. Like so much of the reporting about Iraq, the headline was somewhat misleading. Mr. Howells also expressed optimism about Iraq’s future, and said that the situation there was better than what the media was reporting. He added that it was a “mess” the world could live with:

“But it is a mess that can’t launch an attack now on Iran; a mess that won’t be able to march into Kuwait; it’s a mess that can’t develop nuclear weapons. So yes it’s a mess but it’s starting to look like the sort of mess that most of us live in.”

During his visit to Iraq, Howells noted that the Iraqi people share in his optimism:

’I have been struck by the optimism of those I have met. Iraqis from all walks of life are determined to resist those fomenting sectarian violence. I have heard how the Iraqi security forces have taken the lead in doing this in the south. There is more to do to ensure their impartiality and effectiveness, but Iraqi forces outnumber the international forces and are increasingly capable.

People who actually go to Iraq are more optimistic about the progress there. A four-member delegation of Georgia Republicans follows this pattern:

“Their morale is good and strong,” Gingrey said. “It’s because of the men and women of the 48th that we are winning the war.”

The brigade has built a generating plant for a town that never had electricity, built a school to replace a mud structure and dug wells to provide fresh water to a town where children were being sickened from filthy, contaminated water, according to the lawmakers.

They saw two young children who had been badly burned by an exploding kerosine heater being treated at a 48th Brigade field hospital.

In addition, they noted that several members of Georgia’s 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team reenlisted while serving in Iraq.

Four governors–three Republicans and one Democrat–are in Iraq this week. It should surprise no one at this point that they don’t see eye to eye with the media on the situation there. Governor Bresden (R., Tenn.) commented:

“It’s no miracle, (but it is happening) one step at a time,” he said. “The level of commitment of the soldiers and the officers to making that happen is difficult for the media to cover … but it’s happening. And I think it’s great (because the sooner that happens, the sooner troops) can come back home.”

During his time in Iraq, Ralph Peters also noticed a disconnect between what the media is reporting about Iraq and the reality on the ground. Here are a few excerpts concerning the progress of Iraq’s security forces and reconstruction:

The failure of the Iraqi army. Instead, the past month saw a major milestone in the maturation of Iraq’s military. During the mini-crisis that followed the Samarra bombing, the Iraqi army put over 100,000 soldiers into the country’s streets. They defused budding confrontations and calmed the situation without killing a single civilian. And Iraqis were proud to have their own army protecting them. The Iraqi army’s morale soared as a result of its success.

Reconstruction efforts have failed. Just not true. The American goal was never to rebuild Iraq’s infrastructure in its entirety. Iraqis have to do that. Meanwhile, slum-dwellers utterly neglected by Saddam Hussein’s regime are getting running water and sewage systems for the first time. The Baathist regime left the country in a desolate state while Saddam built palaces. The squalor has to be seen to be believed. But the hopeless now have hope.

As I alluded to earlier, Peters also points to the aftermath of the Golden Mosque bombing as a sign that Iraq’s Security Forces are getting better. Security after the attack was an all-Iraqi affair, involving 100,000 troops. David Ignatius noticed the same thing.

Iranian writer Amir Taheri sees signs of hope that democracy can take root in Iraq:

The war, which was not designed to impose democracy by force, has succeeded in removing most of the structural obstacles to democratisation. The one-party state has been dismantled along with its octopus like security services. A system built around the cult of the leader has been discredited in favour of advancing the rights of the individual citizen. For the first time, Iraqis have a genuine opportunity to build a pluralist system based on the rule of law.

General Abizaid told a congressional subcommittee last week that Arabs in other countries are taking notice of democracy in Iraq:

“It’s interesting when I go around the rest of the Arab world; everybody wants to talk about Iraqi politics,” Army Gen. John Abizaid told a congressional subcommittee on military and veterans affairs. “That’s interesting because they can talk about Iraqi politics, but can’t necessarily talk about politics in their own countries.”

Abizaid also noted that insurgent attacks are down.

During a press conference recently, General Abizaid said that the current situation in Iraq should allow for the U.S. to begin drawing down the number of troops stationed in the country. General Abizaid repeated his assertion that the country is not “on the verge” of a civil war:

“I understand everybody talks about ‘the verge of civil war.’ I don’t believe that we’re close to civil war. I believe a civil war is possible if a long series of events or a bad series of events takes place,” Abizaid said.

Iraqis are showing that they choose unity over civil war. They are starting to exercise their new freedom by marching against the recent sectarian violence. Sunnis, Shiites, Christians and Kurds joined together on the streets:

At least 2,500 Shiite, Sunni, Christian and Kurdish Iraqis demonstrated on Tuesday in two separate protests in response to ongoing sectarian violence which has taken the lives of a growing number of Iraqi security forces and civilians in recent weeks.

The attack on the Golden Mosque was a turning point, as the terrorists who perpetrated it hoped it would be. Unfortunately for them, the situation has turned against them. Iraqi security forces maintained order and the Iraqi people, and their leaders, made it clear that they could not be pulled in to a civil war.

Critics of the situation in Iraq seem to have unrealistic ideas about what we should expect, and what counts as a good situation there. We simply are not going to have–in the near future, at least–a country with no Zarqawi, no religious strife, no car bombs and no corruption. But Iraq be stable and unthreatening while still falling short of perfection.

Critics argue that we broke it and now we have to fix it. This requires us not only to pick up the broken pieces, but to start with a new block of clay and fashion it in to a beautiful new vase. This is not only unrealistic, it’s unnecessary. The more probable fix, and the one I prefer, is for us to leave Iraq as a functioning democracy that does not threaten its neighbors, or the world.

Violence in Iraq could go on for decades, but that doesn’t diminish our success there. Middle Eastern countries, and especially Iraq with its tribal feuds, are far more violent than Americans are used to. Disputes between families are often settled at gunpoint, and we shouldn’t be surprised if this carries over into the political arena. The day may come when there are no more foreign terrorists in Iraq, but the country will still be a violent place. In light of this fact, it is important to look at what we have accomplished. The Iraqis have held three free and fair elections in twelve months, written a new constitution in the same amount of time, the economy is growing, Iraqis are optimistic their future, and the country is no longer a threat to us or its neighbors. We should continue to help the Iraqis strive toward a better life, but we should be honest about the situation. Just three years after decades of tyranny and neglect were ended America can be proud of what it has accomplished in Iraq. In short, Iraq is already a success

Finally, how about a story with all the hallmarks of divine intervention? Read on:

“He said when he tossed [the booby-trapped phone], it exploded and threw him back 20 feet and 10 feet in the air. When he was airborne that is when he was shot in the left leg,” Chris said.

But when the bullet ripped through his fatigues, it suddenly stopped: deflected away by a metal cross Kyle had with him.

“He tied it to his dog tags, which were tied to the belt loop in his pocket,” Chris said.

Had that location been any different, the member of the 101st Airborne’s Screaming Eagles likely would be dead.

“Where it was in his pocket, it was right around the main artery.”

What a great story, and the perfect way to end this installment. See you all next week.

Bill Crawford lives in San Antonio, Texas. He blogs at All Things Conservative.


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