Politics & Policy

Three Marks on the Horizon

Almost everyone (by now) has heard about the “lazy” Iraqi parliament members who, like so many Nero’s fiddling while Rome burns around them, are taking a month off. Yet comparatively few Americans will ever hear or read about IA Scorpion Company Commander, Captain Baker; or Iraqi entrepreneur and community catalyst, “Tonto;” or the mayor of Baqubah, who summoned the courage to step out of the shadow of al Qaeda and fight to get his constituents a warehouse-sized stockpile of food.

The mantra that “there is no political progress in Iraq” is rapidly becoming the “surge” equivalent of a green alligator: when enough people repeat something that sounds plausible, but also happens to be false, it becomes accepted as fact.  The more often it is repeated, and the larger the number of people repeating it, the harder it is to convince any one of the truth: Alligators are not green, and Iraqis are making plenty of political progress.

There may be little progress on political goals crafted in America, to meet American concerns, by politicians resting on a 200+ year cushion of history. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were no progress on that front. One thing I have come to know about Iraqis, be they Shia, Sunni, Kurdish, or Christian, is they don’t respond well to rules imposed from outside their acknowledged authorities.

But to say this means there has been no political progress in Iraq in 2007 is patently absurd, completely wrong and dangerously dismissive of the significant changes and improvements happening all across Iraq. Whether or not Americans are seeing it on the nightly news or reading it in their local papers, Iraqis are actively writing their children’s history.

When I wrote the op-ed piece, “I Have Seen the Horror,” published last week in the New York Daily News, I cited three areas that had experienced dramatic change in 2007, change that convinces me the “surge” is working:

1. Iraqis are uniting across sectarian lines to drive Al Qaeda in all its disguises out of Iraq, and they are empowered by the success they are having, each one creating a ripple effect of active citizenship.

2. The Iraqi army is much more capable now than they were in 2005. They are not ready to go it alone, but if we keep working, that day will come.

3. General Petraeus is running the show. Petraeus may well prove to be to counterinsurgency warfare what Patton was to tank battles with Rommel, or what Churchill was to the Nazis.

The recent series of dispatches about the days following the launch of Operation Arrowhead Ripper in Baqubah contain many concrete examples of the first and third of mile-markers. The constructive engagement of former insurgent groups like the 1920s Revolution Brigade in the push to drive Al Qaeda from its “caliphate” in Baqubah was the focal point of Feasting on a Moveable Beast: Al Qaeda on the Run. Second Chances addressed the critical change in leadership and its impact on the ground situation.

In the interests of balance, this dispatch about an Iraqi army mission I observed earlier this year and Mosul is concrete evidence of the dramatic improvement in Iraqi Security Forces that I have seen firsthand.

So much war, so many missions, but never enough time to publish dispatches covering more than a small fraction of it. These photos were from a mission with 2-7 Cavalry, earlier this year, which launched from Mosul. It would have made an interesting story at the time, but it might have even more value in retrospect.

I spent a month at the beginning of 2007 back in Mosul; the city where I’d previously spent more than six months of 2005 embedded with the Deuce Four.  I noticed immediately that the Iraqi Police and Army in Mosul were remarkably more capable in 2007 they were in 2005, and they had been rapidly improving toward the end of 2005. As noted in the opening paragraphs of Battle for Mosul, Part IV, a dispatch focusing on the Iraqi Security Forces in Mosul, the year 2005 had not begun with much promise for the Iraqi Police, who made world news in the weeks before Iraq’s first national election.

They fled. It was all over the news. When the bullets flew, they fled. Leaving stations, abandoning posts, forgetting duties, hundreds of police fled. When the police response to gunfire was to simply run away, the city fell into lawlessness. Pundits rushed to the airwaves, proclaiming the city’s future hopeless…

Click here to read the full dispatch — with photos — from Michael Yon, from Iraq.

– Michael Yon is an independent writer, photographer, and former Green Beret who was embedded in Iraq for nine months in 2005. He has returned to Iraq for 2007 to continue reporting on the war. He is entirely reader supported and publishes his work at www.michaelyon-online.com.

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