Politics & Policy

Death to al-Qaeda

The view from the Red Zone.

Baghdad, Iraq – The war in Iraq is not yet finished for U.S. combat forces but you can almost see the end, just over the horizon, from my office perched in the Red Zone of downtown Baghdad. This last May saw the lowest monthly American military deaths of the entire war: 19 to include four non-combat fatalities. Attacks on U.S. Department of Defense contractor convoys have dropped by a phenomenal 20 times from one in five incidents at the beginning of 2007 to approximately one percent of cargo movements today. Oil production has exceeded pre-war volumes and the Iraqi government is on its way to financial self-sufficiency. Provincial elections are sure to happen this fall — which will further reintegrate the once-estranged Sunni minority back into local governance.

#ad#Over the last three months, the Iraqi army has successfully taken the lead in major security operations in Mosul against the last in-country stronghold of al-Qaeda, and against Iranian-supported Shia militants in Basra and Baghdad’s Sadr City. The political will now exists in the democratically elected Iraqi government to finally rid the country of all militias. Among the hundreds of Iraqis with whom I work, a common refrain is: “Bes jaish wahid bil Iraq jaish Iraqi!” (Only one army in Iraq — the Iraqi army!) This is a direct counterpoint to the Jaish al Mehdi of Moqtada Sadr and evidence of a growing faith in their nation’s ability to protect itself. Here is the exit strategy writ large: Get the American-trained Iraqi security forces stood up and U.S. combat units can come home.

The impact of the Iraq mission on world security is also dramatic and counter to what is commonly heard in the media and academic elites. The Iraq conflict has drawn fanatical Islamists to fight nearer to home, and as a just-released Canadian institute’s study details, overall international terrorism fatalities — outside of the Iraq war — have plunged by 40 percent since 2001. The Simon Fraser University Human Security Brief records that, due to “the humiliating recent defeats experienced by Al Qaeda in Iraq,” popular support in the Islamic world for the perpetrators of 9/11 has fallen off precipitously. For example, in Pakistan (where al-Qaeda is arguably most deeply entrenched): “support for Osama bin Laden has dropped from 70 percent in August 2007 to 4 percent in January 2008.”

After going from success to success over the past three decades, from destroying a super power (the Soviet Union) in Afghanistan, to blowing up American embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole off Yemen, onto 9/11, and nearly pushing Iraq into civil war in 2006, the Islamic extremists have now failed dramatically. Their jihad to dominate the Islamic world and beyond has smashed against the twin rocks of a steadfast American will and the Iraqi people’s natural desire to live free of tyranny, whether from Saddam, al-Qaeda, or Iran. Nothing dissuades recruiting like catastrophic failure.

Strongly held arguments challenge the Iraq conflict as central to the war on terror with the claim that the “real” al-Qaeda of bin Laden is not present on the battlefield here. That statement ignores the nature of jihadi extremism as a pan-Arab ideology. Iraq is central, if not the key nation, in the Arab world. Baghdad is ground zero. Not the mountains, caves, and isolation of the Afghan-Pakistani border. When Robert Baer, former CIA operative and now commentator for Time, states that “al Qaeda is an idea, a way of thinking,” when he argues against our taking the war on terror to Iraq, he is right on, but not in the way he uses that statement. What is the death knell of the efficacy of an idea? When reality proves it does not work. Bin Laden himself has said the war in Iraq is central to his jihad, and we are taking him at his word here. The Muslim world sees that the al-Qaeda idea kills far more Muslims than infidels. The Muslim world sees the failure of the suicide bomber — the only significant weapon of jihadi terrorism — to force out the American Army from one of the greatest lands of Islam. The al-Qaeda idea has died a violent death on the battlefields of Iraq.

Carter Andress, CEO and principal owner of American-Iraqi Solutions Group, is author of Contractor Combatants: Tales of an Imbedded Capitalist.

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