The Corner

Kagan on the Sunnis…


Now the movement against Al Qaeda is spreading. “Salvation councils” similar to the Anbar Awakening have been formed in mostly Sunni Salahuddin province (north of Baghdad),Shiite-Sunni mixed Diyala province (northeast of the capital) and mostly Shiite Babil province (south of Baghdad). In some cases, their coming together coincides with cease-fires between U.S. forces and non-Al Qaeda insurgent groups. All are striving to reestablish normal relations with the Iraqi government.

Al Qaeda has responded in characteristic fashion — a campaign of atrocities designed to intimidate or kill its new antagonists. Such tactics were successful in the past. No longer. Today these atrocities only serve to remind the leaders of the salvation councils and their supporters that Al Qaeda is the real enemy. They have not deterred Anbaris from joining and integrating into the Iraqi government’s security organs. They have not deterred leaders in other provinces from forming similar groups.

These movements show that success on the most important front in Iraq is possible, but they also are a reminder of how fragile the situation is. The Iraqi security forces are not yet strong enough to protect their leaders and followers from the terrorists. U.S. troops are vital in this task, something the tribal leaders constantly make clear, and they continue to be essential to suppressing Shiite death squad activity, which remains below 50% what it was before the surge began. A reduction of U.S. forces in the coming months would expose these Iraqis to horrific deaths and would turn what might be one of the most important victories we could win against Al Qaeda into an unnecessary defeat.

If you think about it, the daily mass slaughter of Muslim innocents is the worst possible advertisement al Qaeda could have. The only thing that could possibly redeem it is success (chasing us out before Iraqi forces are ready and therefore claiming a chunk of Iraq and/or bringing down the government). So long as al Qaeda doesn’t succeed, its mayhem and slaughter could badly discredit its cause over time.