Note: Part 3 of a six part series. Return to Part I
THE IMPACT OF INSURGENCY
In the year and a half since the initial invasion, we have experienced a total of two insurgencies. One led by Muqtada al-Sadr and one led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. If anyone honestly expected anything less, they’re just not rational human beings. I honestly expected a lot more resistance.
Do you realize that there are currently more than 100 active gangs and 30,000 hardcore gang members in the Chicago, Illinois area alone? Also, consider this… in the past 19 months we have been at war, a few more than 1,100 Americans have perished in Iraq. During this same time period, more than 950 Americans were murdered in Chicago.
Obviously the toll on Iraqis has been much greater, but I wanted to give you a little context before moving on.
Contrary to the beliefs of many of those on the left (and some on the right), there is NOT a general insurrection in Iraq. Three-quarters of Iraq is relatively stable and a strong majority of Iraqis want the liberty we are offering them.
So, what are these insurgencies? Generally speaking Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, is responsible for much of the unrest in the Sunni Triangle: Fallujah, Ramadi, Barqubah, Hit and, until recently, Samarra. The Sunni triangle is a relative small area of Iraq, north of Baghdad, and roughly comparable to the size of the Dallas-Fort Worth area in Texas. Although Zarqawi’s goons often travel to Baghdad and other high profile spots in Iraq to get maximum TV coverage of his antics, Zarqawi’s sphere of influence is not very large. In fact, it is rumored that the locals in the Sunni Triangle are rapidly tiring of this foreigner and the grief he has brought upon them.
Zarqawi is the terrorist who operated training camps in Afghanistan before being harbored by Saddam. He is also the one responsible for the beheadings and most of the car bombings.
Because of the decision of the Turkish parliament and the resulting necessary redeployment of the 4th ID to Kuwait, we never had the opportunity to properly neutralize the area immediately north of Baghdad and south of the Kurds in northern Iraq. Unfortunately this allowed Zarqawi an opportunity to gain a foothold and develop a following in a foreign land. Had the 4th ID been able to swoop down from the north, much of the Sunni Triangle would have been neutralized and Zarqawi more than like would have been captured or killed.
Unlike Zarqawi, Muqtada al-Sadr is a local, descended from a powerful line of religious leaders. Sadr’s stronghold is in the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City. This neighborhood makes up roughly 25% (the northeast quadrant) of Baghdad. Over the past several months, Sadr has led a group of militants called the Mehdi Army. In addition to the general level of unrest in Sadr City with mortar rounds, some car bombs and medium to light arms, the Mehdi Militia and Sadr were responsible to laying siege to the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf, the holiest shrine to the Shiites and the second holiest site in all of Islam.
COMBATING THE INSURGENCY
The insurgencies started to become a more noticeable problem about 6 months ago. Toward the middle of June, right before the hand-over of Iraq to new Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, the insurgencies became more organized trying to disrupt the transfer of power to Iraqis. However, it was ultimately more important to put an Iraqi face on the new government than it was to immediately deal with the 2 insurgent organizations.
In an absolutely brilliant move, the United States relinquished control of Iraq to Allawi several days early, catching the insurgents by surprise and avoiding any potential attacks timed to coincide with the transfer of power. Incredibly brilliant.
Soon after the transfer, the insurgency became increasingly more organized and we knew we had to eliminate the threat from both Sadr and Zarqawi. The order in which they would be neutralized became apparent at the beginning of August when Sadr and the Mehdi Army laid siege to the Imam Ali Mosque in Najaf. Because of the holy nature of this shrine, the way we handled this crisis had the potential to become a very serious international incident.
In a masterful display of crisis resolution, the Bush administration was able to combine the U.S. Military with the Iraqi National Guard and bring Prime Minister Allawi, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Sadr together to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the potentially inflammatory incident. Could you imagine Kerry bringing the U.N. in to negotiate? I could. And I’m sure that would have impressed Sadr.
Since the resolution, Najaf has returned to normal, Iraqi police/National Guard are patrolling the city and we, here in the U.S., are hearing absolutely nothing from the mainstream media (MSM) about Najaf. That’s because it is an incredible success story.
In a final push to completely neutralize Sadr and the Mehdi Army, Allawi and the Bush administration negotiated a ‘weapons for cash’ program which has, in the past few weeks, resulted in collecting more than 18,000 weapons, explosives and mines from the teeming slum of 2.5 million people and beyond as others traveled to Sadr City to exchange their arms for money.
It must be working marvelously, because I have heard nothing, save the weapons-for-cash program, from Sadr City or about Sadr himself in the past few weeks from the MSM. If the program was failing, the MSM would surely be there covering it.
Zarqawi is next and he knows it. In fact, he has already lost a small but significant battle with the U.S. and Iraqis. In what was described as a resounding success, Iraqi forces, backed up by U.S. forces, combined in a swift operation to wrest control of Samarra from insurgents loyal to Zarqawi. It was such a resounding success that the MSM reported about it for one day and we have heard absolutely nothing from Samarra since. I’m beginning to detect a pattern here.
In Fallujah, where Zarqawi himself is thought to be hiding, there are currently negotiations underway, not with Zarqawi, but with the elders and leaders of Fallujah. The very people I stated earlier that were tiring of the foreigner and his thuggish gang. It seems as though either the city elders/leaders can not or will not hand over Zarqawi. But, when we have to act militarily, it can not be said that we did not attempt to stave off the incursion peacefully.
Additionally, by working with the locals, we are gaining valuable intelligence from those evacuating the city. As soon as we get this intelligence, we are acting immediately. Just yesterday (Friday October 22, 2004), we captured 6 Zarqawi loyalists, including a recently promoted senior leader in his terror movement. This captured leader had risen in rank as other Zarqawi associates had been killed in U.S. attacks on Fallujah.
There is still a great deal to do. With the insurgency, everything is not rosy. Neither is it sheer chaos as the left would have you believe. As the election draws near and Zarqawi’s fate becomes more clear to him, the attacks will come more frequently and become more deadly. Attacks have reportedly risen by 25% since the beginning of Ramadan last weekend. But one thing is for certain, with the Sadr movement nearly quelled, the U.S. and Iraqi military will be working furiously over the next month to dislodge Zarqawi from Fallujah and the surrounding areas ahead of the January elections.