Monday, June 26, 2006

Status Report

Iran is the last remaining threat to consolidating the Iraqi government. Other threats must be fought, such as the illegal Shia militias ("illegal armed groups"), including Sadr's which could side with the external Iranians threat, but these threats can only cause death--they can't win.

General Casey looks at the enemy threats inside Iraq:

Second, the security environment is quite complex. And it's a constantly changing environment, but it has increased in its complexity, really, since the December elections and in the aftermath of the Samarra bombing.

Now, with respect to al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is hurt in the aftermath of Zarqawi's death, both because of his -- it's a loss of leadership, and two, because of the numerous operations that have been conducted in -- as a result of information found in the course of raids that led to the killing of Zarqawi. They're hurt, but they're not finished. And they won't be finished for some time. But as you saw in the documents that the secretary quoted to you, they are -- they're feeling the pain right now.

But as you also see, they are still quite capable of conducting terrorist acts across Iraq.

The second big security challenge that adds to the complexity of the environment are these illegal armed groups. And I say illegal armed groups rather than militias because militias take people in too many different directions. These illegal armed groups are operating outside the rule of law. They are not the nine groups of militia that are mentioned in the CPA law that fought Saddam. These are criminals. And they need to be dealt with through a combination of political influence and security forces, and they will be. This government has stepped up to the challenge, has issued instructions for enforcing weapons bans in and around Baghdad, and is committed to dealing with the militia -- I'm sorry -- with the illegal armed group issue to protect their citizens.

The third element that adds complexity to the security environment is the fact that the resistance, the Sunni insurgency, has been since the elections reaching out and looking for ways to reevaluate their options and to come out of the resistance against occupation with honor. And we are --we and the Iraqi government have several different strands of contacts going on, and there are opportunities in that regard that we just haven't had before.

And the fourth element that I'd suggest to you that adds complexity to the security environment is Iran. And we are quite confident that the Iranians, through their covert special operations forces, are providing weapons, IED technology and training to Shi'a extremist groups in Iraq, the training being conducted in Iran and in some cases probably in Lebanon through their surrogates. They are conducting -- using surrogates to conduct terrorist operations in Iraq, both against us and against the Iraqi people. It's decidedly unhelpful.

Now, lastly I'd just say a word about the insurgency. People say the insurgency's growing because attacks are up. Now, what I'd tell you it's more complex. It's more complex than the insurgency is growing. The insurgency hasn't expanded. Fourteen of the 18 provinces still have about nine attacks a day or less. And if you look at where the sectarian violence is occurring, it's occurring within about a 30-mile -- 90 percent of it is occurring in about a 30- mile radius around Baghdad; some down in Basra, some in Diyala Province, the majority right there in the center of the country. So, much more complex environment, not necessarily a worse security environment.

There are interesting points here. I've note that I think that the Iraqi population is shifting toward us as we have kept the Kurds friends; moved the Shias from suspicious to largely on our side, and moved a good number of Sunnis away from supporting the enemy.

With the foreign jihadis dwindling and the remnants and their local jihadi allies hurt from the death of Zarqawi; and the Baathists and nationalist Sunnis looking at amnesty; the remaining enemy capable of defeating us inside Iraq is Iran. We have defeated the main threats one after another. Not destroyed them--but ended their ability to actually win. We've knocked them down enough for the new Iraqi government to finish them off--even if that takes many years. Criminals aren't a threat to the state though they add to the image of violence. As I noted one year ago almost exactly, the Syrian-backed forces in al Anbar could not win and the main threat was from Iran:

I wrote recently that I think Syria is too weak to defeat us in Iraq and that this might be part of a Syrian-Iranian alliance to divert us from the looming Iranian offensive in the east. Iran may stage a mock Shia revolt in Iraq to buy time for Iran to go nuclear and secure their regime. Breaking Iraq would also save Syria's Baathists from following the path of their Iraqi brethren.

And even earlier, in December 2004 while the enemy in Anbar seemed strong, I saw Iran and not Syria as the prime threat to winning in Iraq:

One would think that Syria is our prime target given that Syrians seem to be far more involved in the Baathist revolt at this point. But Iran's nuclear ambitions make Iran far more dangerous than Syria no matter what they are doing in Iraq. Given that the Iraqi insurgents are targeting Iraqi security forces more, the insurgents must realize that we are winning by building up the security forces to take over the fighting from us. Syria's efforts certainly must be punished and stopped but they are not likely to defeat us so we have to focus on the biggest threat (though I am happy that things are going boom in Damascus).

This continuing trend is why we are focusing on Iran's efforts inside Iraq now. Other threats we've beaten back in the past two years and only Iran remains as capable of reversing the victory trends we've established inside Iraq.

It is also interesting that Casey reports that the Iranians are sending weapons and are training thugs to attack. These indicate that weapons inside Iraq that had fueled the insurgency and terror aren't available sufficiently to the Iranian-backed men. And training shows that these men aren't Baathists who are already trained from pre-war or trained by Baathists.

This could still get ugly if the Iranians direct their surrogates inside Iraq to stage a faux revolt of the masses in a last ditch effort to inflict a Tet-style press defeat of us. And perhaps to foster the "end times" that bring back the Hidden Imam, too, in Ahmadinejad's mind.

But if we stand our ground, we will defeat the last military force able to defeat us in setting up a democratic Iraq. It will be democracy on training wheels, of course; and capable of being screwed up by the Iraqis themselves. But it will still be far better than the gulag with a UN seat that it was under Saddam.

And with Iran being a nuclear threat as well as a threat to Iraq, the chance of us taking on Iran in the near future seems to be higher.