Iraq’s improved numbers

Jason Snead and Jason Snead

The news has been spread on every media current, discussed by every policymaker in Washington, and thrown yet another twist in what history will no doubt record as a long and winding path: The violence in Iraq, including its most dangerous provinces, has seen a marked and swift decline in recent weeks. All across Iraq, from Baghdad to Basrah, civilian and military deaths have sharply diminished, reduced to what they were before the deadly and polarizing bombing of a sacred shrine that brought Iraq to the verge of civil war. The situation then is neither perfect nor ideal, but is instead a sign for cautious optimism on Iraq.

Earlier this year, military officials persuaded the President to launch a massively unpopular troop surge that sent more than 30,000 additional soldiers and marines to the most violent regions of the nation.

Throughout its short life this troop surge was the object of political assault in the halls of Congress and on the campaign trail, with dishearteningly many officials seeking its end before the facts were in hand. When Gen. David Petraeus addressed Congress some months ago his reports of modest successes were met with politically motivated hostility and renewed demands for a complete withdrawal.

Yet today, as the surge comes to an end, its effects are clear: The troop surge was a tactical victory.

Violent attacks in Iraq have decreased 55 percent, with monthly military casualties reduced by nearly 30 percent as well. Records of monthly casualties also show that Iraqi civilian deaths have decreased by 60 percent. And in Baghdad, the make-or-break center of the Iraqi conflict, civilian casualties are down an amazing 75 percent.

These positive numbers have in recent days been coupled with another, equally important, statistic: Of the many Iraqis who fled the carnage inflicted on their nation by the brutality of insurgents, many have opted at last to return to their lives and their homes. Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and the BBC both report that each day roughly 1,000 civilians return to the country, and if the trend continues this number can only increase. Civil engineering projects are at last able to get underway, replacing or repairing vital infrastructure. And as deaths decline, Iraqis are at last able to enjoy some amount of normality in their lives.

But this picture is a fragile one at best, its future dependent upon at least two major factors. First, the American military cannot completely withdraw from Iraq as many demand. The Iraqi army is not yet ready to assume security operations in all of Iraq’s provinces and cities, and long-term cooperative agreements like the one just recently signed are no doubt needed for coming years.

Second, and every bit as vital to victory in Iraq as the military operations, are the political battles for national and social unification. For any government to survive it must be a joint government, with both Sunni and Shia willing to set aside their differences at least so far as establishing a rule of law is concerned.

To achieve the first requirement we, the American people, must demand that our government continue to fund and support combat operations in Iraq. We must abandon the pretense that retreat is a viable alternative at this point because to do so would only embolden an enemy who has already demonstrated a willingness to kill anybody and destroy anything to achieve their objectives.

Iraq is no Vietnam; the forces faced today are far more radical and ambitious. The Vietnamese communists never had any aspirations or intentions of destroying the West like al Qaeda does today. History has shown that retreat from Vietnam saw no insurmountable consequences for the US, but we cannot make the horrific mistake of applying this to Iraq. If we retreat now Iraq will certainly sink into chaos and despair, becoming a haven for those whose evil ambitions involve the murder of innocent Americans. The cost of this noble effort to save lives today may be measured in the lost lives of many more tomorrow.

As for the requirement of reconciliation, that can only come as the cycle of violence is slowly broken. As car bombs diminish in frequency, as militia groups sign cease fires, and as Iraqis return to the streets the prospects for reconciliation become much higher. We cannot expect this unification to come from the top, nor can we demand it at times when violence is at its peak. The insurgents must be fought, captured, or killed. Their foreign aid must be cut, their stockpiles of weapons destroyed, and their political support must be ended.

As the insurgency gradually dies, and as the carnage and mayhem subside, Iraqis may at last be able to reclaim what they have lost and in the process exercise their new democratic right to elect leaders of the caliber they deserve.