‘A state of war with what remains of Al Qaeda’ in Iraq

Scott Sadler Contributor
Font Size:

Qassim Atta, a spokesman for Baghdad’s security apparatus, perhaps said it best on Tuesday: “We are in a state of war with what remains of Al Qaeda.”  The attacks since last Friday leave no doubt that Al Qaeda is still attempting to disrupt and destroy any chance for Iraq to move forward.  However, let’s be candid; they’ve had a lot of wind taken out of their sail.  “What remains” were the key words of Mr. Atta’s comments.  One can only look to the first national elections in 2005 to see that. Back then, there were 478 suicide bombers in that year alone.  Each year thereafter has resulted in a decline with only 76 reported for 2009.  All of this to say that Iraq still has a difficult road to travel but improvements in security, for example, are moving in the right direction.

There are “deepening fears”  that the country is “teetering on the edge of a new outbreak of insurgent and sectarian violence,” suggests The New York Times, but “Iraq is far less violent than when sectarian killing peaked in 2006-07,”  declares Reuters News Agency.  Now, it is being suggested that the war’s outcome is in doubt.  In an Op-Ed in Tuesday’s Washington Times, Frank J. Gaffney Jr., president of the Center for Security Policy, a Washington, D.C. think tank, wrote that “for the Iraqi people and others who love freedom, it looks increasingly as though the Obama administration will have the loss of Iraq as one of its most signal accomplishments.”

Mr. Gaffney’s view is based on the redeployment of forces to Afghanistan. In a February Pentagon press conference, Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, disputed that notion.  “We’ve been able to do a very good job of balancing the requirements in Afghanistan and Iraq.  I think General Petraeus has worked a very good plan to shift more ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) Programs to Afghanistan without impacting Iraq too seriously.”

How can we start to make this kind of prediction so soon after the elections?  Elections that were met with an historic turnout despite Mr. Gaffney having put forward that the “popular ambition” of the Iraqi people “to have a real say in their government and future seems unlikely to be realized.”  Is that the kind of message we want to spread to the Iraqi people?  Gen. David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, reinforced the continued advancement during an interview on Monday with Tom Ricks of Foreign Policy: “I think the American people recognize the progress that has been made since the surge was conducted in 2007.”  In an e-mail on Tuesday, a Soldier, currently stationed in Baghdad, said “it’s definitely different” than his last tour a few years ago.

Then, there’s this from Mr. Gaffney: “The unreliability of the United States as an ally … is reinforcing the sense that it is every man for himself in Iraq.” In February, Gen. Odierno emphasized the continued partnership between the two nations. “It’s important for us to sustain a long-term partnership.  Just the fact that you have a stable Iraq that is working with us economically, diplomatically, from a security perspective, that ultimately translates into a more stable Middle East.”

There’s no question that building a government sooner rather than later is crucial.  Former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who came out on top in the recent elections, suggests “extreme forces” are attempting to undermine the political process.  There’s no doubt about that. “This is blamed on the political vacuum. We haven’t gotten to the discussion phase yet, how to form a government, when and by whom,” Mr. Allawi further explains.  An adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Sadiq al-Rikabi,  disagrees with that view. “In other democratic countries, forming a government takes months and in Iraq we have multiple political powers,” Mr. al-Rikabi said. The Washington Post said the “scrambling to muster the support needed to form a government” continues.  “Iraq still finds itself in a political deadlock” says the Associated Press and “the blasts surely will color the intense political negotiations that are under way,” according to McClatchy Newspapers.

Let’s be clear, however.  To start speculating and forecasting a possible demise of this conflict is hasty and based on what recent evidence?  Unfortunately, Mr. Gaffney already believes Iraq is gone.  “The repercussions of the Obama administration losing Iraq will cost us dearly in the future,” he further wrote.  I realize these calculations are the sorts of games Washington plays but when it comes to the solid work our men and women in uniform are performing, along with their Iraqi counterparts, it’s no game. It’s the real deal.

Scott Sadler is an experienced communicator with an in-depth expertise with crisis communications who has served in senior level positions in the federal government, Capitol Hill, and in a military theater of operation.