Taking Stock In Iraq – Part 2 of 3

by Richard Nadler
(The second of three pre-election valedictories)

By a margin of two-to-one, Americas believe our war effort is failing in Iraq.  But it is not.  Our arms and diplomacy are succeeding in standing up an anti-terrorist democracy.  Whether one looks at Iraqi security, politics, or economics, the important trends are positive.


It is constantly reported, and widely believed, that Iraq is in a state of anarchy. It is not.  Sixty-four percent of the civilian deaths in Iraq have occurred in Baghdad; 77 percent of the Iraqi population lives elsewhere.  In fourteen of Iraq’s 18 provinces, peace prevails.  In Baghdad, 27,470 civilians have died since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom.  Over the same period of time, Irbil province (population 1.4 million) reported 140 conflict-related deaths ( roughly 1/200th as many); Sulaimaniya province (population: 1.7 million) reported 87 (1/300th as many); Dihuk (population 0.5 million) reported 6.

It is by choice — not profession, not necessity — that western journalists treat Operation Iraqi Freedom as a daily Baghdad morgue report.

Another falsehood commonly reported, widely believed, is that violence against U.S. troops is peaking.  The opposite is true.  Year-to-year, U.S. casualties continue to decline.  There were 846 military fatalities in 2005; there have been 629 in 2006.  This represents a 9.5% decline in the rate of troop mortality.  

In 2004, 7,998 U.S. troops were wounded.  In 2005, that number declined to 5,943.  There have been 4,338 American servicemen wounded in ’06.  Extrapolating to year’s end, this represents a 11.1% year-to-year reduction.

In Baghdad, a spectacular spike in sectarian violence occurred in August and September of 2006.  Less reported is the fact that in October, the death toll has fallen to July levels – roughly 1/3rd of the September peak.

But the sectarian violence in Baghdad, however hideous, is a temporary phenomenon.  Iraq now has over 300,000 security forces – an army of over 130,000, and a police force of over 175,000.  The Kurdish-Shi’ite parliamentary majority that controls these troops has little reason to tolerate this slaughter. Eventually, they will shut it down.   

The Kurds and Shi’ites have historic reasons, both distant and recent, to pursue revenge killings against former Ba’athists and Sunni terrorists. The United States has elected to intervene, preferring a political process that will strengthen multi-party democracy rather than single-party militias.  This is both humane, and good policy.  But it is not the only possible solution to the sectarian violence.

Given the dominant position of the Kurdish-Shi’ite alliance in the new regime, the outstanding question is simple:  will all Sunnis be driven out of Baghdad, or will a political solution separate the bulk of Sunnis from the Ba’athist and al-Qaeda terrorists operating among them?

Either way, the violence in Baghdad will first increase, then desist.

It is constantly reported that the military operations in Iraq have been run inefficiently.  The opposite is true.  U.S. combat fatalities in Iraq have recently passed 2,800.  In five years of operations, our fatalities still have not equalled the one-day death toll of unchecked terrorism on 9/11/01.

The anti-insurgent war in Vietnam, fought primarily under Democrat administrations and congresses, provides a sobering contrast.  There, America lost 58,000 troops killed, while failing in our primary objective – to defend a nation from communism.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, we have suffered one twentieth the fatalities, while succeeding in our primary objective – the liberation 58 million residents from two brutal, terror-harboring tyrannies.

A million Vietnamese refugees followed our retreat from Saigon. Then the communists overran Cambodia, killing 2 million civilians. By contrast, after the fall of Baghdad, other Middle East tyrants retreated.  Libya abandoned its nuclear weapons program, and Syria withdrew its troops from Lebanon, allowing democracy to take hold.

As John Keegan wrote recently in the Telegraph of London:

[In Vietnam] eventually [American] deaths in combat and from other causes would exceed 50,000, of which 36,000 were killed in action.  Casualties in Iraq are nowhere near those figures.  In a bad week in Vietnam, the US could suffer 2,000 casualties… In any year of the Vietnam war, the communist party of North Vietnam sent 200,000 young men to the battlefields in the south, most of whom did not return.  Vietnam was one of the largest and costliest wars in history.  The insurgency in Iraq resembles one of the colonial disturbances of imperial history.

Without a draft, President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld waged two of the most efficient, successful wars in American history.  But the unrelieved hostility of a defeatist mainstream press may deny Americans the victory our troops have won.

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