America is very close to succeeding in Iraq. The "near-strategic defeat" of al Qaeda in Iraq described by CIA Director Michael Hayden last month in the Washington Post has been followed by the victory of the Iraqi government's security forces over illegal Shiite militias, including Iranian-backed Special Groups.
The enemies of Iraq and America now cling desperately to their last bastions, while the political process builds momentum.
These tremendous gains remain fragile and could be lost to skillful enemy action, or errors in Baghdad or Washington. But where the U.S. was unequivocally losing in Iraq at the end of 2006, we are just as unequivocally winning today.
By February 2008, America and its partners accomplished a series of tasks thought to be impossible. The Sunni Arab insurgency and al Qaeda in Iraq were defeated in Anbar, Diyala and Baghdad provinces, and the remaining leaders and fighters clung to their last urban outpost in Mosul.
The Iraqi government passed all but one of the "benchmark" laws (the hydrocarbon law being the exception, but its purpose is now largely accomplished through the budget) and was integrating grass-roots reconciliation with central political progress. The sectarian civil war had ended.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), swelled by 100,000 new recruits in 2007, was fighting hard and skillfully throughout Iraq. The Shiite-led government was showing an increasing willingness to use its forces even against Shiite militias. The announcement that provincial elections would be held by year's end galvanized political movements across the country, focusing Iraq's leaders on the need to get more votes rather than more guns.
Three main challenges to security and political progress remained: clearing al Qaeda out of Mosul; bringing Basra under the Iraqi government's control; and eliminating the Special Groups safe havens in Sadr City. It seemed then that these tasks would require enormous effort, entail great loss of life, and take the rest of the year or more. Instead, the Iraqi government accomplished them within a few months.
The war is not over. Enemy groups are reforming, rearming and preparing new attacks. Al Qaeda in Iraq will conduct spectacular attacks in 2008 wherever it can. Special Groups and their JAM affiliates will probably reconstitute within a few months and launch new offensives timed to influence both the American and Iraqi elections in the fall.
And for all its progress and success, the ISF is not yet able to stand on its own. Coalition forces continue to play key support roles, maintaining stability and security in cleared but threatened areas, and serving as impartial and honest brokers between Iraqi groups working toward reconciliation.
But success is in sight. Compared with the seemingly insurmountable obstacles already overcome, the remaining challenges in Iraq are eminently solvable – if we continue to pursue a determined strategy that builds on success rather than throwing our accomplishments away.
No one in December 2006 could have imagined how far we would have come in 18 months. Having come this far, we must see this critical effort through to the end.
submitted by KiMbErLy
Look for Kimberly's new book ""The Surge: A Military History," forthcoming from Encounter Books.