March 21st, 2008
There is a relentless drumbeat of negative news coming out of Iraq these days. Only look at these headlines:
Fallouja has been rebuilt since the 2004 battles. Stores again are doing a brisk business, and the population is nearly back up to 300,000.
FALLOUJA, IRAQ — The one-lane bridge over the Euphrates River where a mob hung the charred bodies of slain Americans four years ago is now a focal point in the revitalization of this war-ravaged city.
The Iraqi government and the U.S. plan to widen the pedestrian pathways on either side of the bridge so shoppers can stream into Fallouja’s western neighborhood and buy food, clothing and other goods from stores that again line the streets of a city once given up for dead.
The comeback of Fallouja, the site of two major battles between Marines and insurgents in 2004, surprises even the most optimistic U.S. planners.
A growing number of foreign fighters are leaving or attempting to flee Iraq as U.S. and Iraqi forces have weakened al-Qaeda and forced its members from former strongholds, U.S. military officials say.
The trend reflects a broad disenchantment among foreign fighters, particularly since al-Qaeda has lost sanctuaries in parts of Baghdad and Anbar, a Sunni province west of the capital, U.S. military intelligence officials say.
“They’re being told in their countries of origin by facilitators that, ‘Hey, we’re basically winning the war against the apostates,’ ” said Brig. Gen. Michael Flynn, intelligence director for Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the Middle East. “They go there and find out it’s not quite the case.”
And in formerly restive Diyala province, the coalition faces a welcome, if tricky conundrum: Too many security forces with nothing to secure.
After five years of trial and error, the strategy of recruiting tribesmen to help defend their neighborhoods against Islamic extremists has proved one of the most effective weapons in the U.S. counterinsurgency arsenal.
But restoring a measure of calm to what were some of the most violent places in Iraq has in turn presented the U.S. military with one of its biggest headaches: what to do with the more than 80,000 armed men whose loyalty has been bought with a paycheck that cannot go on forever…
The village of Hawr Rajab in Diyala in many ways epitomizes the work of the guard program. Four months ago, U.S. soldiers found headless bodies in the largely deserted streets. Now, many residents who had fled in fear are back, and the village bustles with activity.
American soldiers are handing out micro-grants to help businessmen repair their stores and buy stock. Seed and plastic have been distributed to farmers. An Iraqi contractor is revamping the clinic and building classrooms. And there are plans to convert the abandoned shoe factory into an ice-making plant by the summer.
Managing the transition of so-called “concerned local citizens” (CLCs) into productive members of society who have a stake in the Iraqi social contract will not be easy – it’ll be damned hard. But even talking about transitioning to a “normal” society, the formation of the CLC movement and the retirement of the Mehdi Army from the field would not have been even remotely possible had not the administration doubled down by investing in the “surge” last year. This is of course terrible news for those who were personally and politically invested the alternative strategy of trying to manage defeat.
Given the choice between hard and impossible, most people would choose “hard” every time. Given the choice between ignominious defeat and honorable victory – well, that’s a different story. All depends on, you know: Who’s ox is getting gored. Who’s head is getting chopped off.
That sort of thing.