Thursday, May 13, 2004

The Search For Greenmantle

Building a functioning Iraqi society means creating working pockets and combining them into a greater whole. This letter from Hugh Hewitt's site describes the preparation for the first joint Marine-Iraqi patrols in Fallujah. (Hat tip: reader TC)

We are approaching a very significant phase in Fallujah. Very soon, we will execute the first "joint patrol" into the city. The concept is that Marines and elements of the new Iraqi force will enter the town together. To suggest that the cessation of hostilities is fragile is an understatement. The environment is very fluid and one day things look better but the next we gather intelligence that suggests we are making a mistake. The leadership has gone way out on a limb here making a tremendous gamble that the course of action decided on will bring some degree of stability to this area.

Of course, in order to allow the Fallujans a chance to stabilize themselves, we must eat a little crow. We know that people are running around the city proclaiming that the Marines were defeated and the insurgents stopped us. To our dismay, this has even been picked up by our own media. Again, I can barely stand to read it. However, we fully realize that the only way the Iraqis will take control of their own destiny is to regain some of their long lost self image/national pride.

It is a step along the road described by Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor (hat tip: reader RA).

"It is beginning to change," says Emad Abbas Qassem, a lieutenant in the Facility Protection Service (FPS), at his post outside a central Baghdad education ministry office. "It's not only the people, but my wife, my family and brothers tell me: 'Go to work and do your duty.' They used to be so afraid."

Indeed, the number of targeted attacks and casualties against security forces has dropped in recent weeks, relative to previous months. At least 350 Iraqi police were killed in the first year of occupation; that rate dropped dramatically to roughly a dozen killed during April. Lieutenant Qassem estimates a 50 percent drop in the past month alone. "Because we were trained by the Americans, [Iraqis] dealt with us like we were Americans," he says.

If General Conway's goal in Fallujah was to drive a wedge between foreign fighters and locals, there are indications he may be succeeding. And the success is not limited to the Sunni triangle. Among the Shi'ites, the combination of political and military warfare is also yielding results. This widely publicized letter from Lt. Steven Oliver of the 16th Engineering Battalion summarizes the interplay eloquently.

"The fighting we are engaged in against the uprising of Muqtada Al-Sadr is one that is extremely sensitive and risks catastrophe. Had we entered this previously, it would not have been possible for us to win. Over the months, we have been involved in preparations and much planning. Thus, today we are scoring amazing successes against this would-be tyrant. I ask that the American people be brave. Don't fall for the spin by the weak and timid amongst you that are portraying this battle as a disaster. Such people are always looking for our failure to justify and rescue their constant pessimism. They are raising false flags of defeat in the press and media. It just isn't true."

" are in a climactic battle against him and his militia. When the remnants of Saddam's regime were in full uprising in Fallujah, Sadr thought his time had come to make his bid for total power and to oust the US from Baghdad. He was very wrong. It has been subtle and very well done by our leaders. You should be proud. It would have seemed impossible to have achieved our four main goals against Sadr even just a few months ago. Now today, despite the message of the pessimists who are misleading you into despair, we are have scored all the victories needed to bring this battle to a close. First goal was to isolate Sadr. Second was to exile him from his power-base in Baghdad. Third was to contain his uprising from spreading beyond his militias. And the last goal was to get both his hard-line supporters to abandon him, and to do encourage moderates to break from him. This has been done brilliantly, and now we are on the march in a way that just months ago seemed impossible to do. Sadr is losing everything."

"...Shia leaders are breaking from him now in large numbers. The overall Shia leader of Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, has left Sadr's call for jihad and uprising to flounder on deaf ears. Bremmer and Gen. Abizaid stunned the overall Shia community by negotiating a calm in Fallujah. That has tail-spinned Sadr and his efforts to intimidate Iraq's Shia leaders. They see the US hand is strong, and that therefore they are making a mistake in kowtowing to Sadr's terror and violence."

Those who might regard Lieutenant Oliver's letter as optimistic will find it corroborated by these developments reported by the New York Times. It describes operations against Moqtada Al-Sadr, following an extensive period in which he was progressively isolated from the Shi'ite clergy and community. Not surprisingly, the spearhead against Sadr's forces were Iraqis themselves.

The fighting at the Mukhaiyam Mosque and the warrens of the surrounding neighborhood brought hundreds of American soldiers within a quarter mile of two of the most sacred places in Shiite Islam, the golden-domed shrines of Hussein and Abbas. Though the Americans say they are determined to destroy Mr. Sadr's forces, they have been cautious about bringing the war to the holy areas here and in Najaf. Invading the city centers of either place, they fear, could stir the wrath of Shiite Muslims around the world, even those who dislike Mr. Sadr.

Tuesday night, the Americans made a high-risk gamble by trying to breach the Mukhaiyam Mosque, situated just west of the Shrine of Hussein. The attack was one of the largest operations carried out in the past year by the First Armored Division, which until now was responsible for controlling Baghdad. Fighting raged on all sides of the mosque, with soldiers scrambling through rubble-strewn streets and ducking sniper shots and rocket-propelled grenades. ...

The two dozen or so Iraqi commandos who helped the Americans in the battle were part of the Iraqi Counter Terrorist Force, trained in Jordan to combat insurgents. They acted under the supervision of Special Forces, who instructed them on clearing munitions from the Mukhaiyam Mosque and shrine and from the high school. Special Forces soldiers guided much of the battle on the ground, storming the mosque and setting up a base there to direct troops.

This was not supposed to happen. April was supposed to mark the death rattle of the American occupation in Iraq. It was never meant to lead to joint Marine-Iraqi patrols in Fallujah or Iraqi commandos hunting down Moqtada Al-Sadr in Najaf. Yet the change did not proceed from "more American boots on the ground" nor from the provision of additional guards for the Baghdadi antiquities or an influx of NGOs. Still less was it the consequence of a grant of legitimacy from the United Nations or the messianic arrival of French troops. In fact it coincided with the departure of the Spanish contingent from Iraq. The change sprang from the correct application of the original strategy: building a democratic and free Iraq by recognizing the leadership which arose from the circumstances. It arose not from an imposed set of politically correct commissars in Baghdad but in complementing indigenous efforts with American strengths.

Nearly a hundred years ago, T. E. Lawrence, surveying the ruins of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, shrewdly judged that it lacked, not money, enthusiasm or a base of support but simply the right men, armed prophets who could send forth the message of freedom among the tribes. He did not seek for them in the cocktail party set of Cairo nor even in Mecca, in what might be the equivalent of the Green Zone. But he found them in the desert. In the Seven Pillars of Wisdom he relates his encounter with the man who was to be his chosen instrument against the Last Caliph -- the man who would bring a prophecy, yet not quite the expected prophecy, to a waiting world.

"I felt at first glance that this was the man I had come to Arabia to seek -- the leader who would bring the Arab Revolt to full glory. Feisal looked very tall and pillar-like, very slender, in his long white robes and his brown headcloth bound with a brilliant scarlet and gold cord. His eyelids were dropped; and his black beard and colorless face were like a mask against the strange, still watchfulness of his body. His hands were crossed in front of him on his dagger."

"And do you like our place here in Wadi Safra?" Feisal asked.

"Well," replied Lawrence, "but it is far from Damascus."

"Praise be to God there are Turks nearer us than that".

There are Americans in Washington, but praise be to God, there are some nearer to the ground than that.

N. B.

Those curious about the title of this post may want to buy John Buchan's Greenmantle, a favorite of my youth, from Amazon Books or read it for free at Project Gutenberg.

'I did not know that anything could be so light,' he said.