Features

On borrowed time

Iraq | Captured memo shows terrorist leaders realize they are fighting against the clock

Issue: "Books and Movies 2006," July 1, 2006

While Washington lawmakers were debating an exit strategy for the United States' prolonged engagement in Iraq, terrorist leaders may well have been cheering them on. That's because when it comes to measuring the insurgency's success in war-torn Iraq, enemy leaders and many American politicians don't seem to see eye to eye.

Documents found during a raid on a former safe house of super terrorist Abu Masab al-Zarqawi and released after his June 7 death suggest the terror leader didn't think the insurgency was as strong as some Washington pols say it is. Instead, the letter, penned by Zarqawi himself or someone close to him, reveals an insurgency nerve center worried about a prolonged engagement and the rise of the Iraqi National Guard.

The prevailing wisdom among administration critics on Capitol Hill maintains that time has worked against coalition forces in Iraq. Prolonged conflict, they say, gives insurgents an edge as continued casualties eventually will turn the American public against the war effort and the Shiite majority against the new Iraqi government.

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After House Republicans pushed through an early June resolution rejecting an "arbitrary date" for withdrawal, Senate Democrats tried to pass a nonbinding resolution calling on President Bush to set a timetable for removing all U.S. forces from the Iraq theater.

"The administration's policy to date-that we'll be there for as long as Iraq needs us-will result in Iraq's depending upon us longer," said Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, during a Senate debate on setting a timetable for withdrawal. "Three and a half years into the conflict, we should tell the Iraqis that the American security blanket is not permanent."

Terror leaders inside Iraq apparently see things differently. In the preamble of what appeared to be a strategy memo composed by Zarqawi's organization, the terrorist leaders of the Iraqi insurgency declared time to be working against them.

"As an overall picture, time has been an element in affecting negatively the forces of the occupying countries, due to the losses they sustain economically in human lives, which are increasing with time. However, here in Iraq, time is now beginning to be of service to the American forces and harmful to the resistance," the seized document stated. In particular, the memo pegged the mass arrests of insurgents and the freezing of terrorists' assets as prime reasons insurgency leaders believe they are failing.

Anti-war congressman John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, tells a different story. "Only the Iraqis can solve the problem in Iraq," said Mr. Murtha, a decorated Vietnam War veteran. "They're fighting with each other and our troops are caught in between, and I say it's time to redeploy."

But according to the Zarqawi memo, terror leaders lamented the fact that the Iraqi National Guard had successfully become a buffer between American forces and insurgent bombers, a far cry from a crossfire with American troops in the middle. "The forces of the National Guard have succeeded," the memo complained, "in forming an enormous shield protecting the American forces and have reduced substantially the losses that were solely suffered by the American forces."

Last week, Senate Democrats pressed on, debating among themselves the merits of a resolution that called for a deadline for withdrawal and another that did not call for a specific deadline but did seek a redeployment of some U.S. troops to begin this year.

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