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Killing terrorists & calling 911

Iraq | That's just the beginning of the list of good things happening in Iraq

Issue: "Living a legend," Aug. 19, 2006

Aug. 2: American soldiers and Iraqi National Police captured eight suspected terrorists during a joint operation in the Doura neighborhood, near the center of Baghdad.

Aug. 1: Coalition forces announced they'd turned over to the Iraqi government an al-Qaeda leader who admitted to conducting terrorist activity since 2004, including large-scale bombings and oversight of five terrorist cells.

July 30: U.S. forces announced the capture of Ja'far 'Abdallah, a Saudi-born terror leader who admitted participating in a May 20 checkpoint attack in al-Dhuluiya.

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July 29: Coalition forces targeted and detained two senior al-Qaeda leaders and three other suspected terrorists during multiple raids in central and northern Iraq. In a separate raid, security forces detained a principal al-Qaeda financial and logistics operative in the northern city of Mosul.

The list goes on as U.S. soldiers in late July and early August rang up terrorist kills and captures like cherries on a Vegas slot machine. But unlike Vegas, luck had little to do with their success. Coalition forces, including the Joint Special Operations Command, whose operatives took out Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June, have acted systematically on a trove of intelligence yielded after the capture of key terror leaders and financiers, according to Multi-National Forces Iraq, headquartered in Baghdad.

For example, the recent detention of an underling led directly to the capture of Ja'far 'Abdallah. And Iraqi and coalition forces nabbed on May 29 Sheikh Ahmed al-Dabash, the money man behind the March 2004 bombing at the Shiite holy city of Karbala that killed 140. Al-Dabash's capture was part of the chain of events leading to the U.S. hit on al-Zarqawi.

But a search on news databases for Abdallah, al-Dabash, or any U.S. military progress turns up very little. Indeed, progress reports from Multi-National Forces Iraq paint a picture that contrasts sharply with the one beamed into living rooms via the network news. Is the American military making progress in Iraq?

University of Dayton historian Larry Schweikart says yes. For example, in researching his book America's Victories: Why the U.S. Wins Wars and Will Win the War on Terror (Sentinel HC, 2006), Schweikart calculated the number of terrorists killed in Iraq through 2005 and checked his figure with Marine Corps war planners at Camp Lejeune, N.C. The verified tally: 20,000. The number did not include terrorists wounded and put permanently out of action.

"At Fallujah alone, we killed 2,000 of these terrorists," Schweikart said, noting that there is a limited number of recruitable jihadis willing to strap on bombs or kill civilians. "We're in a war. To my knowledge, no one has ever run a story on what an incredible job we're doing of killing the other guys. The fact is, we are eradicating this enemy."

As evidence of battleground victory, Schweikart notes the terrorists' transition in Iraq from attacking U.S. soldiers to bombing military supply convoys to ambushing Iraqi police to, now, an increasingly wholesale slaughter of helpless civilians. The trend, said Schweikart, suggests desperation on the part of the terrorists, an acknowledgment that they cannot win militarily and therefore must resort to killing their own countrymen, people of their own faith, in order to turn Sunnis and Shiites against each other-and more Americans against the war.

In July, though, Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy sketched a view of the terrorists that is the polar opposite of Schweikart's view: Terrorist attacks and sniping in Ramadi, he wrote, show that "insurgent morale remains high. Overall, the insurgents are adaptive, changing strategy, operations, and tactics over time, and quick to regenerate." Eisenstadt suggested that the likely outcome in Iraq under current U.S. policy "may be a military stalemate. . . . It is also not possible to rule out the possibility of a protracted civil war, or the collapse of the central government."

Who's right? Difficult to say. But Schweikart notes that the pattern in Iraq follows that of other insurrectionary wars and terrorist rebellions, which typically last from three to eight years. Of 11 such conflicts in the 20th century, the government or established power has won eight. And while media pundits seem never to tire of comparing the Iraq war to Vietnam, the current conflict more closely resembles the Philippine Insurrection, or "Moro Wars," Schweikart said.

In that war, Islamic fanatics beheaded their enemies and murdered civilians. Insurgent leader Emilio Aguinaldo in 1899 stated that his goal was not to defeat American forces, but to oust President William McKinley. Before his death, al-Zarqawi said he wanted to get rid of U.S. President George W. Bush-and followed the template laid down by Osama bin Ladin after Somalia: Exact as much bloodshed as possible and the Americans will fold.

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