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.
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.
Instead, U.S.-assisted Iraqi troops are taking down terrorists with increasing efficiency. In July, Iraqi soldiers engaged and defeated enemy combatants in Mahmudiyah, Hayy Al Shuhada, and Iskandariyah. U.S. Army and Iraqi soldiers joined forces in July to defeat a planned terrorist insurrection in the cities of Mussayib and Husaniyah. While Iraqi forces stripped a mosque of a terrorist weapons cache, American fighters killed 15 terrorists during a three-hour firefight.
Beyond the battlefield, U.S. soldiers are working to win hearts and minds. The Army Gulf Region Division is working alongside the Department of State's Iraqi Reconstruction Management Office, USAID, and other military and government agencies to rebuild Iraq.
Reconstruction projects include schools, health-care facilities, water and electrical facilities, transportation systems, police and border stations, courts, and prisons. In July, U.S. forces completed construction on an irrigation project and a police station in Baghdad Province, launched street-paving in Najaf, and began digging five wells in Erbil Province.
Thus far, American forces have completed 2,440 of 3,408 planned reconstruction projects, according to the Aug. 7 Iraq Reconstruction Report, including:
- Increased power generation to 1.3 million of a projected 1.4 million homes.
- Renovated 11 of 14 hospitals.
- Built or renovated 834 of 847 schools.
- Completed construction of 341 of 399 police stations, and 247 of 253 border forts.
- Completed installation of a 911 emergency service covering 12 million Iraqis in 15 cities.
The push to rebuild Iraqi water-treatment facilities appears to be lagging behind other reconstruction efforts. To date, U.S. military units have completed just 20 percent of planned water-treatment capacity-improvement projects.
Meanwhile, civil affairs units have fanned out across Iraq, assisting villagers with both reconstruction and community-development projects. Tammy Thompson, an Air Force technical sergeant with the 403rd Civil Affairs Battalion, told The Charlotte Observer on July 20 that Iraq is far different from what she'd imagined-and nothing like what she'd seen on American television.
"It's really kind of quiet," Thompson said. "You don't hear gunshots and explosions. I know all of you are seeing the bad things going on. The violence. The danger. But from our vantage point, we can see good things happening here." (Her experience may reflect the fact that insurgent attacks in 14 of 18 provinces have fallen below one per day.) The 403rd has helped villagers in Mosul dig wells, restore electrical power, and establish a women's wellness center.
Underreporting of such efforts is nothing new. For example, a revolutionary women's rights initiative that Maj. Wayne Culbreth helped launch in 2005 unfolded unnoticed in Diyala Province, along the Iranian border. When Saddam took power, families fled into Iran, but they returned when the United States liberated Iraq. The repatriated women brought with them a new skill: the ancient art of weaving fine Persian rugs.
Culbreth and civil affairs officers of the 278th Regimental Combat Team helped women in one Diyala village to organize a nonprofit women's rights group. Using a budget provided for the purpose, the 278th constructed a building for the women, setting up a café on the bottom floor-the first social gathering place the women had ever had-and, on the top floor, a factory floor for rug-weaving. Both created revenue streams, helping the group become self-sufficient.
"At one meeting, the women were telling me they were very frustrated with their mayor," said Culbreth, 34, who now serves as director of global outreach at Hope Presbyterian Church in Memphis, Tenn. "They wanted access to education and had concerns about water. But the mayor wouldn't listen because they were a women's group. Obviously, we never voiced support for or against an elected official. But we told the women, if the mayor will not listen to you, find someone who will, then go out and tell all the women to vote for that person."
Culbreth that day witnessed the dawn of a new understanding. "The room exploded with chatter," he said. "You could just see the energy level in the room rise as these women realized what this thing called democracy meant to them and that through their numbers, they could make a difference."
Culbreth, who has many friends still deployed in Iraq, today follows the news closely. He notes that the 278th handed off their civil affairs efforts "to very competent people coming in behind us. There are probably twice as many civil affairs projects going on now as when I was there and there's still no evidence of it in the news."