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Biden Gets It Wrong

We are not simply "squeezing the water balloon."

2:30 PM, Apr 12, 2007 • By FREDERICK W. KAGAN
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Senator Joseph Biden, still promoting the increasingly inappropriate notion of partitioning Iraq, declares that for every positive development in Iraq that can be reported, there are at least as many negatives. In an op-ed in this morning's (April 12) Washington Post, he identifies four examples:

* As violence has gone down in Baghdad, it is rising in the belt around Baghdad: "when we squeeze the water balloon in one place, it bulges somewhere else."

* Muqtada al Sadr, leader of the extremist Mahdi Army, has not been seen, but "he has been heard, rallying his followers with anti-American messages and encouraging his thugs to take on American troops in the south. Intelligence experts believe his militia is simply waiting out the surge."

* Closing markets has precluded some car bombs, but terrorists have simply changed tactics and now use suicide vests.

* In Tal Afar, a truck bomb hit the Shiite community and sparked retaliatory Shiite attacks.

None of these examples prove the point Biden is trying to make:

* We are not simply "squeezing the water balloon." Violence is up in the Baghdad belts because U.S. and Iraqi forces have been aggressively attacking al Qaeda bases in those areas that have been funneling weapons and fighters into Baghdad. Naturally when we attack his critical bases and lines of communication, the enemy fights back. The U.S. command has responded by sending more force into this area to exploit initial successes, which have played a role in keeping the AQI (al Qaeda in Iraq) violence in Baghdad under control. Biden would do well to follow events more closely, and then he would see the interconnection between the Baghdad belts and the effort to secure Baghdad. He did not note, but might have, that violence has also increased in Diyala province as AQI fighters driven out of Baghdad and Anbar are seeking new bases. The U.S. command has responded by increasing forces in Diyala to fight the new threat, and is making progress. Ba'qubah has been partially cleared and operations against AQI bases there are continuing. But all this raises the question: Doesn't Biden believe that we should be fighting al Qaeda? Most of his colleagues in the Democratic party say that that is the only interest we have in Iraq. It's the interest that's being pursued by our operations in the Baghdad belts, Diyala, and Baghdad itself. Attacking the enemy increases violence in war. Indeed, it's often the only way to attain an important objective like defeating al Qaeda, an objective that seems to be, for the first time, coming nearer to our grasp.

* Muqtada al Sadr has fled to Iran, at great cost to his reputation in Iraq. He has always been anti-American, and has defined his movement from the start as a Shiite Iraqi nationalist movement aimed at ending the U.S. occupation. By mid-2004, his Jaysh al Mahdi was in open combat with U.S. soldiers and had set up machine guns in the most sacred Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, from which we had patiently and carefully to extricate his fighters following a long, slow battle. On April 9, 2007, Sadr called for peaceful protests against the U.S. occupation, and that's what he got. A few tens of thousands (perhaps) of protesters gathered in Najaf (many trucked there from Baghdad by Sadr's organization). They carried Iraqi flags rather than Sadr's picture--a marked departure from previous such demonstrations. No violence ensued, and there were few spontaneous protests around the country in response to this planned and prepared demonstration. As General Petraeus noted, moreover, the right to demonstrate peacefully is a new development in Iraqi society, the result of the invasion of 2003 and subsequent efforts to protect a nascent democracy. Lots of Iraqis don't like the American presence. Some of them, prompted by an Iraqi politician who's made his career based on anti-Americanism, demonstrated peacefully. That's a good thing, not a bad thing. Biden's "intelligence experts" are also wrong that the Mahdi Army is simply lying low. Aggressive U.S. operations throughout Baghdad, including Sadr City, have capture or killed more than 700 Mahdi Army fighters, including many key figures. U.S. forces have swept repeatedly through Sadr-dominated neighborhoods in Baghdad, collecting weapons and intelligence and establishing a Joint Security Station in the middle of Sadr City. That's not lying low. It's losing--losing power, cohesion, and credibility. It's because he fears that he's losing control that Sadr called for demonstrations and has threatened to walk out of the government. The Sadrists have threatened to walk out on several occasions and have actually done it sometimes. Iraq ticked on without them and they came skulking back.