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.
* The terrorists do, indeed, change their tactics constantly. That's what enemies do. It is the most naïve possible view of war to say that because the enemy has changed his approach in response to effective actions we have taken, we are being defeated. The suicide vest poses a new challenge that we will have to find ways to address, and we will. It is time to stop seeing in every enemy innovation a fatal blow. They are problems and challenges to be overcome, and that is the approach the U.S. command has taken.
* The story of Tal Afar that Biden presents is incomplete. Yes, there was a horrific truck bomb intended to re-spark sectarian violence that, the senator's beliefs notwithstanding, had been kept at a very low simmer despite the withdrawal of most U.S. forces. In response, some Shiites, including members of the local police, carried out reprisal attacks. But the violence did not cycle out of control. Instead, the local Iraqi Army and other police units rapidly intervened to bring it under control. The Iraqi government acted promptly and effectively and prevented Tal Afar, or Ninewah province in general, from exploding in response to this terrible tragedy. Ninewah is, in fact, quite an astonishing success story despite this attack. A single American combat brigade holds the entire province with the help of around 18,000 Iraqi Police and 20,000 Iraqi Army soldiers. A sole U.S. battalion is in Mosul, the provincial capital and a city of 1.8 million people. When violence flared in Tal Afar, Mosul did not explode either, despite the paucity of U.S. forces. The Iraqis are increasingly, if imperfectly, controlling even dangerous areas in their own land, supported in some cases by very small numbers of Americans. Why does Senator Biden think that's a bad thing?
The enemies of peace and order in Iraq want to win. To win, they stage attacks, as enemies in war always do. Those attacks destroy things and kill people. Complaints that Iraq is still violent, that people are still dying, that attacks are still occurring reflect not the failure of the current plan, but the complainers' incomprehension of war. When all the attacks have stopped and one can walk peacefully from one end of Baghdad to another, the plan will not be going well--it will be over, along with the war. Until then, attacks in themselves mean only that one enemy or another is still fighting and the war is still going on. In some cases, as in the Baghdad belts, they mean that we are taking the fight to the enemy, something it is essential to do in any war. Violence increases when they attack and when we attack--in itself, the increase says little about the prospects for victory.
And as for Biden's cherished partition plan, he appears not to have noticed that outside of Kurdistan there is very little Iraqi support left for such an undertaking. The Shia in Iraq are not united behind any scheme of greater Shiastan, as they are not united behind any single political leader or party. The Sunni are also beginning to fracture, as tribal leaders in Anbar, Salah-ad-Din, and Diyala turn against al Qaeda and reach out to the Maliki government. Those are positive developments that undermine the prospects for federalism, but increase the prospects for success.
Frederick W. Kagan is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He is the author of Finding the Target: The Transformation of the American Military (Encounter).