The Right Coast

October 02, 2004
Belmont Club on Samarra
By Tom Smith

Update from Belmont Club. Impressive performance by joint US-Iraqi forces:

The fact that the First Infantry Division and the Iraqi Army were able to keep the approach of multi-battalion forces secret from the enemy in the heart of the Sunni triangle is one of the most impressive aspects of this operation. The insurgents were surprised in a stronghold where they could expect to enjoy every intelligence advantage. Nearly as impressive was the lightning seizure of the Shi'ite shrine by the 36th Iraqi Commando battalion. If this feat were achieved in Najaf two month's earlier it would have been the equivalent of Allawi capturing Moqtada al-Sadr and his high command in their underpants. In fact, the entire multinational operation implies a degree of coordination, command and control that speaks volumes about the degree of improvement of the Iraqi Army.

But many difficulties still remain. The "Telegraph" points out the obvious one. Will the victory last?
"Less than three weeks ago the US military entered the troubled city to reinstate its city council, which had disbanded earlier under terrorist threat. Although this was hailed as a great success at the time, insurgents quickly returned and cowed local forces when US forces left."

In that respect the earlier American operation in Samarra resembled any Israeli Defense Force incursion into Gaza or the West Bank -- overwhelming but temporary. In fact, any all-American incursion into Falluja would probably have shared the same temporary character. But the American commitment to building a new Iraqi Army and Iraqi State is the bearing strategic fruit which provides the crucial difference. Imagine if the Israeli Defense Forces and a Palestinian Government Force could jointly seize a terrorist stronghold and then garrison it with a Palestinian Force. What if they could seize and hold? This is what American and Iraqi forces are achieving in Samarra; this is what can be done in October that could not be achieved in April, 2004. The view that Iraq is descending into a quagmire represents a valid concern, but it ignores
three crucial achievements by US policymakers.

The piecemeal defeat of the threatened Sunni-Shi'ite uprising in April by holding the Sunnis fixed while militarily and politically defeating Moqtada Al-Sadr;

Rebuilding the Iraqi Army from a near-zero condition in April; and

Establishing an interim Iraqi government.

Both Saddam and Sadr believed they could outmaneuver the Americans, who were, if the press is to be believed, singularly lacking in nuance and intelligence. Doubtless Zarqawi believes he can do the same. Long may he cherish that hope.