MAR. 29, 2003: BAD KARMA
There is more, much more, than is being reported about the suicide bombing that killed four Americans earlier today. And from a very credible source, I have heard enough to convince me I had to correct something I wrote this morning. This suicide attack does represent an evolution of this war to something far uglier than we may be prepared to deal with. The suicider was not, as the Iraqi vice president announced, an Iraqi army officer. He was a member of Hamas--or possibly a Saudi--and one of many terrorists that are embedded throughout Iraq. This is no longer a war to remove the threat of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and liberate Iraq. Yes, those still are part of our objectives. But it is--much more--a war between our conventional forces and most of the terrorist world.
For many years, Saddam paid a bounty to Palestinian terrorists or, rather, to their survivors. The going rate now is about $25,000 per bomber with bonus money for those who manage to kill more than a few Israelis. Saddam has called in the chips with Hamas, and hundreds of its members are in Iraq. The reports of Hezbollah terrorists coming down from Syria would be old news to the Iraqis. Hezbollah, al Qaeda, and many other terror organizations have been sending their thugs to Iraq for months.
The "Saddam fedayeen" are, in part, a fiction. Yes, there are mostly thugs recruited from Iraq's prisons, given a gun and a uniform and turned loose to terrorize the populace. But among them, and also operating independently, there are hundreds of others who are not Iraqi.
Perhaps the only good thing Saddam has done in his thirty years oppressing Iraq is to reduce the number of mullahs in Iraq to a very small group. Religious fanaticism hasn't been a feature of Iraqi society, and Saddam's government is secular. Earlier tales of bin Laden's hatred of him may be true, but in true mafia style, they can work together against the common enemy, freedom.
In preparation for this war, while we diddled with the U.N. for the past five months, Saddam has been welcoming terrorists in by the truckload. And now,
We have been letting civilian vehicles in and out of Basra, giving the civilians there freedom of movement they have been denied. But among them are many of the terrorists. One reason the Brits have had such a hard time securing the city is that these people want to ensure that a free Iraqi government doesn't come in there, plant its flag, and proclaim a new Iraq.
The terrorists--and those who back them--will do anything to prevent freedom from taking hold there. Instead of a democratic Iraq modeled after America, they want a theocratic Iraq on the model of Iran. And they are prepared to die to get one. Worse, they are prepared to kill--and force us to kill--thousands of innocents to prevent us from doing what we came to do. This means that the conflict can go on long after Saddam is gone.
Those who would be threatened by a free Iraq--Syria, Iran, and most of all Saudi Arabia--are all actively involved in terrorism. Those governments fear a free Iraq more than they fear us, because they can't afford to have the possibility of freedom occur to their own oppressed peoples. They will do everything in their power to prevent a free Iraq. They are supporting Saddam with terror, money, and propaganda.
Saddam is, when all is said and done, a survivor. He will do anything to halt our advance. But by his wholesale importing of terrorists, Saddam has opened a Pandora's box he could not close even if he did survive our attack, which he won't. Now that the terror network has sunk its roots in Iraq, it may be that the next leader of Iraq can be no more than another Karzai, who can't exist without our presence.
Lt. Gen. William Wallace's comment that this wasn't the enemy we war-gamed against was spot on. The question now is what we do to deal with this different threat. The British tactics used in Northern Ireland (which still, after decades, have brought only the most tenuous peace) won't work in Iraq.
The Israelis have managed to contain the suiciders recently, but only by sealing off Gaza and the West Bank entirely. That won't work in Basra or Baghdad. They are simply too large.
We can learn some lessons from the Israelis. One of the Arab reporters asked if Israeli advisers were working at CENTCOM, and the briefers denied this vigorously. We shouldn't be so quick to reject the idea of Israeli help. Our war planners are exceedingly smart, and our warriors are the best there are. But we need to act quickly before Basra becomes another Belfast. The question is how. It is only by coincidence that a statement from Saddam's government could be true. But the statement today that this suicide bombing is only the first of many is, I fear, all too true.05:29 PM
MAR. 29, 2003: VICTIMS OF SUCCESS
The great expectations game drags on, this time thumping the military for the "pause" in taking Baghdad. Having kicked tail all around the world for 227 years, our military is now a victim of its own success. The four grim years of World War Two were over by the time I was born, and Korea was over before I entered kindergarten. I remember the twelve years of Vietnam, but few under fifty would. All the wars television audiences can remember happened so fast. Now we have ten days in Iraq, and from much of the reporting, you'd think it was Gallipoli all over again.
First, there was Grenada. Shots were fired, casualties were incurred, and then everyone went to the beach for a Mai Tai. The First Gulf War seemed like a video game to the folks at home. Televisions played the precision strikes and the Highway of Death videos over and over, and the war itself was over in very short order. But only because we stopped short of taking out Saddam. Had we done then what we're doing now, the Republican Guard would have stood and fought. That battle wouldn't have been over in ten days either. Now, after twelve years, we face a determined enemy who has had that long to prepare for us.
The so-called "pause" going on now is a consolidation of forces and a continuation of the advance. While army and marine units resupply, that doesn't mean the coalition forces are taking a week off while the war planners go back to the drawing board. If many regroup and resupply fifty miles outside Baghdad while others fight to prepare that battlefield, that smacks of good military judgment. The days aren't being wasted by the Air Force and Navy strike fighters and bombers that continue to rain all manner of hell on Saddam's troops. Those days also aren't being wasted by those, such as the 82nd and 101st Airborne, striking at the "fedayeen" terror cells, and securing both supply routes and the masses of troops who keep on toward Baghdad. And those days aren't wasted by the scout-sniper teams all over the area, perhaps even downtown Baghdad. The military hasn't taken off for Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale.
But so it apparently seems to many in the CENTCOM child care center and even some embedded reporters. They are a bit petulant that their vacation plans and resort reservations are being invalidated by what they perceive are delays and failures. Yes, we apparently underestimated the Iraqis intent to use terrorist tactics, as well as their capacity for inhumanity. But just because your plans for April in Paris are being ruined by these inconsiderate men who haven't won the whole thing yet, that doesn't mean that we're losing, or even delayed.
The suicide terror bombing today near Najaf that killed five Americans is not an evolution of the war to a different kind of conflict presaging another defeat like Vietnam or Mogadishu. It's horrific, but not unexpected, and it will have no significant effect on the schedule or success of the campaign. But it will have to be better guarded against.
The closer we come to completing the encirclement of Baghdad, the Iraqis will become more desperate. The "Seersucker" missile fired into Kuwait city is a short range antiship missile, with a range of only about sixty miles. Its principal dangers are that it flies low, beneath the effective range of the Patriot missile defenses, and is designed to be fired from concealed positions. As we ready our forces for the main push into Baghdad, more hidden weapons -- possibly including the chemical weapons Saddam has -- will be used.
This is a real fight against an especially brutal enemy. Reports earlier today of Marines finding the bodies of four of their comrades in shallow graves near An Nasiriyah may confirm this yet again. It is unlikely that the Iraqis would bury enemy dead unless they have something to hide. These may be more murdered POWs. We must never forgive, or forget, Iraqi war crimes.
The strike on the Iraqi Information Ministry in Baghdad is being characterized by one BBC guy as an attack on reporters. Wrong. If we wanted to do that, a far better target would be the CENTCOM briefing center. Reporters may expect instant gratification. It's a good thing our soldiers don't.