A Turn-Around In Iraq?


A reader writes:

I was utterly disillusioned regarding Iraq’s chances until very recently, and have been highly skeptical that any of the recent good news signaled any real progress. In the last couple of weeks, however, I’ve started to see cause for hope that I have been wrong. Some of it is the precipitous decline in violence, some the increasing willingness of ordinary Iraqis outside of Al Anbar to come forward and help us make things safer. The joint Shia-Sunni fatwa against violence is a part, as is the reopening of roads closed by the security deficit.

The real reasons, however, that I’m able to muster some cautious optimism are my positive conversations with my girl, currently on her second deployment in Baghdad.  The significance of this is only evident if I back up and provide some perspective. We are both military intelligence, filling somewhat similar roles for different units. Our first deployments overlapped significantly, and we were able to compare my experience in northern Iraq with hers in Baghdad, and the contrast was a source of despair for her: despite Baghdad’s great resources, it became evident that our kind of intelligence was neglected and accomplishing nothing there. (I can't elaborate on our kind of intelligence, except to say its exercise is expensive, somewhat arcane and does not involve anything like torture. Perhaps that explains its neglect in the Rumsfeld era.)

For me, this fact elicited rage: many units were essentially reduced to driving around until something blew up – including convoys of which my fiancée was a part!  Meanwhile, attempts to share with Baghdad leadership the techniques that had worked so well in the north ran into excuses and disinterest. 2006’s promise to be the year that paid for all the mistakes faltered, then reversed.

This time around, it’s all different.

Whereas last time she had suffered from extensive free time to contemplate her inability to do anything about the wanton violence around her, this time there’s so much effective, relevant work to do she can barely find a free moment.  Far from feeling like she’s pushing on a rope, commanders now come seeking intelligence on which to base future operations.  Finally, things are the way they’re supposed to be.  No more detaining crowds of anonymous local nationals because we have no way of telling who the real malcontents are.  No more making ourselves the unwitting tools of one faction or another because our tools for identifying slander are limited.  From what I can tell troops in Baghdad are twice as effective and half as offensive as this time last year.  We may yet achieve security.

Of course, all of this still means nothing if there is no political accommodation. There is not and has never been a military solution to Iraq.  The best we can do is keep chaos and fear from preventing a solution. I’m still pretty damned upset that my girl was supposed to get out in July before our almost-broken Army involuntarily extended her into mid 2009, but if someone takes advantage of this window of opportunity, I think we’ll both feel it was worth it.  They’d better, because the Army won’t be able to provide another.

(Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty.)