(OpinionJournal.com) – Two years ago, on September 11, 2006, the Washington Post stirred an election-year uproar with this chilling dispatch:
“The chief of intelligence for the Marine Corps in Iraq recently filed an unusual secret report concluding that the prospects for securing that country’s western Anbar province are dim and that there is almost nothing the U.S. military can do to improve the political and social situation there . . .”
But there was something we could do: Pursue a different counterinsurgency strategy and commit more troops. And on Monday, U.S. forces formally handed control of a now largely peaceful Anbar to the Iraqi military. “We are in the last 10 yards of this terrible fight. The goal is very near,” said Major-General John Kelly, commander of U.S. forces in Anbar, in a ceremony with U.S., Iraqi and tribal officials. Very few in the American media even noticed this remarkable victory.
Yes, the stunning progress in Anbar owes a great deal to the Awakening Councils of Sunni tribesmen who broke with al Qaeda terrorists and allied with U.S. forces. But those Sunni leaders would never have had the confidence to risk their lives in that way without knowing the U.S. wasn’t going to cut and run. The U.S. committed some 4,000 additional troops to Anbar as part of the 2007 “surge,” along with thousands more Iraqi troops.
The world has since seen al Qaeda driven even from what the terrorists and many in the Western press had claimed were Sunni enclaves that welcomed the terrorist help against the American “occupation.” The result has been the most significant military and ideological defeat for al Qaeda since the Taliban was driven from Kabul in 2001. In danger of being humiliated in Iraq in 2006, the U.S. has demonstrated that it has the national will to fight a longer war. The Sunni Arab world in particular has noticed — and is now showing new respect for Iraq’s Shiite government.
For Iraqi politics, the Anbar handover is especially meaningful because the Shiite-dominated Iraq military will now provide security in a largely Sunni province. Anbar is the 11th of 18 provinces that the coalition has turned over to Iraq control, but the first Sunni province. The government of Nouri al-Maliki now has a further chance to show its ability to represent the entire country, the way it did when the Iraqi military routed Shiite militias in Basra and Sadr City in the spring.
For U.S. politics, it is worth recalling that that 2006 Washington Post story became part of a Beltway consensus that defeat in Iraq was inevitable. Democrats made withdrawal the center of their campaign to retake Congress, Republicans like Senator John Warner became media darlings for saying the war couldn’t be won, and the James Baker-Lee Hamilton Iraq Study Group laid out a bipartisan road to retreat. According to memos disclosed Sunday in the New York Times, even senior officials at the State Department and Pentagon opposed the surge. President Bush, heeding Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno as well as John McCain, overruled the defeatists and ordered a renewed U.S. commitment to Iraq.
The Anbar handover is above all a tribute to the hundreds of Americans who have fought and died in places like Fallujah, Ramadi and Hit over these last five years. Over the horizon of history, we tend to recall only the successes in previous wars at such places as Guadalcanal, Peleliu and the Chosin Reservoir. We forget that those wars and battles were also marked by terrible blunders and setbacks, both political and military. What mattered is that our troops, and our country, had the determination to fight to an ultimate victory. So it is with the heroes of Anbar.
Copyright ©2008 OpinionJournal.com, September 2, 2008. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here September 4, 2008 with permission from Opinion Journal. Reprinted for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from OpinionJournal.com. Visit the website at OpinionJournal.com.
1. What conclusion did the Washington Post make in a report about Anbar province on September 11, 2006?
2. a) What did the U.S. Military do which counteracted this conclusion?
b) What was the result of the military’s action?
3. What gave Sunni leaders the confidence to break with al Qaeda terrorists and ally with U.S. forces?
4. What has been the result of Sunnis driving al Qaeda terrorists out of their territories?
5. When the Washington Post story was published in 2006, how did it affect views on Iraq?
6. Do you think President Bush made the right decision by acting on the advice of Generals Petraeus and Odierno regarding the surge instead of listening to senior officials at the State Department and Pentagon? Explain your answer.
EXPLANATION OF SUNNI AND SHI’A MUSLIMS
-Just as there are many denominations of Christianity (such as Catholic or Protestant) and Judaism (such as orthodox or liberal) there are a number of denominations of Islam.
-The major denominations of Islam are Sunni and Shi’a.
-Sunni and Shi’a have significant theological differences from each other, but possess the same essential beliefs of Islam.
-Sunnis make up the majority of Muslims worldwide (80%- 85% of all Muslims are Sunni).
-However, Shi’as are in the majority in Iraq (approximately 60-65% of Iraq’s population are Shi’a).
-Sunni Muslims are the minority in Iraq (approximately 32-35% of the population are Sunni) Of the Sunnis in Iraq, only 12-15% percent are Arabs, wile 18-20% percent are Kurds.
-Kurds are not Arabs, but a different ethnicity. Under Saddam Hussein, some 4,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed. At least 50,000 Kurds died – many were tortured and murdered by order of Saddam Hussein.
-Sunni Arabs enjoyed favor under Saddam’s rule.
(For more information on the Sunni-Shi’a split, click here.)
The United States Central Command (CENTCOM) is a theater-level Unified Combatant Command unit of the U.S. armed forces, established in 1983 under the operational control of the U.S. Secretary of Defense. It was originally conceived of as the Rapid Deployment Forces. Its area of responsibility is in the Middle East, East Africa and Central Asia. CENTCOM has been the main American presence in many military operations, including the Gulf War, the United States war in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War.
Read the following on Anbar from the CentCom website:
- “Anbar Handover Could Free Marines for Afghanistan Missions, General Says”
- “Iraqis Take Control of Anbar Security”
Read “Joint Statement: Transfer of security in Anbar” at the Multi-National Force Iraq (MNF-Iraq) website.