After Three Years of Iraqi War, Middle East Terrorists Are on the March

Lt. Gen Peter Chiarelli, the No. 2 US commander in Baghdad, said Friday, March 17, that the goal is to turn control of 75 percent of the country’s territory to Iraqi forces by the end of summer.
The US army has already pulled out of 25 percent of Iraq, so this means its withdrawal from another 50 percent over the next six months. Chiarelli warily characterized the land to be handed over as not necessarily areas where the insurgency is strongest.
The subtext of his words was that three years after the American invasion, the Iraqi army still cannot be trusted to handle the guerrilla war fought by Sunni insurgents. He also implies that the insurgents and their al Qaeda allies are in control of 25 percent of Iraq.
US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it differently. In an article he contributed to the March 19 Washington Post, he said “…if we retreat now, there is every reason to believe Saddamists and terrorists will fill the vacuum – and the free world might not have the will to face them again.”
Both were saying in different ways that, three years after the US invasion of Iraq, Baathist and Sunni guerrillas, combined with al Qaeda, are still capable of conquering Iraq and restoring Saddamist rule.
But aside from perseverance, neither suggests how to solve this predicament.
Without mentioning the fact that US and the next largest force, the British, have already begun withdrawing from 75 percent of Iraqi territory, Rumsfeld maintains that the “rationale for a free and democratic Iraq is as compelling today as it was three years ago,” and “the vast majority of the Iraqi people want the coalition to succeed” and a better future for themselves and their families.
But he does not say how this success can be achieved, when Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda are poised “to fill the vacuum” created by the departure of US troops.
The solution he suggests is the new Iraqi army.
But here, Rumsfeld and general Chiarelli differ.
The defense secretary states that some 100 Iraqi army battalions are “in the fight.” He says nothing about their fitness to stand up to the enemy on their own. Neither does he refer to the likelihood of their disintegration once the American army is gone: Shiite units heading for the Shiite regions south and northeast of Baghdad, and Kurdish units joining their people in the north.
But the former prime minister, the pro-American Iyad Allawi, filled in the blanks by calling a spade a spade. “If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is,” he said Sunday, March 19. If Iraq has not reached the “point of no return yet,”…we are moving towards this point. We are in a terrible civil conflict now.”
In Allawi’s view, Iraq will fall apart if the bloodshed reaches the point of no return, “…sectarianism will spread through the region and even Europe and the United States would not be spared the violence that may occur as a result of sectarian problems in this region.”
None of these authoritative voices refers to Iran’s clandestine penetration of Iraq or the 10,000 well-trained guerrilla fighters Tehran is holding ready under cover for suicide attacks against US forces, upon a signal from inside Iran. Neither General Chiarelli nor secretary Rumsfeld acknowledges Tehran’s massive meddling in Iraq.
The Olmert-Livni unilateral pullback strategy in the West Bank offered the Israeli voter ahead of the March 28 election, far from being a bold design, is more like a pale imitation of the Rumsfeld-Chiarelli perception of the Iraq imbroglio, a transposition of America’s strategic mistakes from Iraq to the West Bank.
On record, as recently as late 2005, is the US-British failure to build a Palestinian army (one army, one authority, one gun) as a crutch for the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas after Israel’s exit from the Gaza Strip. An Egyptian intelligence mission in the Gaza Strip was just as unsuccessful in setting up and training Palestinian forces of law and order.
Both projects were designed to prove the Palestinians were mature enough for self-rule in the Gaza Strip and therefore ready for statehood.
However, Israel’s pullback from the Gaza Strip last September proved the opposite; it left the vacuum so feared by Rumsfeld in Iraq. Instead of “Saddamist and terrorists”, the vacuum has been filled by Iran, Hamas, al Qaeda and motley crime gangs and warlords. In Ramallah, the situation has veered out of control and bypassed the crisis predicted for Iraq after the American withdrawal.
In the Iraqi capital, three months after a successful democratic election, the formation of a national government is stalled by the various sectarian factions jockeying to stabilize their positions in the face of evolving sectarian strife.
In Ramallah, the Palestinians have skipped the stage of interim maneuverings for a national government. They have gone straight to the ultimate extreme of handing Palestinian government squarely into the hands of a sectarian terrorist group, Hamas. The consequence is the imminent bisection of Palestinian authority into two rival heads: one, Abu Mazen, whose Fatah lost the January election to Hamas, but who boasts certain presidential powers; and the Hamas prime minister, who was placed in office by the Palestinian voter.
If Abu Mazen, who has never stood up to any terrorist group – including the al Aqsa Brigades of his own Fatah – decides to fight Hamas for the high ground, he risks sparking a fraternal war of the same intensity as Iraq’s sectarian violence. But if he opts to relinquish the battle and go for the role of elder mentor to the inexperienced Hamas, his pupils will soon be confident enough to dump him.
Since Israel’s pullout, the Gaza Strip has become a sanctuary for Palestinian and international Islamic terrorist movements, from Hamas to al Qaeda, Hizballah and sundry Palestinian groups funded from Tehran. Gaza is a cautionary model which all counter-terror forces operating in the Middle East would do well to avoid like the plague.
But instead, they are rushing to embrace it. US leaders, president George W. Bush and vice president Richard Cheney may insist loudly the US must stay the course until a free and stable Iraq is on its feet. However, on the ground, American troops are pulling back with the stated goal of quitting 75 percent of the country by summer’s end, although Rumsfeld acknowledges: “Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis.”
By the same token, Ehud Olmert and his Kadima face two ways: they promise to “fight terror” and at the same time are committed to a unilateral pullback from large tracts of the West Bank if they are elected. They have no answers to the key questions of who will step into the vacuum and how the vacated territory will be secured against its falling into willing terrorist hands.
Clearly, another unilateral Israeli withdrawal would compound the Gaza Strip disaster, opening up the West Bank to a further surge of violent elements.
In the present circumstances of terror on the march in the Middle East, abandoning territory will not tame the terrorists, only strengthen them and expand their holdings.

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