Some in the military think they've got al Qaeda in Iraq on the run:
The U.S. military believes it has dealt devastating and perhaps irreversible blows to al-Qaeda in Iraq in recent months, leading some generals to advocate a declaration of victory over the group, which the Bush administration has long described as the most lethal U.S. adversary in Iraq.
Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, head of the Joint Special Operations Command's operations in Iraq, is the chief promoter of a victory declaration and believes that AQI has been all but eliminated, the military intelligence official said. But Adm. William J. Fallon, the chief of U.S. Central Command, which oversees Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, is urging restraint, the official said. The military intelligence official, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity about Iraq assessments and strategy.
Whether AQI is in fact on the ropes in Iraq remains to be seen, but it's clear that they have lost their base of support among Iraq's Sunni population. This has been made possible largely due to the fact that the US essentially gave up the fight against the Sunni insurgent groups over the past year, and made peace with them. At this point, no one can even really understand or explain why we were fighting the Sunnis for the last 4 years other than to force them to capitulate to a government dominated by Shiites and Kurds that turns a blind eye to the mass murder of their people throughout Iraq. The administration carelessly stumbled into the war with Iraq's Sunnis after the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) created the insurgency by disbanding the Iraqi military and conducting a sweeping purge of Baathists from all levels of government which left hundreds of thousands of angry, young men unemployed and with no way to put food on the table for their families.
Having created the Sunni insurgency by our own actions, it should have been no surprise that al Qaeda jihadists would seize the opportunity presented to them to infiltrate the Sunni areas of Iraq and join in the fight against the Americans. They fortunately did not make the most of this opportunity, and their brutal and extremist tactics served to accelerate their undoing and turn the Sunnis against them.
Neoconservative apologists who think this turnaround is due to the brilliance of the "surge" seem totally oblivious to the fact that we are now funneling cash and weapons to the same Sunni insurgent groups that we have been fighting for the last 4 years (a course of action that I advocated). Make no mistake about it. The emerging victory over al Qaeda in Iraq (if it holds) belongs to the Sunnis. They are the ones in the lead of this fight, and they are rejecting the extremism of the al Qaeda jihadists in their midst. Our troops have done a fantastic job assisting them but there's no doubt that we could not have done it on our own. Defeating entrenched insurgencies is virtually impossible if the local population supports the insurgent groups. Everybody who understands counter-insurgency warfare knows this to be a fact.
So now that al Qaeda in Iraq is finished, what next? If there's no more al Qaeda in Iraq what exactly is the purpose of keeping 170,000 troops in the country indefinitely?
This will be the question that war advocates will be forced to address over the next year and into next fall's election. The diminished al Qaeda threat in Iraq will serve to crystallize opposition to the war since it removes the ability of war supporters to continually conflate the war in Iraq with the war on terror. Now, there will be a clear separation which will help to disambiguate the debate.
Remember, as I said in an earlier post, there is nothing that our troops could accomplish in Iraq that would cause neoconservatives to advocate a withdrawal. Likewise, there is nothing that the Iraqis could fail to do (such as blow all the benchmarks we had set for them) that would similarly cause the neocons to advocate a withdrawal. What the neoconservatives need now, and what they will surely find over the next few months, is a new justification to keep the troops in Iraq in perpetuity.
Care to guess what that reason will be? If you guessed "Iran" you win the prize.
Note: Wizbang Blue is now closed and our authors have moved on. Paul Hooson can now be found at Wizbang Pop!. Please come see him there!