Sustain the support

With his June 28 speech discussing Iraq and the war on terror, President George W. Bush initiated what many of his supporters believe to be an overdue effort to rally home front support; to reverse the overwhelmingly negative, explosive 24/7 news cycle images.  While acknowledging that terrorists continue killing innocent Iraqis, that this a tough struggle, he stressed successes on all fronts: military, political, social.  He noted that terrorists have failed to prevent elections, the formation of a national assembly and an interim Iraqi government.  He provided context and perspective; reminding Americans that it has only been one year since Iraq regained its sovereignty after decades of brutal repression; that patriotic Iraqis continue to sign up for the army and other security forces to defend their country. Several hundred have died doing so.  They are, after all, the ultimate guarantors of Iraq's security and stability. 

And, President Bush recalled to our memories that clear, beautiful day in September when our world changed.  He might have noted that one of the units now serving in Iraq, the New York National Guard 42nd Infantry 'Rainbow' Division, counts among its personnel the first military responders on 9/11.  When divisional officers and enlisted men exchange salutes they say: 'Rainbow' and 'Never Forget.' 

On the Fourth of July, speaking to a crowd in West Virginia, President Bush essentially delivered a paraphrased  recapitulation of his June 28th speech.  Again, he rallied Americans and encouraged them to support the war effort.  On the day we celebrate our democratic independence, he reminded us all that we are helping Iraq to achieve that same noble goal.

And now, with a graphically ghastly reminder of the nature of the enemy fresh in our minds, momentum for supporting the war effort must be sustained.  The White House and the Pentagon need to relay on a regular basis a series of 'success reports.'  

For instance:  On July 8 Major General William Webster, Task Force Baghdad and 3rd ID commander, reported that two Iraqi brigades are already operating on their own in Baghdad.  In several months, two more will be operational.  By summer's end an 18,000 man Iraqi division, the 6th, will be controlling terrain in Baghdad.  They will be augmented by 11,000 Iraqi Ministry of the Interior special police and commando units.  Since February 27, Task Force Baghdad has conducted 11 brigade—size operations, each involving more than 2,000 soldiers, which resulted in the capture of 1400 suspected terrorists.  Operation Lightning, the 3rd ID's role in which was dubbed Squeeze Play, began May 27 and has netted  1700 detained suspects, some of whom were taken by Iraqi forces.  There have been 7000 patrols and 500 raids which accounted for 70 caches of bomb—making materiel. 

Maj. Gen. Webster reminded everyone just how large the Baghdad area is:  With about 7 million citizens, it is about 1700 square miles, with 440 miles of designated supply routes, a thousand key facilities — everything from power plants to oil refineries, schools and mosques. There are over 350 mosques.  He noted that the numbers of car bombings have been cut in half since April, that the task force has been working hard gathering intelligence on how car bombs are made, who is making them and where are they being constructed.  He stated that, while more threats lie ahead,

'I believe that the majority — that the ability of these insurgents to conduct sustained, high—intensity operations, as they did last year — we've mostly eliminated that.'

 Over the 4th of July weekend US forces hunted down insurgents and stopped bomb attacks throughout Iraq. 600 Iraqi and 250 Task Force Baghdad soldiers, working on credible information provided by local citizens, descended on safe houses on the west side of the airport and detained 100 suspected terrorists, some of them foreign fighters from Egypt. 

Inside a house west of Risalah, soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd ID found a large weapons cache during a knock & search operation.  Items seized included a U.S. body armor vest, 4 AK—47 assault rifles, 2 improvised rocket propelled grenade launchers, two 60 mm. mortars, two 82 mm. mortars, 3 RPGs, 300 rounds of 9mm. ammunition and 10 grenades.

West of Baghdad, Iraqi soldiers prevented a terrorist car bomb attack after spotting a vehicle parked aside a major highway.  Discovered inside it were wires around the steering column, 4 mortar rounds, one land mine, and a radio with wire connected to the car.  Local citizens told Iraqi soldiers that they saw the driver park the car, get out, get into a taxi and leave.

At the Zuhor station, Iraqi police foiled an attempt by three terrorists who were planning a powerful car bomb attack.  Inside the vehicle:  20 rockets, 25 RPGs, 25 hand grenades, 3 bags of TNT, and 9 cases of mortar rounds.  Of the three terrorists, one was killed, one captured, one escaped.

Military officials, meanwhile, announced the capture last month of al Qaeda operative Imad Nassar Ahmed Amarah, aka Abu Hamza, in Mosul.  The Tunisian—born terrorist specialized in importing suicide bombers.  Hamza ran a series of suicide bomber safe houses in the Mosul area for Abu Ibrahim, who was killed by security forces.

Progress and success on other fronts continues:

On June 1, in the first move of its kind, Coalition forces officially transferred full responsibility for the security of a base in Dibbis to the Iraqi army.  On that same day, Iraqi forces conducted their first air assault when 35 soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 6th Iraqi Army division were inserted near several small towns outside Baghdad to conduct raids and door—door searches for bomb—making materials and targeted Persons of Interest.

In the Nissan district of eastern Baghdad, workers broke ground for major sewer and water projects.  Costing $27 million, the projects will employ 600 local Iraqis.

Civilian flights began again out of Basrah airport on June 4.  A week later, regular flights began between Hawler International Airport in Irbil and Baghdad.  These flights now run three times a week and it is hoped they will encourage foreign investments in Iraq by easing access to its capital.

On June 5, the $100 million Al—Ameen substation, which distributes electricity to substations around Baghdad, was completed after 10 months of work, 99% of which was accomplished by local Iraqis.

In mid—June construction started on a $1.25 million school project in the Fallujah district of Anbar province.  Four out of 13 projects are underway; 9 have been completed.  Throughout Iraq, 628 out of 840 scheduled school projects have been completed; 102 are under construction. 

On June 19 Iraqi workers completed construction on railroad stations in Balad and Baiji, which will connect Salah—al—Din with adjoining provinces, bringing goods and customers to citizens in distant cities.

The program for building 167 medical clinics throughout Iraq began June 22 with the groundbreaking for a $656,000 facility in Diyala province, one of two that will be located there.

June 27 marked the completion of a water treatment project in Kirkuk, which will provide clean, potable water for 5,000 people.  Another such project was begun in Nineveh province. 8 are scheduled for Mosul and 34 are programmed nationwide.

And with the help of Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi National Soccer League resumed play on June 12.  More than 10,000 fans showed up for the first game in the Baghdad Soccer Stadium which featured Basra beating Dahouk 1—0.  Subsequent games are scheduled through the end of August.

The above is no dry recitation of data.  Rather it is a clear record of progress and achievement, of an industrious people working, literally, for the democratic future to which they are now dedicated.  It is a roster of the coalition's firm resolution to stand by the brave people of Iraq, now moving inexorably towards complete independence, until the job is finished over there. 

In the aftermath of the London bombings, our resolve is strengthened, our fortitude up—armored, our will reinforced.  And if anyone asks us when will our support for the war effort begin to falter, we will look them in the eye and say, 'Never.' 

John B. Dwyer is a military historian.