Meanwhile, Back in Baghdad

The world's attention is now focused on the Israel—Hezbollah conflict between the region's only fully functioning democracy and the Shiite 'Party of God,' a terrorist group armed and supported by Syria and Iran, members in foul standing of the axis of evil.  But the conflict in Baghdad, the capital and symbolic heart of Iraq, remains crucial to the success of the global war on Islamic terror. Important threads connect the two theatres of conflict.

Iran is the central malefactor. Of that dangerous, rogue state, I was reminded of the description of Professor Moriarty delivered by Holmes to Watson in The Final Problem when Sherlock tells the good doctor that

'he sits motionless, like a spider in the center of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations and he knows well every quiver of each of them.'  

The evil arachnid Ahmadinejad sits in Tehran, the fiendish filaments of his web stretching from Beirut to Baghdad and beyond.  

Iran's Republican Guard Corps (IRGC) has been actively supporting terrorism in Iraq for some time now.  For example, as posted at Iraq The Model (ITM) on May 13, 2006,  the reliable Az—Zaman newspaper reported that the IRGC has been supplying al Qaeda in Iraq with SAM—7 anti—aircraft missiles, more powerful IEDs, machine guns and rifles.  This infusion of murderous materiele was facilitated by Hezbollah after al Qaeda representatives met in Beirut to establish channels with Tehran.

Iran's border with Iraq is a long one, too long at the moment for Coalition and Iraqi forces to secure. Iran's Ahmadinejad and Iraq's Muqtada al—Sadr share the same apocalyptic vision about the rise of the 'Savior' or 'Hidden'  Imam of Shia Islam. They both believe in the 'Imam Mahdi' hence Sadr's 'Mahdi army.'   From ITM:

'Ahmedinejad and Sadr believe it is their duty to pave the way and prepare the ground for the rise of the Imam [which] requires certain conditions... we are seeing some signs here [in Baghdad] that make us think that Iran and its tools in Iraq are trying to provoke [that] rise...' 

No wonder that Sadr stated the other day that he is going to send 1500 picked men to bolster Iranian—backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.

As President Bush has stated on several occasions, Iraq is the central front in the global war on terror.  The unholy trio of terrorists, insurgents and death squads understand that Baghdad has become the main battleground, the strategic prize: the Iraqi government, its security forces and the coalition know the same thing, hence Prime Minister Maliki's decision to launch Operation Forward Together. With the context— and perspective—destroying 24/7 media airing nothing but negative news from Iraq, it is no wonder that Americans, especially during the enervating heat of summer, are less and less patient with seeming lack of progress.  They ought to look at a map of Baghdad to understand the daunting nature of Forward Together, to orient their compass of understanding with the facts.

The city of Baghdad, population 6 million, occupies some 250 square miles.  Within its borders are a dozen municipalities, or baladiyat such as Mansour, Nissan and Khadamiyah, which in turn are divided into quarters that are further divided into mahallat or numbered districts.  This is a huge urban and suburban metaphorical jungle in which the human beasts operate, picking the time and place of their attacks. Coalition and Iraqi forces, the hunters, appreciate and encourage tips from civilians, and there have been almost 1,000 of them in the last 30 days. 

In his July 24 press conference, Multi—National Force Iraq spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell offered some much—needed perspective regarding Operation Forward Together.  In the first place, most of the violence is occurring in 5 of Baghdad's 12 baladiyat.  As Maj. Gen. Caldwell put it,

'Hundreds of thousands of Baghdadis live a regular life day in, day out, unmarred by violent attacks on civilians...' 

It is roughly a microcosm of the combat situation countrywide, where 14 out of Iraq's 18 provinces are relatively quiescent.  On a daily basis, 51,000 troops (combined Iraqi and Coalition forces) conduct 700 patrols.  Most of them are executed independently by Iraqis. Six hundred checkpoints are manned.  MG Caldwell stressed that the

'volume and flexibility of Iraqi—manned checkpoints has inhibited the movement of the enemy and [its] ability to strike at innocent civilians. There have been tragic, sensational, attention—grabbing attacks, but countless attacks have been prevented or mitigated (not covered by media) because the checkpoints are out there, in many cases taking the hit instead of civilians.' 

He cited another instance where two suicide bombers killed patrons in a crowded restaurant (generating headline news) and the 'not well reported' immediate aftermath — Iraqi forces responded immediately and provided first—aid. One of the soldiers noticed a suspicious looking van nearby.  Examining it, they discovered it was packed with explosives, hundreds of mortar rounds and grenades, attached to a timer set to detonate after first responders arrived and curious onlookers had gathered.  An Iraq EOD (explosive ordnance detachment) team was called in.  They defused the bomb with 5 minutes left on the timer.

Numerous weapons and explosives caches, some hidden in mosques, continue to be found and confiscated, depriving the killers of their instruments of death

These efforts to secure Baghdad have come at a price.  From June 13 through July 19 thirty—one national police, twenty—four local police and twenty—seven Iraqi soldiers have been killed and 344 total wounded in action. 

Countrywide, meanwhile, operations to degrade al Qaeda continue in the wake of Zarqawi's death. For instance, Abu Afghani, a Jordanian and former al Qaeda in Iraq, the emir of Yusufuyah, was killed by Coalition forces in early June.  He was responsible for foreign fighter movement through Al Anbar province and commanded some of those units engaged in Al Qaeda terrorist attacks.  After moving to Yusufiyah he became a high level Al Qaeda operational planner and foreign fighter facilitator.  

A July 26 MNF—Iraq press release revealed that on Tuesday, Coalition forces in a targeted raid killed the newly appointed Al Qaeda in Iraq leader for Bayji, a suspected member of the Mujahadin Shura Council, an umbrella group of disparate terrorist groups operating inside Iraq.  Three other suspects were detained during the raid, and numerous small arms and ammo were destroyed.

MG Caldwell, noting the 'coalition's commitment to treat the death squads the same as terrorists who target Iraqi civilians,'  highlighted the relentless pursuit of the Umar Brigade, a 'death squad created by Zarqawi to target Shia and designed to incite sectarian violence.'  From early to mid—July Iraqi and Coalition forces conducted multiple assaults which have seriously damaged the death squad.  Four of its top commanders have been detained, two of whom are also leaders of Al Qaeda in Iraq.  These include Brigade leader Abu Uthman, who has claimed responsibility for the Sadr City market bombing that killed 62 and wounded 114 mostly Shia civilians.

In his closing comments Caldwell said

'Baghdad is a must win.  The prime minister and Gen. Casey and the ambassador [Khalilzad] have all committed to do whatever it takes to make this a successful campaign...they're continually reassessing the situation [and will] make readjustments and refinements to the plan the prime minister initially laid out...we said from the very beginning that this is going to [take] months, not weeks, and the people do have high expectations. They see additional security forces [and]...additional checkpoints being anybody else they want to live in a peaceful and secure environment.' 

Baghdad is the prize.  Terrorists, insurgents and death squads also see it as a must—win.  They have increased the level of violence in these hot weeks and months, knowing our national will is most vulnerable during this period.  The civil war they have been trying to foment has not occurred. 

We must not, we cannot, allow them that dark victory.  The evil arachnid in Tehran would like nothing better.  If Iraqi and Coalition forces can get out there every day in full combat gear with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, and if Baghdadis can go about their lives with only limited access to electricity, the least we here in America can do is not allow our determination and fortitude to melt away.  Rather, let it be an annealing force that forges a national body armor of strengthened resolve and perseverance for this is a must—win. 

John B. Dwyer is a military historian and frequent contributor to The American Thinker.

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