March 21, 2005

More Good News From Iraq

John Burns, the best reporter the NYT has on its staff, has a must read dispatch from Haifa Street in Baghdad. The news is good. Some money grafs:

American morale, for the moment, is high. Lt. Col. Thomas D. Macdonald, the cavalry division officer who commanded the Haifa Street task force, believes the Iraqis, with an affinity for their own people, can push the rebels farther back. "I've got the enemy to the point where he can't do large-scale operations anymore, only the small-scale stuff," he said recently, during one of his last patrols of the area, at the head of a company of 120 soldiers. "If we put in more Iraqi garrisons like this, that will be the final nail in the coffin."

When Iraqi units began to serve in combat zones, desertion rates were high. During the first offensive in Falluja, last April, some soldiers refused to fight. But over the last nine months, a $5 billion American-financed effort has bought Iraqi units more than 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles, 100,000 flak jackets, 110,000 pistols, 6,000 cars and pickup trucks, and 230 million rounds of ammunition. In place of the single Iraqi battalion trained last June, there are more than 90 battalions now, totaling about 60,000 army and special police troops. No one is certain how many insurgents they face; the number, including foot soldiers, safe-house operators, organizers and financiers, is estimated to be 12,000 to 20,000.

Iraqi units still complain about unequal equipment, particularly the lack of the heavy armor the Americans use, like Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams tanks. But the complaints among American officers about "tiny heart syndrome" - a caustic reference to some Iraqi units' unwillingness to expose themselves to combat - have diminished. "Now, they're ready to fight," said Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American officer overseeing the retraining effort, in a recent interview at his Green Zone headquarters.

Lethal intimidation of recruits - the suicide-bombing of army barracks, police stations and recruiting lines, with scores of volunteers killed - remains the single biggest problem in building the Iraqi forces, the general acknowledged. But the overwhelming majority of new recruits have refused to buckle, he said, and they understand that they are fighting, not for the Americans, but for their own country. "Guys who get blown up in the morning get themselves bandaged up, and they're back in the afternoon," he said.

The uncompromising image is one that Gen. Muhammad al-Samraa, 39, the commander of the Iraqi 303rd Battalion, based on Haifa Street, is eager to push. "My aim is 100 percent clear, all the terrorists living here, they go now," he said, in halting English. He was a major in Mr. Hussein's air defense force, and spent a year as a bodyguard and driver for a Shiite tribal leader in Baghdad before signing up for the new army.

A Shiite himself, commanding a unit composed mostly of Shiites, General Samraa has made his headquarters in the old Sajida Palace, on the riverbank at Haifa Street's northern end, a sad, looted, sandbagged relic of the pleasure dome it was for Mr. Hussein's first wife, Sajida. But the general insisted the new Iraqi forces had history on their side. "Saddam, we've seen the movie, and it's finished," he said. "He's broken. Now is the new Iraq."

In the Shiite neighborhoods of Haifa Street, the good will for Americans is pervasive. A fruit seller, Majid Hussein Hassan, 40, rose from his stall to ask Colonel Macdonald for help getting hospital treatment for an infant nephew with a heart deformity. From a balcony, an old woman appealed for better garbage removal. "We're counting on you Americans," she said. "Iraqi officials do nothing!" [emphasis added]

It is becoming increasingly clear that the situation in Iraq has changed quite dramatically for the better since the elections. Check out how gloomy John Burns was as recently as January 27th. Compare that to his piece today. It's almost night and day. Worth stressing too, apart from the elections, it appears that Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus has made a real yeoman's effort with regard to the "training and equipping" effort. It is only when Iraqi forces are willing to risk death and stand and fight (overcoming the "tiny heart syndrome") that the Baathist restorationist, jihadist, and terrorist insurgency can ultimately be vanquished. This appears to be happening now to the tune of at least 60,000 adequately trained Iraqi forces. As I said, major progress. And kudos to the NYT for beginning to give it more prominent billing.

Posted by Gregory at March 21, 2005 04:07 AM | TrackBack (10)

We're buying them Kalashnikovs? There's outsourcing in action...

Posted by: sammler at March 21, 2005 08:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why wouldn't we buy the kalashnikovs? Cheap, rugged, easy to maintain, and entirely cross-compatible with what the militias and insurgents use.

That last will be very important....

Posted by: J Thomas at March 24, 2005 11:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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