There is much doom and gloom about what is going on in Iraq. By now I am sure that you will be shocked to learn that I think the popular wisdom is wrong, and that what we are seeing is the darkness before the dawn. To understand this, lets review recent events.
Ramadi and Fallujah:Simply put, we are doing what should have been done some time ago by sending in the Marines. It is important to note that the decision to crack down on this region was made weeks before the death and desecration of the contractors. While it is easy to count the deaths of Marines as strategic losses, what is essentially happening is a concentration of what had previously been sporadic fighting. Previously, Fallujah and Ramadi were sites of or safe havens for those who would launch IED and other terror attacks. Thus, the proper way to view the casualty counts is not zero one day and 12 the next, but rather a slow and steady stream of small casualties followed by a spike caused by the frontal attack on our adversaries. The big difference is thus not the American casualty count, but the number of opposition forces that have been killed, injured, or captured. These were strongholds of Saddam supporters and Fedayeen, and unlike many of the other cities, they chose to continue their opposition after all hope of Saddam returning was gone.
Al Sadr:Contrary to what you may have heard from Senator Kerry, Al Sadr is not a legitimate leader in Iraq. He is the 31 year old son of a powerful Ayatollah who was killed by Saddam in 1999. He is too young to have any religious authority, so his followers rely instead on the religious authority of extremists Imams in Iran. His appeal is therefore not religious; in fact he is expressly rejected as a religious leader by the older and mainstream Shias. Rather, his appeal is political. His followers are concentrated in Sadr City (named after his father), which is essentially a Shia ghetto. He is a classic political animal who opposes the U.S. because a Constitution which creates even a marginal separation of church and state limits his power. In seeking power, he appeals to those Shias who view Democracy as an exercise in "what is good for the goose is good for the gander"--that is, those disenchanted Shias who would like to receive the spoils and mete out the oppression after being on the losing side for the last 30 years. He has always been a volatile element. My guess is that his decision to align himself publicly with Hamas and Hezbollah on Friday and to call for violence was a response to the fact that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. (The warrant was issued months prior, but had not been made public. I would be surprised if he did not know that it was about to be made public, and that Coalition forces were about to move against his deputies.)
In general, despite taking on greater casualties, the Coalition has tackled pockets of resistance that really should have been addressed much sooner. The result should be greater stability, but it will come with a price. The question is whether we will be too squeamish to see it through.
Perhaps we need to take OBLs strong horse/weak horse metaphor more seriously. If we allow Fallujah to continue resisting too long, we will be perceived as a "weak horse" whether because we want to escape casualties or our own or because we wish to avoid civilian casualties. Running out the clock is not an option--that will only strengthen the hand of our enemies. But being ham-handed isnt good either. We cant just level the city.
One of my sources has a slightly different read on the situation. Our forces bypassed many of the strongholds of rebellion in their dash to the capital...he suggests intentionally.
For the last year, the insurgents and the foreign fighters that have been streaming in, have congregated (been wooed)to these locations.