OSINT: Safire: Iraq War III
The New York Times ^ | 11/03/03 | William Safire


We thought we won the first Iraq war in 100 hours, but lost the peace to Saddam and his Baathist followers. We thought we won the second Iraq war decisively in one week, but Saddam’s murdering class and his imported terrorists chose to run and fight from underground.

We are now six months into Iraq War III. The coalition is clearly winning on two of the three war fronts. As the team of ABC-TV and Time magazine reporters are persuasively showing this week, the people of Iraq’s Shiite south and Kurdish north – 80 percent of the population of 23 million – are making substantial progress toward reconstruction and self-governance.

But the battle within the Sunni triangle around Baghdad – where Saddam’s rapacious sons and secret police long victimized other Iraqis – is not yet won.

One terrorist aim is to increase suffering by driving out the U.N. and Red Cross relief workers. Another is to assassinate Iraqi leaders and police who dare to cooperate with the liberation. The key goal is to kill enough Americans to cause U.S. public opinion to lose heart. Such a retreat before federal democracy takes root would set the stage for an Iraqi civil war.

There is no denying that the shooting down of a transport helicopter, killing 16 Americans and wounding 20, was a terrorist victory in Iraq War III. The question is: Will such casualties dishearten the U.S., embolden failuremongers and isolationists on the campaign trail, and cause Americans and our allies to cut and run?

Although such a retreat under fire would be euphemized as an “accelerated exit strategy,” consider the consequences to U.S. security of premature departure:

Set aside the loss of U.S. prestige or America’s credibility in dealing with other rogue nations acquiring nuclear weapons. Iraq itself would likely split apart. Shiites in the south would resist a return of repression by Saddam’s Sunnis and set up a nation under the protection of Iran. Kurds in the north, fearing the return of Saddamism, would break away into an independent Kurdistan; that would induce Turkey, worried about separatism among its own Kurds, to seize the Iraqi oil fields of Kirkuk.

One result could well be a re-Saddamed Sunni triangle. Baghdad would then become the arsenal of terrorism, importer and exporter of nukes, bioweapons and missiles. There is no way we can let that happen. Either we stay in Baghdad until Iraq becomes a unified democratic beacon of freedom to the Arab world – or we pull out too soon, thereby allowing terrorism to establish its main world sanctuary and its agents to come and get us.

Our dovish left will say, with Oliver Hardy, “a fine mess you’ve got us into” – as if we created Saddam’s threat, or made our C.I.A. dance to some oily imperialist tune, or would have been better off with our head in the sand. Most Americans, I think, will move past these unending recriminations, reject defeatism and support leaders determined to win the final Iraq war.

To catch Saddam or otherwise break up the terror network, we need Iraqi informers to tip us to the plans of the attackers. We should blanket the Sunni triangle with a powerful media message: a return of Baathism would mean bloody war with the rest of Iraq that the coalition would make certain Saddam’s followers lost.

Most television sets in the triangle depend for reception on the old rabbit ears, not satellite dishes; the Iraqi Media Network we set up is now operational but runs mainly old movies and canned messages from our Paul Bremer with an Arabic translation. I’m told by programmers in the contractor handling IMN, Science Applications International, that attention-getting Arabic programs produced in the gulf states will begin this month, which should attract many new viewers.

But why not supplement Bremer on the air with our secret weapon? John Abizaid, our commanding general, speaks fluent Arabic. He should be on radio and television regularly – the live voice and face of liberation – answering questions from Iraqi reporters in their native language. If Donald Rumsfeld can deliver the message of resolve on TV here, why not Abizaid there?

We will help Iraqis win the final war against Baathist terror. Failure is not an option.

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