Friday, January 25, 2008


Hi everybody,

The past year has certainly been extraordinary even by comparison with the action packed years preceding it. During the course of the year there was a remarkable upturn of the situation that I shall attempt to discuss in this post.

The early months of the year saw the country at the nadir point since the overthrow of Saddam when in contrast the “insurgency” seemed to be at the zenith of its strength. It was converging on Baghdad and the city was virtually paralyzed. Sectarian atrocities and killings were taking place in horrifying magnitude. Shops and businesses were closed in many parts of the city. People could not venture out of their houses even for the most basic needs. My oldest cousin was murdered for no other sin than trying to do some shopping in the first day of 2007. It was said that he was shot by a passing U.S. army patrol, or was it some security firm personnel, as he was fumbling with his aging car engine that broke down on the way. I have learnt since to mistrust such claims, as the truth is the first victim in this war. About one month later the eldest son of this same cousin was stopped by some terrorists, dragged out of his car in front of his wife and three children. They found him few days later with his body horribly disfigured and his eyes gouged out. Luckily and by the grace of God my own immediate family escaped unhurt, although we lost materially. However, we suffered uprooting and banishment and had it not been for the kindness of the Canadians I don’t know where we could have found stable refuge. Almost every Iraqi family, especially of the middle classes in the cities and particularly in Baghdad was touched one way or another by such similar atrocities and woes.

Then, President Bush and the Iraqi government announced their plan of counterattack. This was Codenamed “Operation Law Enforcement” by the Iraqis, and the “Surge” by the Americans. And at long last we had an American General with some competence and sense, i.e. General Petraeous. This General realized the importance of the movement that started in the Anbar , this so-called “Awakening Movement” or the “Salvation Council”, and gave some support to this movement while previously the Americans always tried to check and prevent the citizen from acting. The rest is now almost history - It worked. I was not in Baghdad last year, but all the news I hear from our friends and relatives still living there confirm that the situation has changed and that the city has began to recover. It is still, of-course far from being a normal place, but by comparison with the situation at the beginning of 2007 the change is such that not even the enemies can deny.

Al Qaeda et al have not been completely defeated but they were forced to retreat and withdraw from many important places, notably in the Anbar and many parts of Greater Baghdad area. Also they suffered very heavy casualties. Indeed the numbers of their dead and captured attest to the size and seriousness of this phantom terrorist army that has infested our poor Iraq. Some credited this success to the American “Surge”, others to the Iraqi security forces, and many more to the role of the “Awakening Movement” and the actions taken by the many citizen groups that sprang up everywhere following the successes in the Anbar. In my humble opinion though, it is a combination of all these factors and improved coordination between them that produced this encouraging result. In particular, Petraeous has done well and demonstrated ability, experience and above all better sensitivity and understanding of local characteristics. He is by far the best American general we had and it will be a big mistake to take him out of Iraq before we are really out of danger.

But as I said, the war is not yet won. The beast is seriously wounded but is still able to bite and scratch. Nowadays, he is desperately trying to counterattack. While earlier he had reached the point where he actually controlled whole districts, and more dangerously entire neighborhoods of the capital, he is now forced to revert to pure terrorist tactics mainly suicide attacks, assassinations and the like. Even his ability to launch mortars and rockets has been visibly impaired. More damaging though, is that the terrorists have been forced to migrate northwards, and they are now concentrating and infesting Mosul and its environs, the second city in Iraq where they have perpetrated very painful atrocities recently including the crime of blowing up a whole residential block with 20 tons of explosives and the murder of the chief of police as he went to inspect the site of the disaster. The Government has just announced that they are sending forces to Mosul for the “final crucial battle” against Al-Qaeda. It remains to be seen how this battle unfolds and whether; indeed we shall see the end of Al-Qaeda in Iraq as a large organized army.

Thus, the war is still in full swing and the enemy is on the retreat, and everybody realizes that they are working against the clock, i.e. quite frankly before the term of President Bush is over. The situation is full of promise as well as fraught with danger. Proper and wise management has never been more important. The gains and successes are by no means irreversible. The role of the U.S. is still pivotal and it will be a great pity if defeatism and shortsighted selfish politicizing results in withdrawal and retreat just at the moment when there seems to be some real chances and the enemy is on the run.