- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

Iraq is said to be in “chaos,” and the security situation “deteriorating” because of the suicide truck bombings of the U.N. compound in Baghdad Aug. 19, and the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf Aug. 29.

“Chaos” means the complete absence of order. If Iraq really were in chaos, it is hard to imagine how the security situation could “deteriorate” further. Our pundits are as linguistically challenged as they are careless with facts.

Suicide bombings are terrible. But they are not, in themselves, indications that the civil authority has lost legitimacy, control or popular support.

Israel has been the victim of many suicide bombings, but no one claims Israel is in chaos. Bombings in Bombay Aug. 25 killed more people than died at the U.N. compound. The Bali bombing of last Oct. 12 killed more people than were killed in all the suicide bombings in Iraq put together, but no one says India or Indonesia are in chaos.

The response so far to the bombing of the Ali mosque has been anything but an indication of chaos. More than 100,000 Shi’ites took to the streets to mourn the loss of their leader. But the demonstrations were peaceful.

Two Saudis were nabbed at an Internet cafe after they had transmitted a message saying, “The dog is dead,” an apparent reference to the Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, who was among 120 killed in the blast. (There have been 19 subsequent arrests.)

“Grabbed by an angry crowd of Shi’ite Muslims, the two men admitted they were Saudi Wahhabis working for al Qaeda,” the Times of London reported. The angry crowd didn’t tear the Saudis limb from limb. It hustled them off to the nearest police station.

“This shows to me… that the majority of Shi’ia want an Iraq that subscribes to the rule of law,” said the Web logger Kamil Zogby.

“Many who militated against toppling Saddam predicted Iraq would descend into communal violence and civil war,” Mr. Zogby said. “Instead, Iraqis have worked together and closely with coalition authorities and troops. Local councils and courts are functioning throughout the country. Workers in schools, hospitals and government ministries have elected their own leaders, and the seeds of democracy are sprouting.”

This isn’t a story you hear often from an increasingly shrill, shallow and biased news media.

“I have been shocked at the difference between the Baghdad I found on my return and all the bad news from the city,” said the Rev. Ken Joseph, who runs an aid mission there. “Despite the recent bombings, Baghdad looks remarkably different,” he said.

“The stores are full of supplies. The streets are crowded with people and cars. The buses are working and police are on the streets. … I am at a loss to reconcile what I see on the ground with what is being reported.”

Suicide bombings are more often an indication of rising desperation on the part of the attacker than of faltering grip on the part of the government.

The U.N. compound and the Ali mosque were attacked as much because they were soft targets — both had explicitly refused protection from U.S. troops — as for their symbolic value. The bounty offered by Saddamites for killing an American soldier has risen from $300 in early June to $5,000 today — a sign that volunteers are now much harder to come by.

The security challenge remains formidable. But it is remarkable how much progress has been made in what is really a very short time.

Saddam’s sons are dead. Most of his senior aides are either dead or in prison. Saddam emptied the prisons just before the war began. Can you imagine what the security situation in the United States would be if we let all violent criminals out of jail, and on the same day abolished the FBI and most city police forces?

Things aren’t yet good in Iraq. But they’re better than they were, better than a reasonable person could have expected six months ago. We’re on the right road in Iraq. It’s a pity so few journalists can read the map.

Jack Kelly, a syndicated columnist, is a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. He is national security writer for the Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette.

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