It is clear from recent major offensive operations in Diyala and the other provinces surrounding Baghdad that Gen. David A. Petraeus now has the wherewithal not only to clear areas in Baghdad but to seal off those parts of the provinces where al Qaeda and the insurgents have fled to corner and kill them.
In Baqubah, Coalition forces killed at least 58 al Qaeda terrorists and detained scores of others, discovered 16 weapons caches, destroyed 28 improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and blew up 12 booby-trapped structures in the first five days of Operation Arrowhead Ripper. Local residents, who had just received 20,000 pounds of rice and flower and 300 cases of water, pointed troops to al Qaeda safe houses and torture chambers.
In April, U.S. and British combat troops carried out successful raids killing insurgents involved in providing armor-piercing explosives and personnel from Iran in Maysan Province, which abuts the Iranian border. No Iraqi soldiers participated in the attack (although they were used as a blocking force).
One member of the Maysan provincial council complained the attacks were conducted without the knowledge of the council. Indeed, that pattern may be the formula for success.
The success the Marines have achieved in Anbar Province also took an innovative approach. This involved not only gaining the confidence of the various clans’ leading sheiks but also flattening the Marine command structure and making Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his representatives irrelevant. The strategy of Maj. Gen. W.E. Gaskin, commander of the Multinational Force/West and his Ground Combat Element commander, Brig. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, was to go proactive, exactly the strategy of Gen. Petraeus in the other surrounding provinces. If Marine convoys are challenged or ambushed, their orders are to immediately pursue their attackers and kill them all.
In Baghdad, the Green Zone continues to be bombarded with mortar and rocket attacks. Until now, there has been no hot pursuit. With the additional combat forces, this passivity must change. Attacked convoys in Baghdad and elsewhere instead of driving through the ambushers at high speed now must turn into the attack, hunt down the ambushers and kill them all.
Now the down side. You will not find reports on the success our forces are now achieving on the major TV news networks. The only thing they tell us is how many U.S. forces were killed in the last 24 hours.
In fact, NBC, CBS and CNN are probably the sole source of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s daily intelligence briefs. It is ironic that al Qaeda and the Sunni and Shia terrorists need no propaganda czar like the Nazis’ Joseph Goebbels as a spokesman because our TV networks and even certain members of Congress provide that service for them.
Despite this deplorable news blackout. there is no doubt Gen. Petraeus and his team are making progress with the strategy he is employing. However, we still need to deal with the war-making material, the IEDs, the training and the personnel infiltrating Iraq from Iran and Syria. Mr. al-Maliki’s restricting and canceling certain high-value offensive actions by our forces, and his insistence on approving military strikes in Sadr City indicate the control Iran still exerts on Iraq’s fragile political system. It appears Iran’s strategy is to keep a weak central government and use Mr. al-Maliki to make Iraq a de facto surrogate.
But here, too, there is hope. We are beginning to see Shia factions such as SCIRI become disgruntled with Mr. al-Maliki. I am sure certain inducements can be quietly provided to make Mr. al-Maliki irrelevant or to consider resignation. This could force the Iraqi parliament into action on those reconstruction and nation-building programs that have been stalled for the past year.
If there are still those who believe incentives offered to Iran can propel the mullahs to cooperate on Iraq, they have to be brain dead. The only way — repeat: the only way — to get Iran’s attention is the loss of key economic infrastructure targets that affect the Iranian renegade regime’s ability to provide essential services to its citizens. The interruption of these services will create further havoc in an already disgruntled civilian populace.
This strategy needs to be pursued aggressively. Not only can these tactics be accomplished without exposing our military personnel to casualties, but they can be simultaneously carried out with regard to Syria.
James A. Lyons Jr. is a retired U.S. Navy admiral and former commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations and former deputy Chief of Naval Operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.