- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

While Congress delays passage of legislation funding operations in Iraq, the military strategy there continues to achieve remarkable successes. This is particularly true with regard to Iraqi security forces, which have clearly benefited from American training and assistance.

On May 20, Iraqi forces operating without U.S. troop support moved uncontested through Sadr City, a Shi’ite neighborhood of well over 2 million people. The New York Times called this a “dramatic turnaround” from two months of bitter fighting there that had flared up in March, after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent forces into Basra to combat militias. In response to the Basra operation, militia members led by Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army overran Iraqi army checkpoints in Sadr City and used the densely populated neighborhood to fire rockets at the Green Zone, where the Iraqi government and American embassy are located. For now, those days are over: The Iraqi army controls Sadr City and the local press is filled with reports that some militia members have left Sadr City for Lebanon by way of Iran.

The Iraqi government has also made progress toward taming Basra — the southern port city that had been essentially captured by Mahdi militants, other local militias and street thugs. Two months ago, Mr. Maliki, acting independently of the U.S. military, sent troops into Basra to wrest control of the city from the militias, which routinely kidnapped, raped and extorted money from local residents. British military forces that had occupied the city since the invasion of Iraq in 2003 failed to restore order in the city and withdrew in September 2007. Living conditions deteriorated further — prompting Mr. Maliki to take military action in March to drive the militias out. Initially, the Iraqi military there was plagued by logistical problems and desertions. But over the past few months, more Iraqi troops have arrived in Basra. In addition, British military forces have returned to Basra, and the militias have melted away for now.

The recent events in Basra and Sadr City are just the latest indications that Iraqis continue to make progress in taking control of their country — progress that would have been impossible without the support provided by the United States. Unfortunately, Democrats (with some Republican help) have pushed ahead with a series of “poison pill” amendments that would virtually guarantee a White House veto and make it impossible for many Republican lawmakers to support the bill. These include the seriously flawed Webb-Warner GI bill, which would reduce military retention rates by 16 percent, according to the Congressional Budget Office. There were, however, some small pieces of good news. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid bowed to political reality and stripped an amendment that would have required the Department of Homeland Security to grant amnesty to 1.35 million illegal-alien farmworkers and their families. Although the Senate killed such objectionable provisions as a troop withdrawal timetable, House antiwar allies will almost certainly fight for such provisions when debate resumes next month.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen warns that military salaries will stop by June 15 if Congress fails to act by Memorial Day. What a fine way for Democrats to show how they “support the troops” and veterans this Memorial Day.

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