- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004

There are several reasons to be optimistic about the war against terrorism in Iraq as the formal transfer of governing authority approaches in Baghdad.

As the Bush administration predicted, insurgent forces are carrying out a renewed wave of bombings, assassinations and other attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces and the gutsy Iraqis who want to take control of their country’s destiny. But the bottom line is the terrorist death squads have not slowed the march toward a free, sovereign and democratic Iraq that begins June 30.

That is the day U.S. authority, for all intents and purposes, will end; when our forces will begin keeping a much lower public profile and when Iraqi civilian leaders will be seen as the governing force in the country.

This new interim government will obviously be challenged and tested every step of the way, no doubt suffering setbacks and short-term defeats. But the betting in this corner is they will have a majority of the Iraqis on their side and, for the foreseeable future, a U.S. military backup to keep the terrorists at bay while the Iraqi military buildup continues.

A chief reason for optimism is the courage and leadership being demonstrated by Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who is becoming an inspiring role model for the new Iraqi leaders.

Finally, after all these months of sacrifice and hardship, Iraq has a strong national leader who publicly condemns the terrorists and speaks up for the selfless acts of U.S. soldiers and other coalition forces who ended the reign of terror and torture under Saddam Hussein.

Announcing a top-to-bottom reorganization of Iraq’s security forces Sunday, Mr. Allawi vowed the growing Iraqi military force will do whatever is needed to defeat the anti-U.S. terrorists whom he condemned as the “enemies of God and the people.”

“We are deeply grateful for the sacrifices from friendly nations here to help us in our struggle,” Mr. Allawi said this week. But he added what every Iraqi must know, that “the struggle is first and foremost an Iraqi struggle.”

As the voice of the new provisional Iraqi leadership, Mr. Allawi has struck two major themes in his statements.

First, he fully supports U.S. military strikes against terrorist cells, like the recent bombing of a safehouse in the city of Fallujah. Second, the people behind most of the terrorist attacks are not Iraqis, but foreign forces.

“We do not believe that those behind these attacks can be Iraqis,” he said. The planning, manpower and weapons are “supported financially and logistically by foreign resources.”

This is a strategic war cry Iraqis need to hear over and over again. U.S. military forces are not the enemy. Iraq’s enemies are the outside foreign forces from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Syria and elsewhere who are determined to sow chaos and terror by destroying Iraq’s infrastructure, and by killing any and all Iraqi civilians who cooperate with the United States and the provisional government.

The other theme Mr. Allawi emphasizes is the war against the insurgents has one overriding purpose: to create a democratic system of government chosen by free and open elections in January. “We are prepared to fight and, if necessary, to die for these objectives,” he told the Iraqi people.

This is not political hyperbole. Mr. Allawi and all the ministers in the new government have been targeted for assassination by the insurgent forces. These officials are laying their lives on the line for their country. And before this war is won, some, perhaps many, will be killed by a bomb or terrorist gunmen.

The question is: How will Iraqis react to Mr. Allawi’s patriotic call to arms? I think it will be very positive and substantially change the political environment of this war-torn country.

For the first time since the U.S.-led war to topple Saddam’s regime, the Iraqis see pro-American Iraqi leaders taking the reigns of power. And they hear these same leaders denounce the anti-U.S. insurgency as enemies of the people and of Allah.

This is a political sea change in Iraq that can only help unite the Iraqi people behind Mr. Allawi’s new democratic movement and crushing what remains of a foreign insurgency.

Meanwhile, the word coming from U.S. military commanders is that their efforts to recruit, train and equip Iraqi soldiers are bearing fruit. More Iraqi tipsters are exposing insurgent cells and pointing out roadside bombs.

More of these terrorist insurgents will be killed in the weeks and months to come. Increasingly, those doing the killing will be Iraqi soldiers who want an end to the reign of terror in their country.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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