- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

A year after U.S. military forces invaded Iraq, the regime of Saddam Hussein has been ousted, but a bloody counterinsurgency persists, fueled by terrorists and former regime loyalists.

“The mission was to liberate the Iraqi people from one of the world’s most brutal and dangerous dictators and to begin laying the foundation for a free and prosperous Iraq. We have done that,” Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters on Wednesday.

“Today, the Iraqi people are free, and the seeds of democracy in Iraq have been sewn with the recent signing of the transitional administrative law,” Gen. Myers said. “The region is now more secure due to the elimination of a dangerous regime with a history of aggression and links to terrorist organizations.”

The ongoing Iraq war, now an insurgency, also has become a political element in the presidential election.

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has criticized President Bush and his administration for miscalculating, saying the president misused U.S. military power without getting greater international support.

Mr. Bush said yesterday the ouster of Saddam’s regime and his arrest in December ended one of the most brutal dictatorships in history.

“When Saddam Hussein went down, the terrorists lost an ally forever,” Mr. Bush told soldiers at Fort Campbell, Ky. “Because America and our allies acted, an aggressive threat to the security of the Middle East and to the peace of the world is now gone.”

An examination of the stated objectives of Operation Iraqi Freedom shows that the results of the war are mixed.

The Pentagon outlined several goals of its operation, which began with an unsuccessful bombing strike aimed at killing Saddam on March 19, 2003.

The military operation employed different tactics from recent conflict, relying on speedy, small ground force units, precision aerial bombing and the use of special operations commandos. It was called a “shock and awe” strategy.

Within days, U.S. military forces quickly drove to Baghdad and entered the city to find that most Iraqi troops had abandoned their weapons and blended into the population.

Three key goals were reached by the military operation that involved about 200,000 troops in the region within the first several months.

The No. 1 objective was to end the regime of Saddam Hussein, and that effectively was accomplished with the fall of Baghdad to U.S. forces on April 9.

Another key objective was securing Iraq’s oil fields and avoiding sabotage that would prevent Iraq from using its oil resources to rebuild the country.

A third goal — to end international economic sanctions against Iraq and bring in humanitarian relief — was accomplished by the Bush administration by summer 2003.

Gen. Myers said psychological warfare helped force the quick capitulation of the regime.

“I think there was an element of tactical surprise and that forces there simply weren’t ready,” he said.

Other key goals remain unfulfilled.

Identifying, isolating and eliminating Iraq’s stocks of weapons of mass destruction has not been accomplished.

The CIA’s former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, David Kay, concluded after several months of searching that prewar intelligence on chemical and biological weapons in Iraq was wrong and that Iraq never had large stockpiles of germ and poison chemical arms.

On another objective — capturing terrorists and driving them out of the country — the results are mixed.

A key terrorist training camp used by Islamist extremists was destroyed in northern Iraq during the first days of military operations. And Palestinian terrorist Abu Abbas, who took part in the hijacking of a cruise liner, was captured. He recently died in U.S. custody.

However, post-Saddam Iraq remains a terrorism hot spot. The network of al Qaeda-associated terrorists headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was driven from his hideout in northern Iraq, now operates in an area known as the Sunni triangle, a 100-mile area encompassing Baghdad and Tikrit, where the pro-Saddam insurgency is strongest.

The last objective outlined by Gen. Tommy Franks on March 22, 2003, was to “help the Iraqi people create conditions for a transition to a representative self-government.”

That effort is well under way. The U.S. set up a Coalition Provisional Authority headed by diplomat L. Paul Bremer. The current government is being reconstituted under a temporary Iraqi Governing Council made up of several different leaders.

The main challenge for the United States will be to return Iraq’s government to Iraqis, a move set for June 30.

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