- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2004

Yesterday, President Bush underlined his support for the hard fight Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has directed in the war, saying, “Thank you for your leadership … You are doing a superb job.” Notwithstanding the ongoing scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison, the president’s support for his defense secretary is well deserved.

Over the weekend, coalition forces in Iraq made more raids into areas controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi militia. While pressing the attacks, coalition soldiers appear to have caused limited collateral damage. As Mr. Bush noted, troops are “responding with precision and discipline and restraint.”

As a consequence, Mr. al-Sadr and his militia appear to be increasingly alienated from Iraqi citizens. A recent story by the AFP’s Sam Dagher noted, “The U.S. military appears to be succeeding in its goal of isolating Sadr and his Mahdi Army.” Shi’ite leaders have actively turned against him. Last week, a group of highly influential Shi’ite leaders (including a representative from a group close to Ayatollah Sistani) called upon the renegade cleric to withdraw his militia from Najaf and Karbala and cease using shrines as weapons-storage areas.

None of that is to suggest that the situation in Iraq has stabilized — especially with the recent advance of the Mahdi militia into Baghdad’s Sadr City slum — but it could be far worse and might be better than headlines suggest.

The same could be said of the war on terror as a whole. Last year, terrorism attacks sunk to a 34-year low, according to the recently released State Department report, “Patterns of Global Terrorism 2003” (which did not count most of the causalities in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom). Three hundred and seven persons were killed in international terrorism last year, a terrible tally but still a dramatic reduction from the 725 killed in 2002.

Aggressive action and global cooperation have led to the capture of more than 3,400 al Qaeda suspects. Cofer Black, the State Department’s top counterterrorism official, said the terrorist organization “is no longer the organization it once was … Most of the group’s senior leadership is dead or in custody, its membership on the run and its capabilities sharply degraded.”

All of this suggests that there is more than a gleam of silver amid the casualty reports and scandals. While additional prison photos will emerge and other fights await, coalition forces have won significant victories. Those currently castigating the commander in chief may live to regret politically their overheated criticisms.

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