Monday, October 4, 2004

To Army Sgt. Christopher Suda, who patrols the uneasy streets around Mosul in northern Iraq, the United States is winning and the insurgency is losing.

“We will continue to win as long as we continue to have the support equipment and a leader who will ensure victory and instill confidence in the mission,” said Sgt. Suda, of the 276th Engineering Brigade. Sgt. Suda said he has seen Iraq’s police and national guard take over town after town in recent months, allowing GIs to pull out.

“It’s pretty cool to have them out there doing that, especially since that’s what the goal is, to have the Iraqis running their own country,” said Sgt. Suda, a National Guardsman.

But in Baghdad, where the Army’s 1st Calvary Division is battling Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr’s fighters and Saddam Hussein holdouts, the optimism is fading, one soldier told The Washington Times.

“In the beginning, I was pretty much an idealist. ‘It’s going to be a good experience,’ I told myself. Get to work on my skills, learn about these people, and we’re going to help them,” said the soldier who has been in the Iraqi capital more than eight months.

“I felt sorry for them,” the soldier said. “That’s changed. I’ve gone through pretty much the whole spectrum. I’ve gone through periods of just hating them. I don’t want to see another one of them. It doesn’t seem, no matter how many of them you help, they just want to turn around and get you. Stab you in the back or ‘thanks for nothing’ attitude.”

The soldier, who asked not to be identified, said he has seen death many times — and that the mission isn’t worth it.

“There’s nothing to be won, to be honest with you,” the soldier said. “It’s my semi-educated opinion we’re just standing by to be killed. We’re not making any progress. … Common sense will tell you, when we leave, they’re going to have a civil war. There are too many types of Muslims.”

The soldier in Mosul and the one in Baghdad mirror the debate on Iraq that is going on back home.

To Sen. John Kerry’s campaign, many Democrats and some television pundits, the war that President Bush ordered in March 2003 to topple Saddam is a disaster.

One year after the mixed bag of terrorists got organized and started unleashing horrific attacks, the U.S. military death toll has topped 1,000; more than 140 people have been kidnapped and some beheaded; and the most active terrorist in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, remains active and elusive.

It has been nearly 18 months since U.S. tanks rolled into Baghdad, yet some cities remain “no-go” zones, including Fallujah, where Zarqawi’s terror operation trains and deploys suicide bombers.

The U.S. intelligence community prediction, known as the National Intelligence Estimate, says the mayhem could get worse, pulling the country into a civil war next year, according to the New York Times last month.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell says the violence will increase, not subside, as Iraq’s first national, post-Saddam elections, scheduled for January, get closer. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a radio interview last week, “We expect that the violence will continue to escalate somewhat between now and the time of the elections in Iraq.”

But amid the violence, a series of positive developments unfolds daily, including the United Nations’ sponsoring of an interim government led by Iyad Allawi. The top commander in the region, Gen. John Abizaid, says Washington critics and the press have it wrong.

“Every now and then in Washington, we need to take a deep breath and we need to look at what’s happening in the region as opposed to the reports of one or two journalists that happen to think that everybody in Iraq is in the resistance,” Gen. Abizaid said a week ago on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“The constant drumbeat in Washington of a war that is being lost, that can’t be won, of a resistance that is out of control, simply do not square with the facts on the ground,” the general said.

In interviews the past week with more than a half-dozen military officers and policy-makers, The Washington Times found doubts about how the battle will proceed, but a degree of confidence about the final outcome.

“Iraq is a mixed bag,” said a senior Pentagon official and Bush supporter. “You see only the exciting things. I know this sounds like a trite, conservative catechism, but I see the reports every day — the good, the bad, the ugly. We are making good progress, and the bad guys are trying their hardest to [stop it].”

The question of who is winning in the daily struggle between the U.S.-led coalition and the terrorists is difficult to measure.

The State Department each week updates a written briefing on what it considers progress in the country. There are facts such as these: Iraq has 1.57 million phone subscribers, up 91 percent from pre-war levels; oil production has exceeded the pre-war peak of 2.5 million barrels per day; the Iraqi Independent Electoral Commission has completed a draft voter list; and instructions will go out this week to Iraqis on how to register.

This type of economic development, coupled with free elections and the planned buildup of indigenous security forces to about 200,000, forms the Bush administration’s long-term strategy for winning Iraq.

Mr. Rumsfeld expanded on this last month.

“I use the word ‘tip.’ When does it tip?” Mr. Rumsfeld told The Washington Times, suggesting that at some point Iraqi civilian resentment of terrorist attacks would result in “more and more intelligence information,” leading to “pressure … so great that [the terrorists] lose recruits.”

From his perch near Mosul, Sgt. Suda sees this scenario playing out.

“There are a lot more Iraqi police and Iraqi national guard than in previous months, and even places like Tal Afar [west of Mosul], where we just recently went on an offensive, the Iraqi security forces are running that town primarily now, not us,” Sgt. Suda said. “We help out when they need us.”

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