- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 30, 2006

With President Bush in receipt of his Iraq Study Group (ISG) report card, two events — one prior to its issuance and one after — should be noted that raise serious issues about the ISG’s assessment.

What could provide us with a more accurate assessment of the U.S. situation in Iraq than a report by the insurgents — one intended for their internal consumption only? The first event involves just such a report, found among al Qaeda documents captured earlier this year. Contrary to the ISG report that states, “[for the U.S.] the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating,”the al Qaeda report gives U.S. forces more credit, describing al Qaeda’s situation in Iraq as “bleak.” This assessment is based on its losses suffered both militarily and in the fight to win the hearts and minds of the people.

It stresses its operations have effectively been disrupted by a number of U.S. successes including use of new tactics, massive arrest operations, media initiatives that have effectively weakened support for the insurgency, tightening financial assets to deny funding for terrorist activities, etc. It notes U.S. forces are both numerous and resilient. From al Qaeda’s own perspective, the news in Iraq is not good. But the ISG, which also criticized U.S. intelligence in Iraq, failed to even consider this report, which has to be the most credible assessment of the U.S. situation in theater.

Almost four decades earlier in the Vietnam War, the enemy’s assessment of its own situation was similarly bleak, especially after the Tet offensive left its forces decimated. Yet we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by submitting to political pressures at home to pursue a policy focusing more on getting out of Vietnam than moving us forward.

In failing to consider al Qaeda’s report, ISG’s assessment is lacking, if not misleading.

The second event is a series of incidents, the first only five days after the ISG report was issued. Senior Palestinian military intelligence officer and Fatah loyalist Baha Balousheh has twice been the target of assassination attempts by Hamas due to a crackdown on that group he conducted a decade earlier. Unable to locate Mr. Balousheh, Hamas assassins apparently targeted the next best thing — his family. On Dec. 11, as his three children, ages 3, 6 and 9, were being driven to school along the streets of Gaza City, they were brutally murdered, along with their driver.

While the murder of all four was despicable, what was most disturbing is that one of the children was shot in the head not once, but 10 times. Such violence clearly reflects a deep-seated hatred on the killers’ part. But, even armed with such hatred, how could these killers be so detached — directing their hatred against three innocent children, shooting them in cold blood, pumping round after round after round into a child’s head?

Three days later, Hamas leader and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, returning from a trip to Tehran, crossed the border from Egypt into Gaza at Rafah, a control point manned by Fatah members of the presidential guard, when his convoy came under fire, killing a bodyguard. Later that evening, Hamas militants burst into the Rafah terminal, taking control. Intermittent gun battles continued for days.

On Dec. 16, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, due to the failure of Hamas and Fatah to form a unity government, announced new elections would be held. Despite a cease-fire, fighting again erupted, escalating toward the third civil war (the others in Iraq and Lebanon) predicted by Jordan’s King Abdullah II for the Middle East next year.

This chain of events is important to understand as it must be weighed against the ISG position that a key element to bringing peace to the Middle East is resolving the Israeli-Palestine conflict. That ignores the real complexities of the region: The hatred directed toward the three young children murdered in Gaza City did not involve Israelis; the fighting currently between Hamas and Fatah does not involve Israelis; and the three civil wars that may eventually erupt in 2007 will not, foreseeably, involve Israelis.

An old joke tells of an opposing team failing to show up for a football game against an ethnic team that is so bad, even without an opponent on the field, it takes several plays to cross the goal. A similar situation seems to exist in the Middle East: Even if Israel disappeared, the Arab and Muslim populations would still be driven by the hatred, distrust and intolerance of the past, making the goal of peace impossible.

More Muslims have been killed by fellow Muslims than by Israelis. Thus, few problems of the Arab world realistically are linked to Israel. Just look to Sudan, the Iran-Iraq war, the massacres in Algeria, the invasion of Kuwait, the murder of thousands of Syrians by Hafez Assad (father of the current Syrian leader) at El Hamma, use of gas against Yemen by Egypt in the 1960s, the brutality of the Taliban against the people of Afghanistan, etc.

The CIA is to report on a simulated exercise to determine how the Iraq war will affect the global jihadist movement. That report will warn that a U.S. defeat will embolden al Qaeda to expand its terrorist ranks and pick new strategic targets in its global war effort. Clearly, any option short of victory, while bringing short-term benefit, will bring long-term disaster.

In deciding whether to move forward in Iraq, we must listen to the right voices to determine how the war is really going. Ironically, this may be one of the rare times we should listen to the voice of al Qaeda.

James G. Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Persian Gulf and Vietnam wars, is a contributor to The Washington Times.



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