Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Morale is slipping in Iraq. Fighters are growing doubtful of success. A comprehensive strategy for winning the conflict is nonexistent.

Is this an assessment of the U.S. military? No, it is an assessment about the insurgents who oppose the elected Iraqi government. U.S. opinion polls show a growing number of Americans are pessimistic about the prosecution of the war. But documents authored by an al Qaeda operative and seized by U.S. soldiers during an April 16 raid in the Yusufiyah area (12 miles south of Baghdad) offer hope to the American side that success may be closer than we think.

The author’s name is not known, but his conclusion about the lack of progress by the insurgent-terrorists is revealing. In the translated documents released May 9, the al Qaeda operative says the insurgency is “disorganized and lacks a comprehensive strategy;” the Mujahideen are “not considered more than a daily annoyance” to the Iraqi government; the terrorists lack the proper equipment and have “very small numbers” compared to the personnel and equipment of the U.S. and Iraqi forces; American and Iraqi troops are strong and resilient; American outreach to Sunni leaders is harmful to the terrorist cause; and “the policy followed by the brothers in Baghdad is a media-oriented policy.”

This last one is of particular interest because it is a strategy specifically designed to shape American public opinion and reduce support for the war. The documents lament the lack of a “clear comprehensive plan to capture an area or an enemy center,” the purpose of which would be to “show in the media that the Americans and the government do not control the situation and there is resistance against them. This policy dragged us to the type of operations that are attracted to the media, and we go to the streets from time to time for more possible noisy operations which follow the same direction.”

From comments made by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and others, we know the terrorists believe America will give up as it did in Vietnam, Lebanon and Mogadishu when a majority ceases to support an operation. This is the main strategy of the terrorists. The documents not only underscore that strategy, they reveal the terrorists’ frustration in their inability to make it work beyond an occasional car bombing, attack on a police station or civilian gathering. This ought to further encourage Americans and Iraqis about which side is losing and which is winning.

The documents are cause for optimism, not pessimism. Here are words that should delight Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, whose Iraq war strategy has been heavily criticized: “The Americans and the [Iraq] government were able to absorb our painful blows, sustain them, compensate their losses with new replacements, and follow strategic plans which allowed them in the past few years to take control of Baghdad as well as other areas one after another. This is why every year is worse than the previous year as far as the Mujahideen’s control and influence over Baghdad.”

Every year is worse for the terrorist insurgents? How can opinion polls reflect the opposite? Maybe the al Qaeda media strategy is working better than the insurgents think.

The documents also show the American and Iraqi side is communicating better with the Iraqi people than are the terrorists. They state: “the media power [in Iraq] is presented by their special radio and TV stations as the sole Sunni information source, coupled with our weak media, which is confined mainly to the Internet, without a flyer or newspaper to present these events.”

The documents reveal “The Mujahideen do not have any stored weapons and ammunition in their possession in Baghdad” and that there are as few as 30 or 40 insurgents in some areas compared to “tens of thousands of the enemy troops.”

“The only power the Mujahideen have,” says the al Qaeda operative, “is what they have already demonstrated.” That is sniper fire, “planting booby traps among the citizens and hiding among them in hope that the explosions will injure an American or members of the government.”

These documents ought to encourage not only the U.S. government, but also American public opinion, that the virtues of patience and commitment are likely to achieve the stated objectives of freedom and a self-sustaining Iraqi government.

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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