- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

President Bush yesterday offered a thoughtful, compelling analysis of the war effort in Iraq and its importance to the larger war against Islamofascism. Noting that Iraq is now the “central front” in the war, Mr. Bush defined victory there as building a country “that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself and serves as an ally in the war on terror.” He emphasized that U.S. military forces would remain in Iraq for as long as necessary to train Iraqis to defend their country. Any effort to pull American troops out before the job is done, he rightly said, could prove disastrous, potentially transforming Iraq into a terrorist haven like Afghanistan under the Taliban, where al Qaeda operated freely prior to the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Bush spoke with sometimes brutal candor about mistakes and disappointments since the ouster of Saddam Hussein three-and-a-half years ago, ranging from American battlefield deaths and the murders of Iraqi security personnel and civilians to the failure to find weapons of mass destruction. But he also pointed to some of the successes, including elections in which millions of Iraqis braved terrorist threats in order to vote for a democratic future, and the work being done to build a functioning Iraqi military and police force. And indeed, he noted, both Americans and Iraqis have been paying a heavy price on the battlefield: This month, 93 American servicemembers were killed in Iraq, and more than 300 Iraqi security personnel gave their lives in battle. “Iraqi civilians have suffered unspeakable violence at the hands of the terrorists, insurgents, illegal militias, armed groups and criminals,” the president said.

Mr. Bush noted that the terrorism and violence that has engulfed Iraq since Saddam’s overthrow is no accident: In the early stages, “the insurgency was made of up remnants of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party, as well as criminals released by the regime.” Later Abu Musab Zarqawi, in a letter to Osama bin Laden that was intercepted by coalition forces, explained a strategy to attack Iraqi Shi’ites and incite civil war in the country. For years afterward, Iraqi Shi’ites largely resisted responding to the provocations by the Sunni jihadists. That restraint ended following the Feb. 22 bombing of a revered Shi’ite shrine. With substantial assistance from Iran (which has also been supporting the Sunni terrorists), Shi’ite gangsters have been staging murderous attacks on their own against Sunnis for eight months.

While the democratically elected Iraqi government and the U.S. military work toward a plan to end the violence, the most irresponsible step Washington could take would be to set up arbitrary timetables for withdrawal that would effectively abandon the Iraqi people. “One way for the American people to understand what Iraq could look like is what Afghanistan looked like under the Taliban… a place where women were taken into the public square and beaten if they did not adhere to the strict, intolerant guidelines of the Taliban, a place where thousands trained to attack America and our allies,” Mr. Bush said — with one very important difference: Iraq, with its oil resources, is a much wealthier country than Afghanistan. Were Iraq to fall to the Islamofascists, it would be far more dangerous to U.S. interests than Afghanistan was under Taliban rule.

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