Pastor's Page
By Fr. George Welzbacher
June 29, 2008

   Whatever one may think of the reasons advanced in justification of our invasion of Iraq-and I for one take those reasons very seriously-namely to remove a sworn enemy of the West and an energetic patron of terrorists who did possess chemical weapons of mass destruction (and had more than once made use of them), who could easily have produced biological weapons and who pretended that he possessed an atomic weapon (after expelling the UN inspectors charged with verification and defying the Security Council's repeated resolutions demanding their readmission)-whether or not one believes that the President and Congress acted wisely, the bottom-line fact is that having begun the war, we cannot afford to lose it. Another major defeat for the United States coming on the heels of our defeat (largely self-inflicted) in Viet Nam would demoralize our troops and our allies; would make a mockery of the sacrifice of life and limb already made by thousands of men and women in our armed forces; would be the most effective recruiting "ad" imaginable for Al Qaeda and friends; and would abandon the Middle East to the rising power of Iran. To withdraw our troops from Iraq right now, or even too swiftly in the months ahead, would be to hand victory to those who hate us and to betray all of those in Iraq who have stood with us at considerable risk to themselves and to their familles. And especially to give up now, at the very moment when, after a long, dark night of near-despair, victory is within our grasp, would constitute, it seems to me, an act of national folly that would come very close to treason. Because the fact is that now, in the wake of "the Surge" and thanks to the genius, both diplomatic and strategic, of Generals David Petraeus and Raymond Odiemo, WE ARE WINNING THIS WAR. This is NOT to say that we have already WON it but it is to say that we are standing at the THRESHOLD of victory. And if we don't lose our national will to win, we CAN by maintaining our present course of action, bring this war to a successful end. That this is not a delusion even some of the grand panjandrums of our national media are beginning to concede. (Sorry, Keith Olbermann, no insult intended).May I share with you some excerpts- many more could be adduced-from reports on Iraq that recently appeared in the prestigious press, from the anything-but-Bush-friendly New York Times to the liberal but thoughtful Washington Post to the sagely conservative Wall Street Journal

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The October Surprise could be a peaceful Iraq?
A Washington Post unsigned editorial for June 1, 2008

   There's been a relative lull in news coverage and debate about Iraq in recent weeks-which is odd, because May could turn out to have been one of the most Important months of the war.  While Washington's attention has been fixed  elsewhere, military analysts have watched with astonishment as the Iraqi government and army have gained control for the first time of the port city of Basra and the sprawling Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, routing the Shiite militias that have ruled them for years and sending key militants scurrying to Iran. At the same time, Iraqi and U.S. forces have pushed forward with a long-promised offensive in Mosul, the last urban refuge of Al-Qaida. So many of its leaders have now been captured or killed that U. S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, renowned for his cautious assessments, said that the terrorists have "never been closer to defeat than they are now."
   Iraq passed a turning point last fall when the U.S. counterinsurgency campaign launched in early 2007 produced a dramatic drop in violence and quelled the incipient sectarian war between the Sunnis and Shiites. Now, another tipping point may be near, one that sees the Iraqi government and army restoring order in almost all of the country, dispersing both rival militias and the Iranian-trained "Special Groups" that have used them as cover to wage war against Americans. It is--of course--too early to celebrate, although now in disarray, the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr could still regroup, and Iran will almost certainly seek to stir up new violence before the U.S. and Iraqi elections this fall. Still the rapidly improving conditions should allow U. S. commanders to make some welcome adjustments-and it ought to mandate an already-overdue rethinking by the "this- war-is-lost" Caucus in Washington....
   Gen. David Petraeus signaled one adjustment in recent testimony to Congress, saying that he would probably recommend troop reductions in the fall going beyond the ongoing pullback of the five "surge" brigades deployed last year. Gen. Petraeus pointed out that attacks in Iraq hit a four-year low in mid-May and that Iraqi forces were finally taking the lead in combat and on multiple fronts at once-something that was inconceivable a year ago. As a result the Iraqi government of Nouri at-Maliki now has "unparalleled" public support, as Gen. Petraeus put it, and U.S. casualties are dropping sharply. Eighteen American soldiers died in May, the lowest total of the war and an 86 percent drop from the 126 who died in May, 2007.
   If the positive trends continue.... [what will make all the difference is] a plan for Iraq based on sustaining an improving situation, rather than abandoning a failed enterprise. That will mean tying withdrawals to the evolution of the Iraqi army and government, rather than to an arbitrary timetable; Iraqs 2009 elections will be crucial. It also should mean providing enough troops and air power to continue backing up Iraqi army operations such as those in Basra and Sadr City ....

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    The Iraqis Stand Up
                      By Charles Krauthammer,
                      The Washington Post.

   [After rebuking the American defeatists who advocate the swift withdrawal of our troops from Iraq Mr. Krauthammer lists the Iraqi government's recent major achievements].
   1.  Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent the Iraqi army into Basra. It achieved in a few weeks what the British had failed to do in four years: take the city, drive out the Mahdi Army and seize the port from Iranian-backed militias.
   2.  When Mahdi fighters rose up in support of their Basra brethren, the Iraqi army, at Al- Ma-liki's direction, confronted them and prevailed in every town-Najaf, Karbala, Hilia, Kut, Nasiriyah and Diwanijah-from Basra to Baghdad.
   3.  Without any American ground forces, the Iraqi army entered and occupied Sadr City, the Mahdi Army stronghold.
   4.  Al-Maliki flew to Mosul, directing a joint Iraqi-U.S. offensive against the last redoubt of Al-Qaida, which had already been driven out of Anbar, Baghdad and Diyala provinces.
   5.  The Iraqi parliament enacted a de-Baathification law, a major ... benchmark for political reconciliation.
   6.  Parliament also passed the other reconciliation benchmarks [recommended by Congress]-a pension law, an amnesty law, and a provincial elections and powers law. Oil revenues are being distributed to the provinces through the annual budget.
   7.  With Al-Maliki having demonstrated that he would fight not just Sunni insurgents (e.g. in Mosul) but Shiite militias (e.g. the Mahdi Army), the Sunni parliamentary bloc began negotiations to join the Shiite-led government. (The final sticking point is over a sixth Cabinet position.)

   The disconnect between what [many in the U.S.A.1 are saying about Iraq and what is actually happening there has reached grotesque proportions .... In 2006 ... conditions in Iraq were dire and we were indeed losing the war. Two years later, when everything is changed,  [many] continue to reflexively repeat their "narrative of defeat and retreat" (as Joe Lieberman so memorably called it) as if nothing has changed....
   Iraq is a three-front war-against Sunni Al-Qaida, against Shiite militias and against Iranian hegemony--and we are winning on everyfront:
   We did not go into Iraq to fight Al-Qaida. The war had other purposes. But Al-Qaida chose to turn it into the central front in its war against America. That choice turned into an Al-Qaida fiasco: Al-Qaida in Iraq is now on the run and in the midst of stunning and humiliating defeat.
   As for the Shiite extremists, the Mahdi Army is isolated and at its weakest point in years.
   Its sponsor, Iran, has suffered major setbacks, not just in Basra, but in Iraqi public opinion, which has rallied to the Al-Maliki government and against Iranian interference through its Sadrist proxy.
   Even the most expansive American objective--establishing a representative government that is an ally against jihadists, both Sunni and Shiite-is within sight.

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   Iraqi Military Extends Control in Northern City
                        By Andrew E. Kramer for The New York Times of June 1, 2008
                        From: Mosul, Iraq

   The recent successes in quieting violence in Basra and Sadr City appear to he stretching to the long-rebellious Sunni Arab district here in Mosul, raising hopes that the Iraqi Army may soon have tenuous control over all three of Iraqs major cities.
   In this city, never subdued by the increase of American troops in Iraq last year, weekly figures on attacks are down by half since May 10, when the Iraqi military began intensified operations here wth the backing of the American military. Iraqi soldiers searching house to house, within American tank cordons, have arrested more than 1,000 people suspected of insurgent activity.
   The Iraqi soldiers "are ready from the Basra experience," Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, the commander of American forces in Mosul, said in an interview. "They have lerned the right lessons .......
    While the American military was never far away-it offered air support and additional firepower-the operation here was largely led by Iraqis.
   And that paid dividends here in Mosul. More than two dozen insurgent leaders who might not have surrendered to the Americans turned themselves in to the Iraqi generals....
   As the decline in attacks in Mosul became clear in late May, Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador in Iraq said, "You are not going to hear me say that Al Qaeda is defeated, but they've never been closer to defeat than they are now."
   American and Iraqi officials have called Mosul the last urban bastion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni jihadist groups...
   For the past several months, American and Iraqi forces have been slowly applying pressure on the city. The operation, named Lion's Roar, began officially an May 10. In it, the Iraqis have relied on significant American military assistance, after similar and tentatively successful assaults in Basra and Sadr City.
   American tanks have formed cordons while Iraqi soldiers have searched house to house. Forts built and operated by Americans in western Mosul also greatly helped to stem the car bombings that had plagued this city. The Iraqis, though, drew up the arrest lists and conducted the parleys. To soothe ethnic tensions, a Sunni Arab general oversaw the operation.
   In all 83 percent of the military action had a majority of lraqi troops participating ....

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   How Prime Minister Maliki Pacified Iraq
                                      From: The Wall Street Journal of June 10, 2008
                                      By: Kimberly Kagan and Frederick W. Kagan

   America is very close to succeeding in Iraq. The "near-strategic defeat" of at Qaida in Iraq described by CIA Director Michael Hayden last month in the Washington Post has been followed by the victory of the Iraqi government's security forces over illegal Shiite militias, including Iranian-backed Special Groups. The enemies of Iraq and America now cling desperately to their last bastions, while the political process builds momentum
   These tremendous gains remain fragile and could be lost to skillful enemy action, or errors in Baghdad, or Washington. But where the U.S. was unequivocally losing in Iraq at the end of 2006, we are just as unequivocally winning today.
   By February 2008, America and its partners accomplished a series of tasks thought to he impossible. The Sunni Arab insurgency and al Qaeda in Iraq were defeated in Anbar, Diyala and Baghdad provinces, and the remaining leaders and fighters clung to their last urban outpost in Mosul The Iraqi government passed all but one o the "benchmark" laws (the hydro-carbon law being the exception, but its purpose is now largely accomplished through the budget) and was integrating grass-roots reconciliation with central political progress. The sectarian civil war had ended.
   Meanwhile, the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), swelled by 100,000 new recruits in 2007, were fighting hard, and skillfully throughout Iraq. The Shiite-led government was showing an increasing willingness to use its forces even against Shiite militias. The announcement that provincial elections would be held by year's end galvanized political movements across the country, focusing Iraqs leaders on the need to get more votes rather than more guns.
   Three main challenges to security and political progress remained: clearing al Qaeda out of Mosul; bringing Basra under the Iraqi government's control; and eliminating the Special Groups safe havens in Sadr City. It seemed then that these tasks would require enormous effort, entail great loss of life, and take the rest of the year or more. Instead, the Iraqi government accomplished them within a few months.
   Mosul: After losing in central Iraq, remnants of al Qaeda and Baathist insurgents were driven north. These groups started to reconstitute in Mosul as the last large urban area open to them. Mosul also contained financial networks that had funded the insurgency, was a waypoint for foreign fighters infiltrating from Syria, and has ethnosectarian fault lines that al Qaeda sought to exploit.
   The Iraqi government responded by forming the Ninewah Operations Command early in 2008, concentrating forces around Mosul, and preparing for a major clearing operation. In February, the ISF cleared the neighborhoods of Palestine and Sumer, two key al Qaida safe havens.
   In the meantime, American forces conducted numerous raids against the terrorist network, netting hundreds of key individuals. The ISF launched Operation Lion's Roar on May 10. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited Mosul on May 14th, and the ISF began Operation Mother of Two Springs shortly thereafter.
   The results have been dramatic. Enemy attacks fell from an average of 40 per day in the first week of May to between four and six per day in the following two weeks. Coalition forces have captured or killed the al-Qaeda emirs of Mosul, southeast Mosul, Ninewah Province and much of their networks.\
   Mr. Maliki announced a $100 million reconstruction package for Mosul on May 17 and dispatched an envoy on May 29 to oversee the distribution of funds. Security progress was made possible in part by the enrollment of 1,000 former members of the Iraqi Army. They were part of the revision of the de-Baathification policy legislated by the Iraqi Parliament earlier in the year.
   Basra: Al Qaeda's defeat in 2007 exposed Iranian-backed Special Groups and Shiite militias as the most important sources of violence and casualties. The Maliki government had shown its willingness to target Sunni insurgents, but many feared it would not challenge Iran's proxies and the Sadrist militias within which they functioned. Basra in particular seemed an almost insurmountable problem following the withdrawal of British combat forces from the city. This left Iraqs second-largest city (and only port) in the hands of rival militias.
   Iraqi and American commanders began planning for a gradual effort to retake the city. Mr. Maliki decided not to wait. He ordered clearing operations to begin on March 22, sent reinforcements to support those operations, and accompanied the first of those reinforcements to Basra on March 24.
    Operation Knight's Charge started on March 25, as Iraqi Security Forces moved into Mahdi Army (JAM) safe havens throughout the city. Initial operations were not promising-some 1,000 ISF personnel deserted or refused to fight, most of them from the newly-formed 14th Iraqi Army Division. Nevertheless, the Iraqi Army seized control of the port.
   Initial setbacks did not deter Mr. Maliki who continued to send in reinforcements, including Iraqi Special Forces, Iraqi helicopters and the Quick Reaction Force of the 1st Iraqi Army Division from Anbar. Negotiations between Iraqi leaders and Iranian Brig. Gen. Ghassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Quds Force, produced a "cease-fire" on March 30.
    But operations continued and after two weeks the ISF, with American advisers and aviation but no American combat units, launched clearing operations throughout the city on April 12. By mid-May, the ISF controlled Basra's neighborhoods, and drove JAM and Special Groups fighters out of their safe havens, pursuing them north and south of the city.
   Mr. Maliki had authorized the recruitment of 2,500 local security volunteers and begun negotiation with their tribal leaders for their incorporation into the ISF. The establishment of Iraqi government control in Basra was symbolized by the recapture of state buildings and open areas that had been occupied by various Sadrist and other insurgent groups, and by the seizure of enormous weapons caches.
   Sadr City: The Special Groups had been preparing for an offensive of their own in the first months of 2008, stockpiling arms and moving trained fighters into and around the country. Mr. Maliki's move into Basra led them to begin their offensive prematurely, including the launching of heavy rocket and mortar attacks against the Green Zone from their bases in Sadr City. Iraqi Security Forces crushed these attacks in central Iraq and, with American assistance, in most of Baghdad....
   On May 20, the ISF, supported by U.S. airpower and advisers, moved rapidly into the remainder of Sadr City. They received help from the local population in identifying IFD locations and enemy safe houses, and destroyed enemy leadership centers. By the end of May, most of the Special Groups and hard-core Sadrist fighters had been killed, captured or driven off.
   At present, al Qaeda is left with a tenuous foothold in Ninewah and a scattered presence throughout the rest of Sunni Iraq. Special Groups leaders who survived have mostly fled to Iran, while hard-core Sadrist fighters have fallen back to Maysan Province, whose capital, Amarah, has become their last urban sanctuary. All of Iraq's other major population centers are controlled by the ISF [Iraqi Security Forcesl which can now move freely throughout the country as never before.
   The war is not over, Enemy groups are forming, rearming and preparing new attacks. Al Qaeda in Iraq will conduct spectacular attacks in 2008 wherever it can. Special Groups and their JAM affiliates will probably reconstitute within a few months and launch new offensives timed to influence both the American and Iraqi elections in the fall.
   And for all its progress and success, the ISF is not yet able to stand on its own. Coalition forces continue to play key support roles, maintaining stability and security in cleared but threatened areas, and serving as impartial and honest brokers between Iraqi groups working toward reconciliation.
   But success is in sight. Compared with the seemingly insurmountable obstacles already overcome the remaining challenges in Iraq are eminently solvable-if we continue to pursue a determined strategy that builds on success rather than throwing our accomplishments away. No one in December 2006 could have imagined how far we would have come in 18 months. Having come this far, we must see this critical effort through to the end.