Saturday, February 24, 2007

Spaced out

As Mark Steyn has pointed out recently:

... to the media and much of the political class throughout the Western world, almost by definition there can be no good news from Iraq: the Bush surge in Baghdad is bound to fail, the Blair handover in the south is bound to fail, and therefore Howard's support for both or either or vice-versa is deluded. In strict numbers, London has been reducing - or "redeploying" or "withdrawing" - forces since 2003, when 46,000 British troops were holding down the southern third of Iraq single-handed.

Within a year, it was a fifth of that, and this latest drawdown is significant only because of the opportunity it affords Bush-bashers (and Howard-bashers) for some political sport. The southern provinces are as stabilised as they're likely to get under any regime short of multi-decade colonialisation.
The recently announced British troop withdrawals are a sign of success. The whole idea was to topple Saddam, hand over to a democratic Iraqi government, then leave. The process hasn't been easy, but in most of Iraq it has been working.

Baghdad has been a lot more problematic, though. Bush's answer is to increase troop numbers and crackdown on violence. This process began a couple of weeks ago and has had some success. Although most of the mainstream media ignored it, by last weekend the level of violence there had fallen by 80%. But you have to go to an Iraqi blogger to read a translation of an Arabic news service to learn this. The improvement was so marked that, as the terrorists fled:
Brigadier Qasim Ata, an authorized Baghdad Operation spokesman, told al-Sabah that for the 3rd day in a row dozens of displaced families are returning to their homes. 35 families returned in Madain, 7 in hay al-I’ilam and small numbers of families in various districts of Baghdad.

Later reports in the local media indicate that the total number of families that returned home is as high as 130 families across the city, including several families in the, until recently, hopelessly violent district of Hay al-Adl.
Of course, terrorist atrocities had not completely ended:
... the terrorists committed another crime against civilians by detonating two bombs in a market area.

Although soldiers and policemen are filling the streets, the terrorists are too coward to face the troops and choose to massacre unarmed civilians instead. What are they trying to prove with these cowardly acts? They can’t defeat the troops, so they attack civilians to discredit the security plan. But I don’t think such attacks can change the course of events on the long term; the Baghdad plan is a strategic effort that will go on for months, and time doesn’t seem to be on the terrorists’ side right now.
These atrocities were given main-headline prominence by the same news organisations that seemed unable to find space for the encouraging downturn of the previous week.

Both things are true - higher troop levels in Baghdad led to a downturn in violence; terrorist attacks continued at a lower frequency. Of course, aware that the only kind of contest they can win is the media battle, terrorists are going to be desperate to launch attacks that might cause the troop build up to falter. We know that. The value of the "surge" strategy will become clearer over in the months to come but first signs are promising.

You wouldn't know this, though, from the mainstream media.

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