Winning: February 21, 2005


A persistent, but rarely addressed, problem sorting out  who is winning in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the war on terror in general. For thousands of years, holding territory was used as a way to measure who was winning a war. This was not a perfect measure of winning. You could abandon territory to the enemy, in order to be in a better position to do a lot of damage to enemy combat power. But, generally, control of territory was seen as a fairly accurate measure of who was winning. Thats how they kept score during the World Wars, and the many little wars since. Even Vietnam was measured by who controlled what terrain. Its often forgotten that, when American troops left Vietnam in 1972, the communists were defeated, with the South Vietnamese government in control of most of its territory. South Vietnam eventually fell to a conventional invasion by the North Vietnamese army, coming across the border with tanks and infantry divisions in 1975. 

The history of the war in Iraq is going through a similar transformation, and the war isnt even over yet. When Baghdad was captured after a three week advance from Kuwait, many assumed that the war was over. Saddams army had largely evaporated. His hard core enforcers were still fighting, making suicidal attacks on coalition troops, but that was seen as temporary resistance. What the media missed was the fact that Saddams army was gone, but not Saddams core supporters; the Sunni Arabs. This group was only twenty percent of the population, but they were used to being in charge. The Sunni Arabs did not like the idea of giving up control of the oil revenue. The Sunni Arabs were also the best educated group in the country, and had long monopolized key military, technical and managerial jobs. The Sunni Arabs knew how to organize, improvise and fight for what they considered theirs. They were not very experienced when it came to making compromises with Kurds and Shia Arabs. 

One of the great unknowns going into Iraq was, What would the Sunni Arabs do? That question was answered by the Summer of 2003, when it was obvious that many Sunni Arabs were not cooperating, but were instead preparing to wage a terror campaign to drive out the coalition forces, and subdue the Kurds and Shia Arabs. Thats the war thats still being fought. How has that war been going?

The Sunni Arabs knew that, to take back control of Iraq, they had to prevent the Kurds and Shia Arabs from forming a new government. Kurds and Shia Arabs knew what they were up against when it came to the Sunni Arabs. Once the Kurds and Shia Arabs were in charge, they would be much better able to come after the Sunni Arabs. Meanwhile, the coalition had to deal with Sunni Arab terror using troops who didnt speak the language, or know the local cultural nuances. The Sunni Arabs took advantage of the fact that the coalition forces could not play rough. No torture chambers, no killing families of terrorists or taking hostages. None of the tactics that had worked so well for Saddam. The Sunni Arabs thought they could leverage these weaknesses, and the anti-Americanism then rampant throughout the Sunni Moslem world, and in Europe, to demoralize the Americans and cause the troops to be withdrawn.

Thats how the battle lines were drawn. Now, two years later, whos winning? Not the Sunni Arabs. Their terror campaign killed thousands of Iraqis, terrorized many more, and was unable to stop the national elections. The Americans didnt leave either, and were able to cope with the Sunni Arab terrorism. The new elected government, run by the majority Kurds and Shia Arabs, has control of a newly recruited and trained security force. The Sunni Arab leaders (tribal, religious and political), who had held back when the Sunni Arab terrorists first got going, are now talking compromise and a willingness to join the new government. The Sunni Arab terrorists are still out there, still killing. But day by day, they have fewer options, and dimmer prospects. 

Who do you think is winning?


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