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October 12, 2007

Amazing: Security Returning To Basra; Shiites Turning On al-Sadr's Mahdi Army

Such enormously optimistic news Allah's not sure if he should believe it or even mention it, because if it's real, he may jinx it.

Long has been the hope that what happened in the Anbar Awakening could also happen among the vengeance-minded Shiites. Even Time magazine is forced to confront the possibility of disaster, aka the possibility of peace and stability in Iraq:

The vaunted U.S. strategy in Anbar province that has put a dent in Al Qaeda in Iraq involved establishing ties with Sunni tribes. But there has always been skepticism whether the same strategy would work in Shi'ite areas of the country. However, that may be changing. In Musayyib, 40 miles south of Baghdad and not far from the holy city of Karbala, American officers are taking advantage of a network of "concerned citizens" in this predominantly Shi'ite area to help quell violence stemming from both Sunni insurgents and erratic elements of powerful Shi'a militias. Just as in Anbar, it was the tribes that asked the Americans for help.

Over the past two months these "concerned citizens" groups have manned checkpoints and established a network of informants that have helped keep out Sunni extremists and finger Shi'ite militants who assassinate rivals and set bombs on roadways to kill American soldiers. While leaders concede that operations in surrounding areas and a growing public antipathy toward the radicals have contributed to diminishing violence, they point to the numbers and say the civilian patrols are having an effect. Soldiers say 57 improvised explosive devises, or IEDs, exploded or were discovered in May. In August, however, only six went off or were found. "It's pretty much shut 'em down," says Maj. Craig Whiteside, the executive officer for the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Batallion.

Seeing a window of opportunity in their own sector, officers quickly mobilized, taking cues from the Anbar program and redesigning it to fit local conditions, enlisting volunteers from the town of Musayyib and surrounding villages to be part of ad-hoc militias supported and paid by the U.S. military. It's still a work in progress and sometimes dangerously clumsy. Members of the American battalion here recently shot and killed three of the new local volunteers at a checkpoint just north of town, saying they mistook them for insurgents planting roadside bombs.

The volunteer militias sprang up here in Babil province over the last two months under local leadership after the tribes saw successes scored by Sunni tribesmen in adjacent Anbar Province. Those homegrown groups in Anbar turned on al-Qaeda and teamed up with American forces to clear their regions of extremists, or at least put them on the run, reaping a windfall of American aid money in the process. What has surprised military officials about the groups around Musayyib, though, is that they are Shi'ite or of mixed sect, containing both Sunnis and Shiite residents who rejected the excesses of the Jaish al Mahdi, the Shi'ite militia nominally loyal to anti-American cleric Moqtada al Sadr. Almost 500 Shi'ites and at least as many Sunnis have already signed on. Shi'ite communities in the capital of Baghdad are also reportedly growing unhappy with al-Sadr's militia.

The newly armed and deputized groups have contributed to the biggest dip in violence and the lowest casualty rates since the battalion arrived a year ago. "Fewer of my guys have been killed than at any time before," Lt. Col. Robert Balcavage told TIME. Balcavage, commander of the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 25th Division, said the locally organized Sunni groups have already driven al-Qaeda out of the urban areas and into a rough no-man's land to the north, sandwiching them precariously between his paratroopers and elements of the 10th Mountain Division. In and around Musayyib to the south, the Shi'ite groups have manned checkpoints along roadways that once hid bombs. Since late July, roughly about the time the militias started working, no one has attacked the paratroopers there.

While the real key to stability in the region is training and fielding Iraqi police and army forces loyal to the central government instead of their particular tribe or sect, officers say the concerned citizen militias create a surge effect, picking up some of the slack and creating a pipeline for new and better qualified recruits.

As I've remarked before, the MSM and left have spurned George S. Patton's advice to not imagine the enemy as supermen. Long have they imagined that the US -- and only the US -- could be fatigued and demoralized by a prolonged bloody conflict. It didn't seem to ever register at any moment that the Sunnis and Shiites too might weary of war, tire of endless fighting and bloodshed, and might also concoct their own "exit strategies" from the carnage.

I've forgotten that myself at the bleakest moments of the war.

It's hard to imagine it at this point, after so many deaths, so many flag-draped coffins coming home to the US, but the fact is: This really could work, the war really could end, and on terms favorable to the US -- and to Iraqis and causes of freedom and human dignity as well.


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posted by Ace at 04:36 PM

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