September 21, 2006 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

America's five Iraq wars

America has fought five wars in Iraq -- not merely one. And we've won or are winning four of them. Winning the last war, however, is all that counts. To cut and run now would leave America less safe than when we started.

War One: Battling Saddam. The United States waged war in Iraq for one reason -- to remove Saddam from power. This was really a continuation of Desert Storm. After all, we halted the first Gulf War based on a host of promises that Saddam made but never kept. Few doubt that the United States, the peoples of the Middle East, and especially the Iraqis are better off with the Butcher of Baghdad swept from power.

War Two: Combating chaos. Despite the scenes of rioting that arose when the regime collapsed, America and its coalition partners managed to quickly avert a wide-scale humanitarian crisis. Although Iraq was (and is) hardly a danger-free zone, there was no mass starvation, floods of refuges, or disease outbreaks that usually accompany the aftermath of conflict.

War Three: Confronting al Qaeda. In the wake of the war, lacking any real success elsewhere in the world, transnational terrorists leapt into the vacuum in Iraq. In the first years following the collapse of the regime, they accounted for the lion's share of murdering -- killing primarily innocent Iraqis. Even insurgent groups within Iraq that initially cooperated with al Qaeda in Iraq soured on the indiscriminant slaughter. Indeed, al Zawahiri (bin Laden's deputy) warned that the terrorism in Iraq was alienating Muslims both inside and outside the country from the cause of al Qaeda. Arguably, al Qaeda has lost in Iraq. Its most senior leadership has been killed or captured. Its popularity is low. And it no longer commands a significant following among the Iraqi insurgents.

War Four: Handling the Sunni insurgency. The Sunni minority in Iraq largely abstained from the political process established to form a legitimate government. Democracy went on without them. Led by the other major groups, the Shia and the Kurds, the Iraqis wrote a constitution, held a series of successful elections, and seated an interim government. A Sunni insurgency first rose up to forestall the march of democracy. That failed. The insurgents then tried to force more compromises on the government. Over the last year, it appeared that key Sunni leaders were giving up on the insurgency and were increasingly interested in negotiating a more equitable seat at the table and resolving key power-sharing issues.

War Five: Fighting the proxy war. Unfortunately for the United States, the wavering of the Sunni insurgency coincided with a decided increase in attacks by Shia militias. These provocations have resulted in an increasing cycle of retaliatory sectarian strikes between Sunnis and Shias, as well as concerted efforts to kill more American soldiers using more deadly and accurate improvised explosive devices. This latest war may be the toughest to win because its principal authors are probably not inside Iraq. They are in Iran.

The most recent uptick in violence in Iraq parallels closely U.N. efforts to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear programs. Instability serves Iran's purposes well. It diverts attention from the issue and undermines U.S. interests in the region.

There is a good deal of evidence to make this case. Weapons and funds to fuel the Shia insurgency are coming across the border from Iran. In addition, Hezbollah, Iran's stooge in Lebanon, initiated a violent confrontation with Israel which also has shifted the focus away from what Iran's mullahs are up to.

Cutting and running in the face of this latest threat would yield only one result: It would empower Iran and make its radical government more aggressive, more reckless and more dangerous. That's obviously not in America's interest.

What the United States needs to do is finish the job in Iraq -- and that means strengthening Iraq's security forces so they can handle the insurgency. At the same time, it needs to focus on the other threats to regional stability -- helping empower the Lebanese government to disarm and defang Hezbollah and marshalling the international community to isolate and punish Iran for its adventurism.

That way, we can ensure that War Five ends the same way the first four did.

James Carafano is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org), and author of the new book "G.I. Ingenuity."

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

Distributed nationally on the McClathy Tribune wire