On the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, the United
States has proved its critics wrong--again. The U.S.-led surge has
been a remarkable success, and the fledgling democracy is no longer
on the path to civil war. The ballot box and the rule of law are
now replacing terrorism, fear, and intimidation as the norm. For
historians looking for evidence of American decline, this progress
in Iraq must be a huge disappointment.
The world needs stronger U.S. leadership and is a far more
dangerous place without it. As the only superpower, America might
not always be loved, but it is respected and feared by its enemies.
The United States still possesses the strength and the will to
fight, even in the most difficult of circumstances. The dramatic
turnaround in Iraq is a warning signal to the enemies of the free
world. From Tehran to Damascus to Pyongyang, rogue regimes and
state sponsors of terrorism are taking note of a renewed American
determination to stand and fight.
The U.S. and its allies must still make a long-term military
commitment to defeating the al-Qaeda threat in Iraq. Talk in
Washington of a large-scale withdrawal of U.S. forces from the
country after the end of the Bush Administration sends the wrong
signal at a time of continuing uncertainty and will only serve to
embolden the enemies of the West. An early withdrawal would not
only hand a huge propaganda victory to al-Qaeda, giving it
tremendous momentum and reversing the progress of the past year,
but also open the door to mass ethnic cleansing that would claim
hundreds of thousands of lives.
Iran, the world's biggest state sponsor of international
terrorism, would benefit enormously from a Coalition pullout
from Shiite-dominated southern Iraq, where it already wields
political influence. A withdrawal from the South would create
a power vacuum that dozens of Iranian-backed militia groups are
ready to exploit--among them, Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, the
Badr Brigades, and the Mujahidin for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. To
prevent this, America must continue to exercise its leadership and
demonstrate a long-term commitment to the fight against terrorists
and their sponsors in Iraq.
The Success of the Surge
The surge campaign was launched over a year ago with the phased
introduction of an additional 30,000 American troops. It
demonstrated that the United States is capable of fighting and
winning a protracted counterinsurgency war against well-armed and
highly trained militia groups thousands of miles away in the Middle
East. The figure leading the operation, General David H. Petraeus,
is a true hero, a remarkable military commander who defied the odds
to deliver results in the face of a brutal, sophisticated, and
Since June 2007, terrorist attacks in Iraq are down by more than
60 percent, with a 90 percent reduction in Anbar Province, once a
hotbed of al-Qaeda activity. Iraqi civilian deaths fell by over 70
percent in the eight months following July 2007, and Coalition
military losses have decreased by the same figure in the period
since May 2007. Overall ethno-sectarian violence is down by nearly
90 percent since June 2007, reaching its lowest level since early
2005. Bombings in Baghdad are now at their lowest level since early
2006, with terrorist attacks falling to 57 per week in the past
four months, down from 225 a week in summer 2007.
Al-Qaeda is on the run across large swathes of the Sunni
heartlands as previously warring Iraqi factions are uniting against
the foreign Jihadists who have ravaged their country. Such is the
improvement in the security situation that Iraqi security forces
are now responsible for nine of the nation's 18 provinces.
Operation Phantom Phoenix, a series of joint Iraqi-Coalition
operations launched in January to hunt down remaining al-Qaeda
cells operating in Iraq, has already resulted in the capture of 26
senior al-Qaeda leaders and the elimination of several hundred
terrorists, including 142 in Mosul alone.
Improved security has brought with it a renewed sense of
economic confidence and stability. More than 30,000 private-sector
companies have been registered in Iraq since 2003, with an almost
10 percent increase in new business registration in 2007 compared
to the year before. Inflation has fallen from 65 percent in 2007 to
just under 5 percent in 2008, and the Iraqi government's budget has
doubled in the past three years, rising from $20 billion to $41
billion. Crude oil production now exceeds pre-war levels at 2.4
million barrels a day, with oil exports averaging 1.9 million
barrels a day, helping to spur economic growth of 7 percent for
Even the BBC's latest poll reports that more than half
of Iraqis believe that life is "good" in Iraq, with over 60 percent
declaring that security in their neighborhood is "very good" or
"quite good." A striking 49 percent of Iraqis surveyed support the
view that the decision taken by America and its allies to invade
Iraq in spring 2003 was "absolutely right" or "somewhat right."
Just 38 percent of Iraqis polled support an immediate withdrawal of
Coalition forces, and a total of 59 percent believe that the
Coalition should remain until "security is restored," until "the
Iraqi government is stronger," or "until the Iraqi security forces
can operate independently."
The Continuing al-Qaeda Threat
Even with recent gains in security, al-Qaeda remains a potent
threat in Iraq, and there can be no room for complacency. Much work
remains to be done in securing the country, and the Coalition must
stand united in ensuring that the gains of the past year are not
reversed. As General Petraeus warned in an interview last week, "We
should expect al-Qaeda to try to rebound. Al-Qaeda's like a fighter
that's been dropped to the canvas a couple of times, but comes back
off that canvas."
Despite a huge reduction in terrorist attacks across Iraq as a
whole, sporadic bombings continue in parts of the country. The
brutal killing in February of over 70 Iraqis in two Baghdad market
blasts--the bombers were mentally disabled women sent to their
deaths by al-Qaeda--provided a stark reminder of the pure evil
that Islamist militants are willing to unleash on the streets of
Iraq. Over 40 Shias were murdered by a female suicide bomber in the
holy city of Karbala in a suspected al-Qaeda attack in mid-March.
The free world should be under no illusions that, if given the
opportunity, al-Qaeda will seek to emulate this kind of barbaric
atrocity in cities across Europe and the United States. These and
other bombings in recent weeks underscore the precarious nature of
the progress that has been made in Iraq.
The Specter of Iran
The dangerous regime in Tehran also remains a major threat to
long-term peace and stability in Iraq. Iran's Revolutionary Guard
continues to arm Shia militia groups responsible for the killing of
Coalition soldiers. The Iranian regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
represents the biggest nation-state threat to international
security of this generation. It is a brutal and highly dangerous
tyranny that already has British and American blood on its hands
and is actively waging war against Allied forces.
It is vital that America's closest ally, Great Britain,
maintains a significant military presence to act as a bulwark
against Iranian aggression in the South. As progress is made in
central Iraq, this is no time for Prime Minister Gordon Brown to
adopt a weak-kneed approach. There are no compelling military or
strategic reasons for a British withdrawal. The security situation
in and around Basra remains tense as Iranian-backed militias
continue to grow in strength with the assistance a corrupt police
force heavily infiltrated by Tehran's agents. There is a vital need
to maintain security along the Iraq-Iran border, as well as to
protect the supply routes that run from Kuwait to Baghdad.
Washington and London must ensure that Tehran does not gain a
long-term foothold in Basra, Iraq's second-biggest city. In the
coming months, thousands of U.S. troops may need to be deployed to
the region in a show of strength to warn Iran of the consequences
of playing with fire. Over 4,000 Coalition troops have laid down
their lives in Iraq since 2003, and it is important that their
sacrifice be honored with a commitment to ensuring that an
Iranian-backed Islamic dictatorship does not take hold.
The Front Line in the War Against
The U.S., Britain, and other Coalition allies must remain united
in their determination to continue the fight against Islamist
terrorism in Iraq. An early withdrawal of Allied troops would
have catastrophic implications for the future of the country
and would be seen by most Iraqis as a betrayal of trust. By
liberating Iraq and removing one of the most brutal regimes of
modern times, the Coalition made a powerful commitment to the
future of the Iraqi people that must be honored. There should be no
major pullout of Allied forces from the country until key military
objectives have been met and Iraq is stable and secure.
Ultimately, Iraq is a microcosm of a larger war the United
States and Great Britain are waging against Islamist terrorism and
extremism. The battles on the streets of Iraq have a direct
relevance to the national security of the U.S. and its allies, and
to walk away from this front line of the war against Islamist
terrorism would significantly increase the terrorist threat to the
This is a long-term conflict that must be fought to ensure the
security of the free world. America's recent success in Iraq
demonstrates that this is a war that can and must be won.
Nile Gardiner, Ph.D., is
Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of
the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International
Studies, at the Heritage Foundation.
Remarks by Ambassador Charles Ries, Minister for Economic Affairs
and Coordinator for Economic Transition, U.S. Embassy, Baghdad, at
the London School of Economics, February 4, 2008, at http://london.usembassy.gov/ukpapress74.html.