Better News from Iraq

John Barham, International Editor

After three years of “failed policies and near defeat in 2006,” the U.S. is firmly on the road to success in Iraq, Gen. Jack Keane, former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army, told a Washington D.C. security conference.

“Now we are very successful and we are exceeding expectations,” said Keane. With a new counter-insurgency strategy, new leadership, and more troops, he said, “the momentum is irreversible and I say that with strong conviction.”

The aim is to stabilize Iraq as a country that is friendly to the US, capable of protecting itself without being a threat to its neighbors. “We are on our way to achieving this goal,” he said.

Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is operationally defeated, incapable of sustaining “complex operations.” The number of foreign fighters entering Iraq to attack U.S. forces is declining he said. Local Sunni leaders have rejected Al Qaeda, which has deprived it of support and logistics networks in Iraq. Instead of killing Americans, Sunni communities are now aligned with the U.S., which pays 90,000 former insurgents monthly stipends.

The Shia-dominated Iraqi government of Nuri Al-Maliki is also proving stronger than many once expected. Maliki has offered an amnesty to mainly Sunni prisoners in government jails, pushed a de-Baathification program, and agreed to a budget that shares revenues fairly between Iraq’s warring communities. This has won it support from alienated Kurdish and Sunni leaders. Maliki has also crushed Shia rebels in Baghdad and Basra, Iraq’s second city.

Keane said the good news is not emerging faster because the media is slow to pick up on new changes in Iraq, and because U.S. commanders are being careful in their assessments.

“Commanders still err on the side of caution,” he said. “They don’t want to make the mistake of underestimating the enemy.”


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