Category Archives: West Asia

American Forces Attack al Qaeda Cell in Syria

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United States Special Operations Forces crossed the Syrian border in an operation targeting the home of Abu Ghadiyah, leader of an al-Qaeda-linked Syrian network that smuggled jihadists, arms and money into Iraq. In February (2008) the U.S. Treasury Department identified Abu Ghadiyah as head of al Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI’s) facilitation network:

which controls the flow of money, weapons, terrorists, and other resources through Syria into Iraq. Former AQI leader Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi appointed Badran as AQI’s Syrian commander for logistics in 2004. After Zarqawi’s death, Badran began working for the new AQI leader, Abu Ayyub Al-Masri. As of late-September 2006, Badran took orders directly from Masri, or through a deputy.

The attack was conducted by four helicopters with accounts varying whether ground forces were involved. The NYT cites an unnamed source claiming “two dozen American commandos in specially equipped Black Hawk helicopters…fought a brief gun battle with Abu Ghadiya and several members of his cell.” Syrian witnesses describe two Arab men taken aboard helicopters and flown out of the area. The Associated Press notes:

U.S. authorities have said Abu Ghadiyah’s real name is Badran Turki al-Mazidih, an Iraqi in his early 30s who served as al-Qaida in Iraq’s head of logistics in Syria since 2004. His job included providing foreign fighters with passports, weapons, guides and safe houses as they slipped into Iraq and made their way to Baghdad and other major cities where the Sunni insurgency was raging.

In the past weeks, U.S. forces in western Iraq have been stepping up their efforts to control the flow of foreign fighters over the Syrian border. Stuart Levey, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, describes Syria as “a transit station for al Qaeda foreign terrorists on their way to Iraq.” While the numbers of foreign fighters caught and killed in Iraq has been on the decline since the advent of the surge and the Sunni Awakening, the region where the operation occurred has remained a primary route for money, weapons and men supporting the Sunni insurgency. As long as he stayed in Syria, Abu Ghadiyah remained out of reach of U.S. and coalition forces. That is, until Sunday.

Syrian officials condemned the attack as an act of “serious aggression” and government controlled newspapers claimed the U.S. had committed “war crimes.” The Russian government, set to sell new missile systems to Syria, has accused the United States of “fuelling dangerous tension in the Middle East”. This attack sends a clear message to the Syrian government: If you are providing safe passage for terrorists, the U.S. will take unilateral action.

Good News from Basra

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[This is from the Times Online (UK)]

Barney White-Spunner writes:

There is an interesting piece of graffiti on a bridge near Basra. A fleeing militiaman has scrawled “We’ll be back”; underneath an Iraqi soldier has scribbled in reply “And we’ll be waiting for you”.

The Shia militias, the Jaish al- Mahdi, who controlled large parts of Basra until March this year, has now gone and instead the city is firmly under the grip of Iraq’s new security forces, in whom the coalition has invested so much training. They re-established control in April, in an operation romantically named “The Charge of the Knights”, systematically clearing the city with British and American support, confiscating illegal weapons and arresting the violent gangs whose combination of criminality and vicious extremism was making life a misery for so many of Basra’s people.

Around the city the posters of religious leaders are being replaced with billboards advertising cars and mobile phones and photographs of Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, who is rightly credited with being the driving force behind the army’s crackdown. You see the symbol of The Charge of the Knights everywhere, a black horse carrying the flag of Iraq trampling the gangsters underfoot.

This improvement in security has made Basrawis more confident of their future than at any time since 2003. A recent poll showed that only 8 per cent now regard security as their main concern; 80 per cent have confidence in the Iraqi security forces to protect them. Women are free to walk the streets uncovered and to wear Western dress should they so choose.

Yet what also makes people here so confident is that they know that they live in what is potentially one of the richest cities in the Middle East…

[read it all]

Raymond Ibrahim: In Their Own Words, Understanding Al-Qaeda

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I first became familiar with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) after reading George Nash’s excellent The Conservative Movement in America: Since 1945 which they published. In addition to publishing they have posted a wide variety of lectures online (in audio and video format).

Here is Raymond Ibrahim, “In Their Own Words: Understanding Al-Qaeda.” (audio)

Iran’s Provocations Continue

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With the recent missile launchings yesterday and today, Iran is making their belligerence clear. The signs are pointing in two directions, appeasement or confrontation. The liberal punditocracy claim these moves are strictly defensive, a response to moves by the United States and Israel. In the minds of these observers Iran only reacts to the actions of its adversaries. Iran possesses no agency of its own.

This is a major mistake. The United States has enemies. Enemies who will do whatever is in their power to make us suffer defeat. When these enemies speak, when they articulate their policy preferences and political goals, we should listen very intently. When they threaten us and our allies, we should take those threats very seriously.

Military action should always be the last option. But it must remain an option and we are rapidly approaching a point where it may be the only option. As the Israelis realized in 1981 with Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility, destroying Iran’s nuclear sites before they reach the capacity to produce weapons is the only choice unless the world wants to see a nuclear armed Iran.

Iranian government officials claim the Shahab-3 missile has a range of 1,250 miles and are equipped with “special capabilities”. The officials did not specify what they meant by this oblique statement but chemical or biological warheads would not be out of the question. The tests also included launches from sea, torpedoes and surface-to-surface missiles.

On the positive side, the range of the Shahab-3 is not confirmed by any reliable outside source. Described by military experts as a modified North Korean Nodong missile and by some as a “glorified Scud” the tests may not have gone as well as the Iranian government reported:

A Ynet inquiry has revealed that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have doctored at least one photo of a missile test it conducted in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday and “added” at least one missile launching that never took place.

The photos were sent to the news agencies by the Revolutionary Guards and were published by media outlets worldwide, including Israel. In a videotape of the Iranian missile testing, which was shot from a slightly different angle, three missiles can be seen launched, while a fourth remains on the ground.

However, in the still photo all four missiles are seen fired into the air almost simultaneously. Some of the details in the images of the launched missiles are suspiciously similar; the tail of the fourth seems to be an exact copy of the missile on the far left.

Several internet sites also claimed that the missile photos were manipulated by the Iranians in an attempt to cover up possible technical difficulties that arose during the test.

Surprisingly, even the PRC has expressed dismay at the tests. Xinhua reports:

China was concerned over Iran’s missile tests and hoped relevant parties would take measures “conducive” to the situation in the Middle East, the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.

“We are concerned with what is going on in the region. As the situation in the Middle East is complicated and sensitive, we hope all parties concerned will take measures that are conducive to safeguarding peace and stability in the region,” said ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao at a regular press conference.

As tensions escalate in the region, the French energy company Total has announced it will not invest in Iran. The IHT notes:

“The conditions are not present for investing in Iran today,” said Total spokeswoman Lisa Wiler. “We hope that the political relations will improve so that we can invest.”

“Today we would be taking too much political risk to invest in Iran because people will say, ‘Total will do anything for money,’” CEO Christophe de Margerie was quoted by the Financial Times as saying Thursday.

Neither the company spokeswoman nor the CEO would say whether Total was pulling out of South Pars or overall investment in Iran.

“Iran remains a priority country in the strategy of Total,” Wiler said. “We are still in contact” with Iranian partners, she said.

De Margerie expressed frustration at U.S. pressure on European energy investors in the countries.

Readers will recall France was one of the main opponents of the liberation of Iraq due to French investments in the energy sector. Whether the West has learned from the past, that appeasement does not work with dictatorial regimes, remains to be seen. I hope the U.S. and Israel retain the resolve for action, even if the rest of the democratic world is sticking their heads in the sand.

Lebanon and the Issue of Force in Democratic Societies

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After widespread Hezbollah violence in West Beirut earlier this month, things seem to have settled down. Bu the political problem at the core of this conflict remains, the legitimacy and weakness of the Lebanese state. David Schenker (WINEP) provides some background:

In early May, the Lebanese government, led by the “March 14″ ruling coalition, objected to Hizballah’s telecommunications network and its control over Lebanon’s international airport. The cabinet subsequently decided to remove the network and install an airport officer that was not sympathetic to the Shiite organization. In reaction, Hizballah cried foul and demanded that the government back down.

When the coalition stood its ground, Hizballah forces temporarily occupied Beirut. Nearly one hundred Lebanese were killed and 250 were wounded in the worst fighting since the country’s fifteen-year civil war that ended in 1991. After three days of fighting — which included Hizballah’s failed attempt to storm the Shouf mountain preserve of March 14 Druze leader Walid Jumblatt — the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) stepped in and enforced a de-escalation. However, in the face of Hizballah’s overwhelming military might, and the LAF’s unwillingness to protect national institutions, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and his coalition capitulated to Hizballah’s demands on May 14, and revoked the cabinet decisions.

[Video of Hezbollah rolling through West Beirut]

Michael J. Totten (Contentions) opines:

A year and a half of mostly non-violent resistance yielded Hezbollah bupkis. After one week of murder and mayhem, the Lebanese government caved. The lesson for Hezbollah is clear: when things don’t go your way, take the rifles out of the garage, hit the streets, and start shooting people and burning down buildings.

In the comments thread, OAO notes:

[A]n even bigger problem is that the lesson that totten says nasrallah learned was also learned by all jihadis and terrorists in the ME: violence not only works, but works fast and easy. there is nobody with the guts to stand up to it.

I agree there is certainly potential for this to happen and it is incredibly worrying. But what is the likelihood of a similar form of political instability being replicated in other Islamic countries? Is the weakness of Lebanon’s national state unique?

Put another way, “guts” or will is part of the equation in defeating terrorists. So is capacity. Any state that allows (or is unable to stop) citizens, residents, or other civilians within its borders to use force to resolve conflicts is clearly weak. Such a state fails to meet the minimum definition of a state: a monopoly on the use of force and violence to solve disputes. The police fulfill this function internally and the army and other armed forces externally.

The state, including the police and army, is incredibly weak in Lebanon. The places where radical terrorists have been able to gain large footholds (if not control) are in these sorts of failed and weak states. I’m thinking of Afghanistan and Somalia in the extreme cases but even places like northern Sri Lanka where the Tamil Tigers operate or southern Thailand and parts of the Philipines where Islamist separatists and groups affiliated with Al Qaeda operate. These are lawless places where the state is largely absent, either through neglect, lack of resources, graft, corruption, or some combination of these.

Rather than focusing on the lesson that Sheik Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah learned or taught the Jihadis, we should examine the lessons that Hezbollah taught democratic states this week.

First, when terrorist organizations say they are ready, willing and able to use violence to achieve their aims we should be ready, willing and able to use “disproportionate” violence against them. Moshe Arens makes this point in his recent Haaretz op-ed (“A cease-fire with terrorism?”)

How to fight terror became the subject of endless discussions during that difficult time. As long as Israel seemed unable to find an effective answer to Palestinian terror, the defeatists in our ranks claimed that terror could not be defeated by force, while the more cautious argued that terror could not be defeated by the use of force alone. The implication was that Israel had no choice but to concede to at least some of the terrorists’ demands – that they must be given a “political horizon.”

But once the Israel Defense Forces and the security services began to seriously tackle Palestinian terror, following the massacre at the Park Hotel in Netanya in the spring of 2002, it quickly became clear that terror could be defeated by force. As a matter of fact, it could be defeated only by the use of force. The terrorists view any hints of Israeli willingness to give in to a portion of their essentially limitless demands as a sign of weakness, which only serves to encourage further acts of terror.

But Israel’s victory over Palestinian terror, which put an end to the daily bouts of suicide bombings, also induced amnesia in the minds of some of Israel’s leaders. The lesson was quickly forgotten. The shameful unilateral withdrawal from the security zone in southern Lebanon, which served to trigger the second intifada, was acclaimed by them as a great success that brought peace to northern Israel – until the wake-up call came with the Second Lebanon War. At that point, twisted logic took over the minds of members of the Olmert government, and they acclaimed the first defeat Israel had suffered in its entire history as a defeat of Hezbollah. Maybe they will finally get some sense into their heads when they see what Hezbollah, which they claim to have defeated, is doing in Lebanon these days. What a missed opportunity!

Second, we need to not only maintain the political will to defeat this enemy but also the capacity. When a state is able to mobilize the two (will and capacity) it can be capable of victory against terrorism. This the case even for a weak state like Lebanon, as the national government made clear when it defeated the Fatah al-Islam terrorists.

Third, we need to understand how an organization like Hezbollah was allowed to develop to the extent that it has. I’m not talking about poverty breeding terrorism. It should be clear to every democratic government that allowing armed organizations dedicated to your violent overthrow to operate openly, allowing them to solicit funds from foreign governments, and allowing them to essentially create a state within a state is absolutely unacceptable.

Read More:

Eric Trager: Contentions

Michael Young: Daily Star

Solidarity with the Cuban People (Not the Government)

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[h/t Solidaridad Cuba]

This May 21 get involved in the global effort to demonstrate support for freedom and human rights in Cuba! Champions of Freedom from all over the world are organizing events and listing them on our global solidarity map.

How can I take action on Cuba Solidarity Day?

  • ORGANIZE a peaceful march or vigil in a public place! Use white t-shirts, candles, and posters and pass out information on Cuban political prisoners and on human rights violations in Cuba to members of your local community!
  • ENCOURAGE at least 10 other friends, colleagues, family members and neighbors to do the same!
  • MOBILIZE your community leaders – teachers, church ministers, political leaders, human rights organizations, and activists!
  • REACH OUT to local and international media and let them know why you are taking action!
  • SHOW your support for Cuba Solidarity Day through Facebook and MySpace!

Let’s demonstrate our support for Cuba’s political prisoners, respect for the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and the right of the Cuban people to choose their own destiny and live freely and peacefully! Join us as we call out in one voice to demand peace, freedom, and democracy on the island!

READ MORE:

Judith Apter Klinghoffer: In India, as in Israel, Peace Process Means Terror

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[I was linked in an article by Judith Apter Klinghoffer at the History News Network (HNN). I have no idea if she reads this blog regularly or if she simply came across a link coincidentally. In either case, it made my day.]

Here we go again. 8 bombs exploded in a crowded ancient city populated by Hindus and Muslims during the height of shopping and praying hours. 80 men, women and children are confirmed dead. 150 were wounded. The hospitals are overflowing with the injured, their loved ones and blood donors. “Since both communities were targeted, it is clearly an attack on India,” an eyewitness said. Replace Hindus with Jews. Jaipur with Haifa and it all seems so very familiar. Both cities are also known for their beauty.

Familiar is also the immediate reason for the terrorist attack. Later this month the Indian foreign minister is about to embark on a visit to Pakistan as part of the ongoing peace process between the two nuclear armed neighbors. In India, as in Israel, Islamists opposed to the process, demonstrate their displeasure by murdering innocent civilians.

President Bush’s visit to the Middle East has already been preceded by Hezbollah muscle flexing in Lebanon and rockets from Gaza killing a 70 year old woman only a couple of days ago. I am sure the Israeli security forces are holding their breath as past experience does not offer much consolation. As I am writing I get the dreaded news – Missile hits Ashkelon Mall: Babies, children among wounded.

The world may more familiar with Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad or the Al Aktza brigade, but there is little difference between them and the terrorist groups operating in India. Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) was founded in 1992. It is a Talibanlike group inspired by Bin Laden headquartered in Bangladesh but with links to Pakistan. It is held responsible for terrorist attacks in Ajmer and Hydrabad.

[read it all]

Carter’s Middle East Study Mission: Peace Tour or Terror Tour?

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Jimmy Carter is in the Middle East allegedly on a mission of world peace. According to the Carter Center website:

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter will lead a study mission to Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan April 13-21, 2008, as part of the Carter Center’s ongoing effort to support peace, democracy, and human rights in the region…“ This is a study mission, and our purpose is not to negotiate, but to support and provide momentum for current efforts to secure peace in the Middle East,” said President Carter

Study mission? The trip would more accurately be described as a terror tour. Consider who Carter is meeting with, high-level officials of Hamas. Hamas, as evidenced by their actions, has no interest in peace. Hamas, as evidenced by their charter, is dedicated to murdering Jews and the destruction of Israel.

While in Cairo, the former president met with former Hamas deputy prime minister Nasser Eddin Shaer. He also gave a speech at the American University decrying IDF actions in Gaza as a “crime” and “atrocity” and an “abomination.” Less than 24 hours later, Hamas terrorists shot and killed 3 Israeli soldiers. Carter is scheduled to meet Hamas leader Khaled Mashel in Damascus on Friday. Mashel is believed responsible for organizing the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit and has expressed that terrorism is the basis of Palestinian politics and the identity of the Palestinian people. Carter is also scheduled to meet with Syrian president Bashar al-Asad.

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and other officials have reportedly refused to meet with Carter. Good for them. They should have refused Carter entry into the country. Hamas is at war with Israel and Carter is clearly more than sympathetic to the Hamas “narrative.” Israel should refuse entry to other self-serving activists like Carter whose ideal of peace in the region means Israeli capitulation and endless concessions to terrorists. Failing to take an enemy at their word is worse than hubris, it’s suicidal.

Here in the United States, some politicians are coming up with creative ways to punish Carter for his political activities. The appropriately named CARTER Act (Coordinated American Response to Extreme Radicals Act) seeks to remove funding for the Carter Center. The Center has received $19 million in federal funding since 2001. The Democracy Project notes, this “$19 million pales beside the tens of millions that have flowed to the Carter Center from MidEast sources.” Agreed. But why our tax dollars are supporting an organization engaging in activities in opposition to American foreign policy goals is baffling. The New York Sun reports, Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R, MI) introduced the bill and has found support to be “overwhelming in the first 24 hours since he introduced it.” However,

The chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees American policy towards the Middle East, Gary Ackerman, a Democrat of New York, yesterday said he thought the CARTER Act was “rather silly,” and “reactionary.” At the same time, Mr. Ackerman, who wrote a letter with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard Berman, a Democrat of California, urging Mr. Carter not to visit Mr. Meshaal, had harsh words for Mr. Carter.

“The man is entitled his idiotic, moronic, nonsensical, anti-commonsensical, foolish opinions. And all that being said, he is still entitled to have them. I don’t think we should be cutting off funding for any ex presidents to do things. We didn’t cut off Richard Nixon,” he said. Mr. Ackerman added that if Mr. Carter came to his home for the Passover Seder, he would ask him to read the part of the simple son, the boy who does not know enough to even ask a question about the story of the Jewish exodus from ancient Egypt.

One issue for Democrats will be whether Mr. Carter will speak at the national convention in Denver scheduled for August. The editor-in-chief of the New Republic, Martin Peretz, this week urged Democrats not to let the ex-president speak. “If the Democrats want to win Florida in November they should try to keep him in Plains or send him on another voyage to Darfur where his syrupy cynicism is also well-understood,” he wrote.

Read More:

Arutz Sheva

JPost

Boker tov, Boulder! “Carter Doesn’t Quit.

But I am a Liberal! “Some ‘Wisdom’ from Jimmy Carter.”

The Contentious Centrist, “Carter and the hypocrites.”

Democracy Project, “CARTER Act in Congress to Cut Off Carter Center Funding

Robert Maginni at Human Events, “Hamas’ Useful Idiot

Eric Trajer at Contentions, “Islamic Jihad: We Refused Carter’s Request for a Meeting.” Trajer’s “Carter’s Historic Relationship with Hamas” is also worth reading.

Jacob Laksin, at FrontPage, “Carter’s Terror Tour“.

Solomonia urges readers to Support the CARTER Act.

The CARTER Act is H.R. 5816. Want to see it pass? Contact your representative and let your voice be heard and counted.

Saddam’s WMDs in Syria?

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Dismissed by the chattering classes and intelligentsia as more evidence of the idiocy of American conservatives, it now seems the conservatives may have been correct. Israeli and American officials are set to release a joint report claiming Saddam Hussein managed to scuttle Iraq’s remaining WMDs out of the country and into Syria. This was reported by AFP and other media outlets in 2004 and again in 2006. These WMDs were reportedly the target of Israel’s air strike in Syria last fall (Sep 2007). The Jpost reports:

An upcoming joint US-Israel report on the September 6 IAF strike on a Syrian facility will claim that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein transferred weapons of mass destruction to the country, Channel 2 stated Monday.

Furthermore, according to a report leaked to the TV channel, Syria has arrested 10 intelligence officials following the assassination of Hizbullah terror chief Imad Mughniyeh.

Iraq War: Five Years Later

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I was going to write a post with the title “Iraq War: Five Years On” but the always astute Norm Geras beat me to it. Mr. Geras writes:

I do not understand how anyone who supported the war can look at that death toll (whatever its exact size), and at the injuries, and the numbers of refugees, and the extreme social dislocation, and the civil and ethnic conflict, that have followed upon the war, and say sincerely that they weren’t wrong in any way, that the hopes and/or expectations they had in supporting the war have not been dashed or had to be radically adjusted.

Jules Crittenden, in an identically titled article at The Weekly Standard concurs,

The errors committed in this war have contributed greatly to American frustrations. There was a failure to recognize the extent of the challenge ahead, even as ambitious plans were being laid starting in late 2001. The Bush administration could have had a blank check and recruits lined up around the block, but instead insisted on taking us into war with a post-Cold War military that is only belatedly being built up. The administration failed to seize control of Iraq with sufficient urgency and, when a complex insurgency was well underway, failed to move with sufficient skill to quell it until late in the day. The greater failure was to not adequately communicate the mission to Americans and to the world.

All wars go through evolutions, and it is unrealistic to expect no missteps. In this case, however, they are cited most frequently not as arguments to improve the war effort, but as excuses for abandonment. The Bush administration has made good at last with a counterinsurgency strategy that has hobbled Al Qaeda in Iraq and has the Shiite militias in a box. Iraqi military capabilities are improving, and the next president appears likely to inherit a somewhat pacified, reconciled Iraq; an enhanced American position of influence in the Middle East; opposing terrorist organizations that are sharply compromised; and a string of nascent democracies. At considerable cost of American blood and treasure, the United States is now in a position of marked if precarious influence in the most dangerous part of the world. The new president will have to consider how much of that he or she wants to throw away or build upon.

Unlike Mr. Geras, my position shifted from opposition to the war to support rather than from support to opposition. I agree that my hopes and expectations have been radically adjusted. However, I still think there were three options available at the time (regardless of arguments about WMD, etc.).

Option one was continuing the sanctions regime and no-fly zones. If we trust the figures coming from the lefties, the sanctions were killing 10,000 Iraqis a month. If we trust conservatives, the sanctions regime was not effective. We know Saddam was enriching himself through the Oil-for-Food program and all the rest.

Option two was dismantling the sanctions regime and no-fly zones. This was the policy preference of the radical left but was not supported by most centrists or conservatives.

Option three was war. War should never be the first option, but given the other two I think it was the only choice we had.

But Mr. Geras is absolutely correct about the need to question assumptions. American Enterprise Institute Vice President Danielle Pletka put it this way:

[W]hat about the mistaken assumptions that remain unexamined? Looking back, I felt secure in the knowledge that all who yearn for freedom, once free, would use it well. I was wrong. There is no freedom gene, no inner guide that understands the virtues of civil society, of secret ballots, of political parties. And it turns out that living under Saddam Hussein’s tyranny for decades conditioned Iraqis to accept unearned leadership, to embrace sect and tribe over ideas, and to tolerate unbridled corruption.

I thought similarly about Iraq. I know elections are no guarantee of freedom and liberty, that the institutions of civil society are the building blocks of any successful democracy, but I had hope that these organizations would develop over time. The emergence of a free labor movement was an especially encouraging development. But the insurgency made it extremely difficult for these fledgling movements. Nevertheless, it was an improvement over totalitarianism as evidenced by the testimonies of survivors of Saddam’s death camps.

President Bush recognized this in his recent speech:

What our troops found in Iraq following Saddam’s removal was horrifying. They uncovered children’s prisons, and torture chambers, and rape rooms where Iraqi women were violated in front of their families. They found videos showing regime thugs mutilating Iraqis deemed disloyal to Saddam. And across the Iraqi countryside they uncovered mass graves of thousands executed by the regime.

Because we acted, Saddam Hussein no longer fills fields with the remains of innocent men, women and children. Because we acted, Saddam’s torture chambers and rape rooms and children’s prisons have been closed for good. Because we acted, Saddam’s regime is no longer invading its neighbors or attacking them with chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. Because we acted, Saddam’s regime is no longer paying the families of suicide bombers in the Holy Land. Because we acted, Saddam’s regime is no longer shooting at American and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones and defying the will of the United Nations. Because we acted, the world is better and United States of America is safer.

When the Iraqi regime was removed, it did not lay down its arms and surrender. Instead, former regime elements took off their uniforms and faded into the countryside to fight the emergence of a free Iraq. And then they were joined by foreign terrorists who were seeking to stop the advance of liberty in the Middle East and seeking to establish safe havens from which to plot new attacks across the world.

The battle in Iraq has been longer and harder and more costly than we anticipated — but it is a fight we must win. So our troops have engaged these enemies with courage and determination. And as they’ve battled the terrorists and extremists in Iraq, they have helped the Iraqi people reclaim their nation, and helped a young democracy rise from the rubble of Saddam Hussein’s tyranny.

The U.S. Defense Department recently released a study of 600,000 documents from Saddam Hussein’s archives concluding that he supported many terrorist groups, secular and religious. However, the report did find a “smoking gun” or direct connection with al Qaeda. The (redacted) report, Saddam and Terrorism: Emerging Insights from Captured Iraqi Documents, is available here.

While many left critics of the war have correctly pointed out that Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime was secular, this did not preclude the regime from finding common cause against the United States with a variety of radical Islamist movements after the 1991 Gulf War. Anthony Lake writing in The New York Sun notes:

• The Iraqi Intelligence Service in a 1993 memo to Saddam agreed on a plan to train commandos from Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the group that assassinated Anwar Sadat and was founded by Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

• In the same year, Saddam ordered his intelligence service to “form a group to start hunting Americans present on Arab soil; especially Somalia.” At the time, Al Qaeda was working with warlords against American forces there.

• Saddam’s intelligence services maintained extensive support networks for a wide range of Palestinian Arab terrorist organizations, including but not limited to Hamas. Among the other Palestinian groups Saddam supported at the time was Force 17, the private army loyal to Yasser Arafat.

• Beginning in 1999, Iraq’s intelligence service began providing “financial and moral support” for a small radical Islamist Kurdish sect the report does not name. A Kurdish Islamist group called Ansar al Islam in 2002 would try to assassinate the regional prime minister in the eastern Kurdish region, Barham Salih.

• In 2001, Saddam’s intelligence service drafted a manual titled “Lessons in Secret Organization and Jihad Work—How to Organize and Overthrow the Saudi Royal Family.” In the same year, his intelligence service submitted names of 10 volunteer “martyrs” for operations inside the Kingdom.

• In 2000, Iraq sent a suicide bomber through Northern Iraq who intended to travel to London to assassinate Ahmad Chalabi, at the time an Iraqi opposition leader who would later go on to be an Iraqi deputy prime minister. The mission was aborted after the bomber could not obtain a visa to enter the United Kingdom.

A long time skeptic of the connection between al Qaeda and Iraq and a former CIA senior Iraq analyst, Judith Yaphe yesterday said, “I think the report indicates that Saddam was willing to work with almost any group be it nationalist or Islamic, that was willing to work for his objectives. But in the long term he did not trust many of the Islamist groups, especially those linked to Saudi Arabia or Iran.” She added, “He really did want to get anti-American operations going. The fact that they had little success shows in part their incompetence and unwilling surrogates.”

A former Bush administration official who was a member of the counter-terrorism evaluation group that analyzed terror networks and links between terrorists and states, David Wurmser, said he felt the report began to vindicate his point of view.

“This is the beginning of the process of exposing Saddam’s involvement in Islamic terror. But it is only the beginning. Time and declassification I’m sure will reveal yet more,” he said. “Even so, this report is damning to those who doubted Saddam Hussein’s involvement with Jihadist terrorist groups. It devastates one of the central myths plaguing our government prior to 9-11, that a Jihadist group would not cooperate with a secular regime and vice versa.”

I recently heard Peter Feaver discuss five elements of the U.S. policy in Iraq:

1) Security
2) Reconstruction
3) Strengthening local government
4) Transparency in tax collection and resource allocation
5) Political Reconciliation

The surge has done a remarkable job in the first category. Progress has been made in categories two and three as well. But by the time you get to categories four and five, progress is minimal.

More:

American Enterprise Institute: Iraq Five Years Later, What’s Next?

Brookings: Iraq Reports

Peter Feaver (former National Security Advisor, 2005-2007) on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal (March 20, 2008).

Victor Davis Hanson: Mirror, Mirror. On Iraq.

Christopher Hitchens: How Did I Get Iraq Wrong? I didn’t.

Oliver Kamm provides a nice roundup of Iraq commentaries here.

Reuters: Bearing Witness, Five Years of the Iraq War

Michael Weiss on Iraq (Pajamas Media).