The War You’re Not Read­ing About

The Washington Post Sunday - - Letters - John McCain

I just re­turned from my fifth visit to Iraq since 2003 — and my first since Gen. David Pe­traeus’s new strat­egy has started tak­ing ef­fect. For the first time, our del­e­ga­tion was able to drive, not use he­li­copters, from the air­port to down­town Bagh­dad. For the first time, we met with Sunni tribal lead­ers in An­bar prov­ince who are work­ing with Amer­i­can and Iraqi forces to com­bat al-Qaeda. For the first time, we vis­ited Iraqi and Amer­i­can forces de­ployed in a joint se­cu­rity sta­tion in Bagh­dad — an in­te­gral part of the new strat­egy. We held a news con­fer­ence to dis­cuss what we saw: pos­i­tive signs, un­der­re­ported in the United States, that are rea­son for cau­tious op­ti­mism.

I ob­served that our del­e­ga­tion “stopped at a lo­cal mar­ket, where we spent well over an hour, shop­ping and talk­ing with the lo­cal peo­ple, get­ting their views and ideas about dif­fer­ent is­sues of the day.” Mar­kets in Bagh­dad have faced dev­as­tat­ing ter­ror­ist at­tacks. A car bomb­ing at Shorja in Fe­bru­ary, for ex­am­ple, killed 137 peo­ple. To­day the mar­ket still faces oc­ca­sional sniper at­tacks, but it is safer than it used to be. One in­no­va­tion of the new strat­egy is clos­ing mar­kets to ve­hi­cles, thereby pre­clud­ing car bombs that kill so many and gar­ner so much me­dia at­ten­tion. Pe­traeus un­der­stand­ably wanted us to see this de­vel­op­ment.

I went to Iraq to gain a first­hand view of the progress in this dif­fi­cult war, not to cel­e­brate any vic­to­ries. No one has been more crit­i­cal of sunny progress re­ports that de­fied re­al­i­ties in Iraq. In 2003, af­ter my first visit, I ar­gued for more troops to pro­vide the se­cu­rity nec­es­sary for po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. I dis­agreed with state­ments char­ac­ter­iz­ing the in­sur­gency as a “few dead-en­ders” or be­ing in its “last throes.” I re­peat­edly crit­i­cized the pre­vi­ous search-and­de­stroy strat­egy and ar­gued for a coun­terin­sur­gency approach: sep­a­rat­ing the rec­on­cil­able pop­u­la­tion from the ir­rec­on­cil­able and cre­at­ing enough se­cu­rity to fa­cil­i­tate the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic so­lu­tions that are the only way to de­feat in­sur­gents. This is ex­actly the course that Pe­traeus and the brave men and women of the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary are pur­su­ing.

The new po­lit­i­cal-mil­i­tary strat­egy is be­gin­ning to show re­sults. But most Amer­i­cans are not aware be­cause much of the me­dia are not re­port­ing it or de­vote far more at­ten­tion to car bombs and mor­tar at­tacks that re­veal lit­tle about the strate­gic di­rec­tion of the war. I am not say­ing that bad news should not be re­ported or that hor­rific ter­ror­ist at­tacks are not news­wor­thy. But news cov­er­age should also in­clude ev­i­dence of progress. Whether Amer­i­cans choose to sup­port or op­pose our ef­forts in Iraq, I hope they could make their de­ci­sion based on as com­plete a pic­ture of the sit­u­a­tion in Iraq as is pos­si­ble to re­port. A few ex­am­ples:

Sunni sheikhs in An­bar are now fight­ing al-Qaeda. Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Ma­liki vis­ited An­bar’s cap­i­tal, Ra­madi, to meet with Sunni tribal lead­ers. The newly pro­posed deBaathi­fi­ca­tion leg­is­la­tion grew out of that meet­ing. Po­lice re­cruit­ment in Ra­madi has in­creased dra­mat­i­cally over the past four months.

More than 50 joint U.S.-Iraqi sta­tions have been es­tab­lished in Bagh­dad. Reg­u­lar pa­trols es­tab­lish con­nec­tions with the sur­round­ing neigh­bor­hood, re­sult­ing in a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in se­cu­rity and ac­tion­able intelligence.

Ex­trem­ist Shi­ite mili­tia leader Mo­q­tada al-Sadr is in hid­ing, his fol­low­ers are not con­test­ing Amer­i­can forces, sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence has dropped in Bagh­dad and we are work­ing with the Shi­ite mayor of Sadr City.

Iraqi army and po­lice forces are in­creas­ingly fight­ing on their own and with Amer­i­can forces, and their size and ca­pa­bil­ity are grow­ing. Iraqi army and po­lice ca­su­al­ties have in­creased be­cause they are fight­ing more.

De­spite th­ese wel­come de­vel­op­ments, we should have no il­lu­sions. This progress is not de­ter­mi­na­tive. It is sim­ply en­cour­ag­ing. We have a long, tough road ahead in Iraq. But for the first time since 2003, we have the right strat­egy. In Pe­traeus, we have a mil­i­tary pro­fes­sional who lit­er­ally wrote the book on fight­ing this kind of war. And we will have the right mix and num­ber of forces.

There is no guar­an­tee that we will suc­ceed, but we must try. As ev­ery sen­si­ble ob­server has con­cluded, the con­se­quences of fail­ure in Iraq are so grave and so threat­en­ing for the re­gion, and to the se­cu­rity of the United States, that to refuse to give Pe­traeus’s plan a chance to suc­ceed would con­sti­tute a tragic fail­ure of Amer­i­can re­solve. I hope those who cite the Iraq Study Group’s con­clu­sions note that James Baker wrote on this page last week that we must have bi­par­ti­san sup­port for giv­ing the new strat­egy time to suc­ceed. This is not a mo­ment for par­ti­san games­man­ship or for one-sided re­port­ing. The stakes are just too high. The writer is a Repub­li­can sen­a­tor from Ari­zona and a can­di­date for pres­i­dent.


Gen. David Pe­traeus, left, and U.S. Sen. John McCain visit the Shorja mar­ket­place in Bagh­dad on April 1.

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