Light at the end of Iraqi tunnel

By Dan Streib

A battle rages in southern Iraq. Intra-Shiite tensions explode. Violence has returned to once-pacified regions. Critics of the current American war effort say that this proves that America has not, cannot and will not solve anything by staying in Iraq.

But amidst the bloodshed and the prospect of even more violence, there is proof that America has begun to fix something: the Iraqi government.

In 2006, Iraq was falling apart. Late in that year, many politicians, analysts, journalists and political scientists were a calling for a U.S. withdrawal. However, President Bush adopted the surge policy toward Iraq.

The reason the strategy won my support is that it highlighted an important truth: normal Iraqis wanted security and would align themselves with whoever provided it. Thus, in 2007, when American and Iraqi forces began to establish greater security, violence went down. Sunni tribes allied themselves with the recommitted America. Mistakenly seeing the increased effort against al-Qaida as one against all Sunnis, the Mahdi Army, led by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, reached for peace.

Further, normal citizens didn’t join militias and terrorist groups when they didn’t need those groups for protection.

So, Iraq was less violent and American troops were occasionally greeted with enthusiasm instead of gunshots. But the final hope of the surge was that Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) would replace Americans in providing the security – if that happened, then these forces and the Iraqi government would get enthusiasm and respect. If that happened, Iraq might one day act as a legitimate state.

That’s why in the middle of this new fighting, I have hope. While Americans are going after Sunni al-Qaida, the Iraqi government is asserting its authority against al-Sadr’s Shiite militia like never before.

In an interview with NPR, the Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan stated that this recent violence is a result of an ongoing struggle. There have been a growing number of “mass arrests” of al-Sadr’s followers in southern cities by the ISF.

Members of al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army finally had major clashes with Iraqi Security Forces in Basra. This prompted Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to send in two brigades of Iraqi troops to crush them. The Republic of Iraq is acting like a government should, suppressing those who defy the law in order to provide security.

This means that things are going as planned according to the security-first strategy of the surge. Of course, failure might be devastating. The positive here, is that this was a move made completely by Iraqis – not the U.S. And Prime Minister al-Maliki has been very cautious in the past. One might be expected to guess, that when al-Maliki finally acted, it might be due to some advantage he has on the opposition.

Those who pose the counter thesis of al-Maliki’s moves being predicated on friendship with al-Sadr’s rival Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, might want to look at who is controlling the troops.

Although Vali R. Nasr of the Council on Foreign Relations correctly states that al-Malki can’t fully control these two Shiite leaders, one has to examine how the current operations of Iraqi troops are being conducted.

According to American General Kevin J. Berger, the Iraqi troops have not acted as aggressively as they would have if they had been trying to completely wipe out the Mahdi Army. They are instead acting more as police and security forces.

The explanation that best corresponds with troop actions and the overall coalition strategy is the one that seems to ring true: al-Maliki has finally stepped up to the plate. And as the Iraqi government does better, we Americans should see this as reason for staying in Iraq, not getting out.

It would be ridiculous to abandon a war when one can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel – even if it takes a few more years of sacrifice.

Dan is a sophomore in political science who hopes his NCAA tourney bracket doesn’t get any more messed up.