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thedrifter
08-05-07, 10:50 AM
I have seen the horror

Al Qaeda is guilty of monstrosities in Iraq - no matter what anyone says

MICHAEL YON

Sunday, August 5th 2007, 4:00 AM

Amid all this talk of timetables for the War in Iraq, blurred as they are by a strange lemming-like compulsion to declare the "surge" strategy a failure almost before it actually began, one deadline looms larger with each passing day: It's time for a reckoning with the truth.

The problem is that almost none of those who have cast themselves as truth-tellers have the requisite credibility for the job. The one man who does was told he had only until September to evaluate progress.

I'm not suggesting that I make a worthy substitute for the commanding general, David Petraeus, on this or any subject, but since December of 2004, I have spent roughly a 1 years on the battlefields of Iraq.

I've traveled alongside American Army and Marines and British forces, from Basra to Mosul and just about anywhere of note in between.

When it comes to Iraq, being there matters because of the massive disconnect between what most Americans think they know about Iraq, and what is actually going on there.

The current controversy about the extent to which Al Qaeda is a threat to peace in Iraq is a case in point. Questions about which group calling itself an offshoot of Al Qaeda is really an offshoot of Al Qaeda is a distraction masquerading as a debate.

Al Qaeda is in Iraq, intentionally inflaming sectarian hostilities, deliberately pushing for full scale civil war. They do this by launching attacks against Shia, Sunni, Kurds and coalition forces. To ensure the attacks provoke counterattacks, they make them particularly gruesome.

Five weeks ago, I came into a village near Baqubah with American and Iraqi soldiers. Al Qaeda had openly stated Baqubah was their worldwide headquarters — indeed, Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed just a short drive away.

Behind the village was a palm grove. I stood there, amid the crushing stench of death, and photographed the remains of decapitated children and murdered adults. I can still smell the rotting corpses of those children.

Clearly, not every terrorist in Iraq is Al Qaeda, but it is Al Qaeda that has been intentionally, openly, brazenly trying to stoke a civil war. As Al Qaeda is now being chased out of regions it once held without serious challenge, their tactics are tinged with desperation.

This may be the greatest miscalculation they've made in their otherwise sophisticated battle for the hearts and minds of locals, and it is one we must exploit.

In fact, some Sunni insurgents who formerly were allies of Al Qaeda have turned on them simply because Al Qaeda has proven it will murder anyone — and in the most horrible ways. One of these groups is called the 1920 Revolution Brigade, which turned on Al Qaeda and joined forces with the U.S.

On July 16, I was with American Army forces, Iraqi Army forces and 1920 fighters when together they went off to hunt Al Qaeda. The 1920s guys were in front of us. They got hit by a bomb that was almost certainly planted by terrorists. A major gunfight ensued.

Anyone who says Al Qaeda is not one of the primary problems in Iraq is simply ignorant of the facts.

I, like everyone else, will have to wait for September's report from Gen. Petraeus before making more definitive judgments. But I know for certain that three things are different in Iraq now from any other time I've seen it.

1. Iraqis are uniting across sectarian lines to drive Al Qaeda in all its disguises out of Iraq, and they are empowered by the success they are having, each one creating a ripple effect of active citizenship.

2. The Iraqi Army is much more capable now than it was in 2005. It is not ready to go it alone, but if we keep working, that day will come.
3. Gen. Petraeus is running the show. Petraeus may well prove to be to counterinsurgency warfare what Patton was to tank battles with Rommel, or what Churchill was to the Nazis.

And yes, in case there is any room for question, Al Qaeda still is a serious problem in Iraq, one that can be defeated. Until we do, real and lasting security will elude both the Iraqis and us.

Ellie