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Iraqi Elections: Zarqawi Gambled - and Lost

| 21 Comments | 4 TrackBacks

The Iraqi elections are over and, by all accounts, ended reasonably successfully. While I refused to engage in the kind of calculus of killing that some had set into prior to the voting (discussions of how many people have to die for us to consider it an "unsuccessful" election), I will be quite frank and say that based on what I heard while I was in DC for the inauguration that the US was expecting Zarqawi or "Z-Man" as they call him in military circles (a reference, or so I understand it, to a transvestite from a 1970s X-rated film) to hit them with everything he had. As in, people were talking quite seriously about between 500 to a 1,000 casualties and this was just in defense circles.

When Brigadier General Erv Lessel was talking about a spectacular terrorist attack on the elections just 6 days ago, he was talking about 9/11 or equivalent level attacks. It is for that reason that I think it's best that we take the time to fully appreciate what we were going up against here so we can understand the full magnitude of what has just been accomplished.

To Begin With... Election Aftermath

Praktike made this same point in his own run-down of the Iraqi elections and I'd like to echo it with one of my earlier statements from April 8, 2004, back when the conventional wisdom was that Sadr and the Mahdi Army were the vanguard of a Shi'ite revolt that would drive the US out of Iraq:

One of the most annoying factors that one encounters within blogosphere, shifting only back and forth depending on which side of the ideological spectrum that a blog in question is located on, is that US foreign policy in general and success or failure in Iraq in particular is viewed solely through the lense of which US political party will benefit from it. I'm not particularly certain when this point of view became prevalent and to be quite frank, I really don't care. US success in Iraq is a good thing for the United States as a whole, not just for George Bush. Similarly, a US failure in Iraq will be an unparalleled disaster for us all, not simply for all of the chickenhawk warbloggers like myself who supported the invasion.

The inverse of that last statement is, of course, that a US success in Iraq (which is what I think it's fair to call the elections a part of, though they were of course also due to the actions of the Iraqi people) is good for the United States as a whole, not just George Bush. At the same time, I would be extremely hesitant to use the success of the Iraqi elections as yet more fodder for the war in Iraq debate before we even know the results. Still, if all goes as has been reported so far it would seem that the elections have been, one might say, a "catastrophic success," especially considering what could have gone wrong.

What Didn't Go Wrong

As long as I'm putting things in perspective here, let me just take this opportunity to demonstrate why I think that everyone reading this needs to appreciate the success of yesterday's elections when viewed through the framework of what could have happened:

  • Simultaneous mass casualty terrorist attacks (as in a replay of the Ashura Massacre at the very least) throughout Iraq, particularly in the northern and southern regions of the country that were expected to be largely peaceful
  • Sniper teams targeting the Iraqi voting centers
  • The use of some type unconventional weaponry against the polling centers
  • Ethnic violence in Kirkuk or Mosul along Kurdish-Turkmen or Kurdish-Arab lines
  • Voter intimidation by the Badr Brigades and/or a resurgent Mahdi Army in the southern region of the country
  • Fears that the majority of the Sunni population would do far more than just boycott the elections
  • General low turn-out due to security fears

All of these possibilities had been predicted by intelligence analysts, cited by pundits, and threatened by the insurgents themselves at one point or another during the run-up to the vote. None of it happened and in my view, that's reason enough to be thankful today as we wait for the election returns to come in.

Recent Changes in the Insurgency

I see that Newsweek has a pretty good primer on the Iraqi insurgency's evolution, though I have some quibbles with a few portions of it, it does give us some interesting information as to what fate might await Zarqawi now that his much-threatened streets running red with blood and bluster about the angel of death coming for Allawi has failed to occur:

Jihadi sources told NEWSWEEK last summer they were getting sick of Zarqawi, who seemed to be hijacking the insurgency. A series of grisly video clips on the Web that showed him beheading foreign hostages did not draw the kind of attention that many would-be resistance leaders wanted. His attacks on Iraqis ran counter to the nationalist ideas of many rebels. Some jihadist groups in Fallujah talked of arresting Zarqawi or killing him, according to a source in frequent contact with them. As late as November, when U.S. troops finally made an all-out assault on Fallujah, a senior Coalition official tells NEWSWEEK, the attack was delayed in hopes Zarqawi would be turned over peacefully.

But something had happened in August or September that Iraqi government officials have not yet fully deciphered. Suddenly the hostile rhetoric between nationalist rebels and Zarqawi ended. His open letters to Osama bin Laden, and his statements on the Internet, no longer belittled Iraqi colleagues in arms. And officials saw more and more instances of coordination between military-style units and terrorist operators: suicide bombs followed by ambushes; efforts to breach heavy defenses with combined attacks including platoon-size forces.

What happened? Barham Salih's theory: "The Baathists regrouped and in the last six or seven months reorganized. Plus they had significant amounts of money, in Iraq and in Syria." Those contacts and networks that Saddam's key cronies began developing months before the invasion now paid off. An understanding was found with the Islamic fanatics, and the well-funded Baathists appear to have made Syria a protected base of operations. "The Iraqi resistance is a monster with its head in Syria and its body in Iraq" is the colorful description given by a top Iraqi police official. (Syrian officials interviewed by NEWSWEEK adamantly deny this, while jihadi foot soldiers speak openly of an underground network that smuggles fighters via Syria.) Zarqawi's people supply the bombers, the Baathists provide the money and strategy. Brig. Gen. Hussein Ali Kamal says the alliance has proved a potent combination. "Now between the Zarqawi group and the Baathists there is full cooperation and coordination," he told NEWSWEEK.

Three things happened here that need to be noted. The first is that bin Laden stepped in to clarify the al-Qaeda hierarchy inside Iraq (one of the problems of having such a "decentralized" network is that it can often lead to a case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians) by appointing Zarqawi his top commander there, first privately and then publicly via audio address. The second is that Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who is described in Newsweek as follows:

Saddam, a paranoid with real enemies, was deeply suspicious of his top aides. But there was one he considered "blindly loyal," as Ballout puts it: Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council. Pale, with wispy red hair when he was younger, and a face that seemed to show the skull beneath the skin, al-Duri had been a Saddam crony since the 1950s. But in the largely secular Baath Party, al-Duri stood out for his mystical religiosity. In the 1990s, when Saddam put the phrase GOD IS GREAT on the national flag and banned the drinking of alcohol, al-Duri's influence began to show. Now Islamists were welcome. In January 1993, as the official Baghdad Observer newspaper reported, al-Duri hosted a convention for "more than 1,000 religious, political and cultural dignitaries from 51 countries," urging them "to conduct holy jihad against the U.S. and its allies."

Al-Duri was also assigned the task of repairing relations with the ruling Baath Party next door in Syria. The rival factions had been conspiring against each other since the 1960s, but a series of diplomatic missions—and concessionary oil sales—helped improve relations with the young dictator Bashar al-Assad after he inherited Syria's presidency in 2000. As the American invasion loomed, all these connections became increasingly important for Saddam's guerrilla strategy.

... converted to Wahhabism and swore an oath of allegiance to bayat to Zarqawi at some point between after Saddam Hussein's capture and the initial April 2004 assault on Fallujah. Captured Ansar al-Islam fighters going as far back as December 2003 claimed to have received orders from al-Douri which, combined with the true identity of Abu Wael, very likely push his al-Qaeda ties back even further. Needless to say, al-Douri joining Zarqawi didn't sit too well with the other Baathist leadership, which was already fairly fractured following Saddam Hussein's capture. But what happened between August-September 2004, near as I can tell, is that the two Baathist factions reconciled themselves and suddenly al-Douri's core of former Iraqi troops was supplemented by the skills of the Iraqi Mukhabarat and the money of Baathist financiers based in Syria (who, unlike al-Qaeda's Golden Chain, which underwrites a half dozen insurgencies worldwide at any given time) that enabled them to engage in a greater degree of professionalism and coordination under the general umbrella of Zarqawi's leadership.

Now that his plot to derail the elections has failed, however, it remains to be seen how his higher-ups in al-Qaeda or the exiled Baathist leadership will take his continued presence in the top spot. Newsweek alludes to Zarqawi's meeting with al-Qaeda military commander Saif al-Adel in eastern Iran in February 2003:

Saddam was not the only one preparing for a cataclysmic battle. After the United States crushed Afghanistan's Taliban regime and tore up Al Qaeda's infrastructure in the winter of 2001-02, would-be holy warriors started eying Iraq as a place where they could make a new stand. One of them was Zarqawi. Working with a group of Kurdish Islamic radicals known as Ansar Al-Islam, he established an underground railroad, bringing zealots to northern Iraq through Europe, Turkey and Syria. Other would-be holy warriors started finding their own way to Baghdad. As the American invasion approached, Osama bin Laden's head of military operations, a former Egyptian commando known as Saif al-Adel, laid out a detailed strategy for jihad in Iraq. Bin Laden himself called on holy warriors to join the fight in March and April.

But to get the full gist of what happened we have to go to the Washington Post from September 2003:

The turn toward Iraq was made in February, as U.S. forces were preparing to attack, the sources said. Two seasoned operatives met at a safe house in eastern Iran. One of them was Mohammed Ibrahim Makawi, the military chief of al Qaeda, who is better known as Saif Adel. He welcomed a guest, Abu Musab Zarqawi, who had recently fled Iraq‘s Kurdish northern region after the United States targeted a radical group with which he was affiliated, Arab intelligence sources said.

The encounter resulted in the dispatch of Zarqawi to become al Qaeda‘s man in Iraq, opening a new chapter in the history of the group and a serious threat to American forces there.

Whither Zarqawi (and his Organization) Now?

Today also marked a major defeat for Abu Musab Zarqawi's Qaedat al-Jihad fi Balad ar-Rafidayyin (formerly al-Tawhid wal Jihad) conglomerate and one that I expect that it will not soon recover from.

Now I know that someone is likely to point out that Zarqawi did succeed in carrying out attacks yesterday, at least of which apparently involved a Chechen and a Syrian, killed between 35 and 44 depending on who you talk to and whether you count the actual suicide bombers in the death toll.

Nevertheless, Zarqawi suffered an unqualified defeat today - one that he is not likely to soon recover from. Not only did he fail at his purported desire to derail the Iraqi vote, but he was unable to carry out anything resembling the kind of operations that his group has mounted in the past in either the Kurdish or the Shi'ite areas of the country. This was literally his "make or break" moment in the eyes of the al-Qaeda leadership and goes to show just how limited the insurgency is to a single geographic area of the country, only being able to launch attacks in other areas such as Irbil or Basra with extensive preparation and planning.

It should also be noted, though it hasn't really registered yet in the eyes of many observers, just how big a number the US has succeeded in doing to Zarqawi's organization in Iraq in recent months since the much-criticized assault on Fallujah. Just based on open-source information (with backgrounders supplied by yours truly) in descending order from the date of their capture or killing, here is a sample of some of the guys that Zarqawi has lost in recent months:

1) Abu Sayyaf (Sayf), aka Salah Salman Idaaj Matar al-Luhaybi - I'm unfamiliar with the al-Luhaybi tribe off-hand, so no clue as far as ethnic origins are concerned but my guess would be Iraqi or Jordanian since there's been an Abu Sayyaf among the mid-level al-Tawhid for quite awhile now. His kuniyat/nom de guerre suggests a familiarity with Abdurajak Abu Bakar Janjalani, a Filipino Moro who fought in the Afghan War using the kuniyat of Abu Sayyaf and later formed an al-Qaeda satellite group in the Philippines under the same name. He's like the second or third emir that Zarqawi had in place in Baghdad since the beginning of the insurgency according to Schanzer's work on al-Tawhid (some of which I want to say ended up in the Weekly Standard?) and my al-Tawhid flow chart has him as a mid-level commander who is in charge of insurgent activities in the greater Baghdad area and answers directly to Zarqawi. Per Deputy Prime Minister Saleh, he met with Zarqawi at least 4 times in December to set up planning for attacks during the elections and to discuss the al-Qaeda reorganization inside Iraq post-Fallujah.

2) Abu Omar al-Kurdi, aka Sami Mohammed Ali Said al-Jaaf - Iraqi Kurd, formerly the top deputy of Ayyub Afghani (aka Ayyub Hawleri), who was Ansar al-Islam's chief bombmaker and a veteran of al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan who had a picture of himself meeting with Osama bin Laden. Afghani was apprehended by coalition forces in Baghdad in March 2004 and it appears that al-Kurdi took over as top bombmaker in Baghdad afterwards. He's confessed to involvement in 32 car bombings, but what is likely to be far more interesting is his description of the terror triumvirate that was carrying out attacks in Baghdad and providing bombmaking skills to the insurgents during their opening attack on the Jordanian embassy until Ayyub Afghani's capture.

3) Abu Hassan, aka Ali Hamid (Hamad) Ardani Yassin (Yasin) al-Isawi - This guy's going to be a real diamond in the rough once he starts talking, he's a member of the al-Tawhid ruling council together with Zarqawi, Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, Sheikh Abdullah Janabi, and the apparently recently deceased Omar Hadid. Not much on him except that he's part of the original al-Tawhid core going all the way back to the days of the Millennium Plot in Jordan and maybe before that - I'd need to see the GID records on who was in jail with Zarqawi again to make sure. Per Saleh, he'd met with Zarqawi over 40 times in the last 3 months and was captured west of Baghdad, which would seem to confirm speculation that al-Tawhid leadership broke into two groups after losing Fallujah, once of which was headed towards Mosul to join Abu Talha with the other half heading south towards Baghdad.

4) Abu Walid al-Iraqi, aka Anad Mohammed Hamid al-Qais - He's part of the original group of Iraqi al-Qaeda who left the country with Abu Hajir al-Iraqi back in the 1980s to go join the jihad in Afghanistan and he's the only one of these guys who's actually part of the al-Qaeda, not al-Tawhid, which means that he's probably had a lot more combat experience at guerrilla warfare than most of the insurgent leaders. Al-Qaeda's military commander, Saif al-Adel, was originally a special forces colonel in the Egyptian military back when Egypt was part of the Soviet Bloc and he sets up al-Qaeda support for its satellite terrorist groups like al-Tawhid pretty much the same way the Soviets used to their client states: mostly logistical support, with only a handful of actual seasoned al-Qaeda members to serve as military advisors and to provide strategic direction in concert with the network's global strategy as well as to pick out several dozen to several hundred to become part of the core network, which is what the 2025 CIA report was actually referring to. My guess is that Abu Walid was one of these advisors and the reference to him as being a money man would also be consistent with that - it'll be a good idea to pump him for everything they can with respect to the Golden Chain operations inside Iraq.

5) Hassan Hamid Abdullah Mohsen al-Dulaimi - A Fallujah native and the head of propaganda operations for al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Dulaimi wrote most of the leaflets and statements used by al-Tawhid and may well have had a role in Zarqawi's decision to take an anti-Shi'ite bent in his letter to bin Laden that was found on Hassan Ghul in January 2004.

6) Abu Marwan - The logistical chief of the Mosul al-Qaeda cell, Abu Marwan was responsible for serving as the on-scene terrorist commander in Mosul as well as purchasing weapons with money supplied by Abu Talha. He also helped to coordinate the underground railroads and networks of safe houses that brought foreign fighters into Iraq from Syria and Iran. He had extensive ties to the local criminal element as well as to many of the northern Iraqi Islamist groups.

7) Abu Ahmed, aka Abdul Aziz Sadun Ahmed Hamduni - The top deputy of Abu Talha, the emir of Mosul who returned to Iran during the fighting in Fallujah and left Abu Ahmed in charge of al-Qaeda operations in the city in his absence, receiving money and weapons from Abu Talha as well as coordinating with local insurgent groups such as Ansar al-Sunnah and Ansar al-Islam to mount attacks on US forces. He told US interrogators about the pressure that Zarqawi was under from the higher-ups in al-Qaeda as well as his Baathist allies to thwart the Iraqi elections and shed light on the scope of al-Qaeda activities in northern Iraq.

8) Saleh Arugayan Khalil - A commander of al-Qaeda fighters in Fallujah and Ramadi who attempted to flee into rural Anbar and stir up trouble for US forces in the southeastern region of the province.

9) Bassim Mohammed Hazim - The head of one of Zarqawi's kidnapping and assassination cells, he organized several mass killings of Iraqi security forces after being forced to flee Fallujah.

10) Omar Hadid - A former electrician and a member of al-Tawhid wal Jihad's military committee, Hadid served as the day-to-day ruler of Fallujah and other insurgent-ruled areas of Iraq from April to November 2004. A Salafist from Fallujah, he was recruited to join al-Qaeda by a fellow Iraqi al-Qaeda veteran of the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh and Chechnya despite his high status among the local Baathists (Saddam tried to integrate as many Islamists as possible into the regime following the Gulf War) but eventually had a falling out with the regime and being forced to travel to al-Qaim, Syria, and Saudi Arabia where he became even more radicalized and was sent to northern Iraq to join what was then the Second Souran Unit under Aso Hawleri and eventually hooking up with Zarqawi. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, he returned to Fallujah with a force of 1,500 largely Iraqi, Saudi, and Syrian al-Qaeda fighters he called the Black Banners Brigade and established himself as the emir of the city's Julan neighborhood. His leg was injured during the course of the US assault on the city and he has not been heard

11) Abu Harith Mohammed Jassem al-Isawi - Omar Hadid's second-in-command and partner in crime in the Julan area of Fallujah.

12) Abu Hafs al-Libi - The Libyan spiritual leader of Ansar al-Sunnah who issued fatwas justifying the organization's actions.

13) Abu Anas al-Shami, aka Omar Yousef Jumah - The Palestinian Jordanian spiritual leader of al-Tawhid wal Jihad and a leader among the Jordanian Salafists, al-Shami received religious schooling in Saudi Arabia (where else?) and lived in Kuwait before being expelled during the post-Gulf War pogroms against Kuwaiti Palestinians and returning to Jordan to preach Salafism at a mosque in Amman. The mosque was closed following the Millennium Plot on the grounds that it was promoting a fanatical interpretation of Islam and he left to join Zarqawi in Afghanistan.

14) Hussein Salman Mohammed al-Jabburi - The Mosul cell leader of Ansar al-Sunnah.

Now granted, there are other insurgent leaders still active and they are likely to be continued threat for some time to come, but I don't think it's any stretch to say that Zarqawi's capabilities, while still lethal, are nevertheless being severely curtailed by the continued actions against them by US authorities. While we are not at the end or even the beginning of the end of the insurgency, it now appears that there is something of a light that is starting to form at the end of tunnel with respect to looking for the day when Zarqawi will hang from a gibbet for the sport of his own crows (the reference, lest I be taken too seriously here, is to Theoden's remark to Saruman).

Zarqawi, near as I can tell, has failed both bin Laden and his immediate superior Saif al-Adel at derailing the Iraqi elections. One of the reasons that I never accepted the idea of Zarqawi as a "rival" to bin Laden while he was in Afghanistan was due to the fact that bin Laden is not the sort of man who tolerates rivals when he can easily crush them. If the same proves true of failures, I suspect that we might easily see Zarqawi wind up being severely chastized or dead as a result of his inability to derail the elections given the amount of bluster he had put into doing so. If I were him, I wouldn't be much looking forward to the next al-Qaeda courier who shows up with a message from bin Laden.

Oh, and on the "Good" Professor Cole ...

It is perhaps becoming too much in vogue to criticize Juan Cole for his comments on the Iraqi elections today. I would, however, like to take issue with this bizarre statement:

Iraqis hadn't been able to choose their leaders at all in recent decades, even by some strange process where they chose unknown leaders. But this process is not a model for anything, and would not willingly be imitated by anyone else in the region. The 1997 elections in Iran were much more democratic, as were the 2002 elections in Bahrain and Pakistan.

I would have to defer to Mahmood on the issue of the Bahraini elections, but with respect to comparing the Iraqi elections to their Iranian equivalents (or to the 2002 elections in Pakistan that elected an impotent parliament), this is just absurd. As just about everyone who is even peripherally aware of how the Iranian government functions should be aware of by now, Iranian elections are run in a Stalinist-style fashion in which the candidates must be pre-approved by the clerical hierarchy for their ideological purity. While such litmus tests weren't nearly as stringent in 1997 as they were in 2004, they were still there and I strongly suspect that Cole and others would strongly object to the US or Allawi implementing similar measures within the Iraqi electoral process. I am not challenging the issue of Khatami being popularly elected, merely the fact that all the folks who want to hail the Iranian elections as more democratic than Iraq's are likely the same people who would cry the loudest were the US to set up a similar electoral screening system.

There is also the slight difference between Iraq and Iran in that the new elected Iraqi government will actually have the power to implement its decisions, whereas the powers of the Iranian parliament are only those that Rafsanjani and Co allow them to have. This strikes me as kind of a big difference, which is one of the reasons why I'm interested in hearing how the Iraqi election was received across the border.

4 TrackBacks

Tracked: January 31, 2005 12:42 PM
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Tracked: January 31, 2005 2:00 PM
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Excerpt: The Monday Winds of War Briefing is up. I am collaborating on this effort with evariste of Discarded Lies. The Winds of War Briefing is a roundup of the latest news on the Global War on Terror with a quick...
Tracked: January 31, 2005 4:50 PM
Excerpt: {update: Jan 31 11:45AM EST} by nadezhda While we await the reports on the outcome of Sunday's inspiriting display of Iraqis' courage and optimism, the always reliable Dan Darling outdoes himself with an indepth report on th...

21 Comments

Dan

Excellent, ballanced and comprehensive.

I would point out the constant leftist demand for perfection.

Its at the root of leftist intelectual dishonesty, this demand for perfection, and loss of any sense of porportion.

Most absurd, (and amazingly most numerous) is the fake equality of imperfections, that we should accept 174 Million murdered because freedom is not perfect.

Some have pointed out, that the murder rate at the hands of the Baathist state was greater than what is happening now, but morally, pointing that out should not be needed.

It should be enough that its the right thing to do, that freedom itself has value.

The other, is their assertion, that boils down from their pointing at the other remaining hellholes, is that since the USA and its allies do not have the physical ability and political will to free all peoples everywhere, then we should not free any people anyware.

We have all seen that leftist indictment of our selectivity.

In fact, the left accuse us precisly because our actions might bring further benifits to the United States.

As if we are automatically wrong unless action has no benifit for us.

I Assert that leftist opposition should be seen as nothing more than opposition to the United States, especially with a non-leftist president doing it, and no other reason.

The left only have eyes for their blood stained murder mountain utopia, and anything that does not advance them to their socialist utopia will be opposed, its as simple as that.

Saddam was a Baath Socialist, Arafat was a Socialist, Kadafy is a Socialist, thats the only thing the left cares about. anything else is outside of their utopian tunnel vision,

If you would consider that core driver in all their words and action, all that you see that dont seem to make sense will make sense.

Mass graves of Children in Iraq, Crimes against Humanity. Leftist response ? "No Blood For Oil!"

We will buy, not steal, their oil, and years from now the left will claim that it was their watchfullness that was responsible for a free and independent Iraq, and that Bushitler and Haleburton didnt steal the oil.

They will ignore past US history, that its what we have always done, that the USA travels rather light in terms of "empire"

Is guam evidence of "empire" ?

Reality will never have affect on the left because the left are not about any current reality, its the socialist utopia of murder mountain where their eyes are affixed, and everything else is a political calculation.

Entertain their actions and words in light of that, and everything they do will make sense.

Its all self evident, if you will only allow yourself to consider it.

Not only Zarqawi gambled against the elections, but European left wing parties and Chirac. This is the second blow in less than three months for them! (republican victory was the first).

Congratulations to the iraqi people and all the men and women that made this possible!

So here's a question -- why didn't the strictly neo-Ba'athist side do more? Security too good? Not as willing to attack Iraqis? Not actually understanding why the elections were important? Lying in wait to attack people with purple fingers?

(by the way, that was nadezhda who wrote that piece)

I hate to rain a little on the parade here but I think we shouldnt be so quick to interpret the Iraqi turnout as some sort of vote of confidence in our policy.

I wonder how many voted in defiance of the US and chose candidates that would be perceived as ones who would throw out the US if given a chance.

It just occurred to me that you can interpret the pictures two ways. The purple finger in the air could mean "Thanks US!" or it could be the new middle finger "f-you US. We voted for the guys who will kick your asses out of our country!"

That said, no matter how the iraqis voted, I think that we accomplished what we wanted and I think the elections are a great watershed moment. I couldnt be happier with the results and I admire the bravery of the Iraqi people for defying the terrorists and showing up. In fact, I am awed by the kind of guts that it took for them to vote. I am more grateful that we have it so good in this country.

I hate to rain a little on the parade here but I think we shouldnt be so quick to interpret the Iraqi turnout as some sort of vote of confidence in our policy.

I wonder how many voted in defiance of the US and chose candidates that would be perceived as ones who would throw out the US if given a chance.

It just occurred to me that you can interpret the pictures two ways. The purple finger in the air could mean "Thanks US!" or it could be the new middle finger "f-you US. We voted for the guys who will kick your asses out of our country!"

That said, no matter how the iraqis voted, I think that we accomplished what we wanted and I think the elections are a great watershed moment. I couldnt be happier with the results and I admire the bravery of the Iraqi people for defying the terrorists and showing up. In fact, I am awed by the kind of guts that it took for them to vote. I am more grateful that ever that we have it so good in this country.

Good questions, praktike (#3). But none of the candidate answers hold water. Perhaps we'll have more data soon?

Dan, you list fourteen fairly high-level players in Zarqawi's 'networks' as recently "jugged" (your phrase). And your review of the open source literature suggests that many of them are talking to interrogators (US? Iraqi?). This is very interesting in light of the furore over Heather MacDonald's recent piece on the US military's sensitivities to charges of torture, maltreatment, violations of Geneva Conventions. She depicts an intelligence-gathering operation that is toothless and thoroughly hamstrung. (Of course, Mark Bowden's most excellent essay on torture in the 2003 Atlantic Monthly provides the indispensible context.)

If these hardened jihadis, ex-Mukharabat, and Ba'athists are talking, there is some potent persuasion taking place to make it happen. Is MacDonald wrong in her claims (seems unlikely)? Is there a Plan B in effect for high-value targets? Are these bad guys being "rendered" to third parties for extraction of information? Maybe, per longstanding desires expressed by Ali, Zayed, Omar, and the other Iraqi bloggers, Iraqi government agencies have stepped up to be the coercive parties.

Peggy, I saw plenty of clips on CSPAN featuring young male iraqis who were voting to end the occupation. Does that really matter-- they are entitled to their voice. It is an encouraging sign, actually, I saw in the live phone calls and video clips healthy dissent, but also a strong sense of Iraqi nationalism-- do they have to be cravenly grateful?
Iraq may not end up grateful to the US-- that has been pointed out before-- isn't it more important that Iraq become a strong expression of the will of the people? Manners be damned. :)

Dan,

Great roundup.

People have all kinds of reasons for voting in the Iraqi elections, just as people have different reasons for voting in elections here. It could be that they were voting for someone, a cause, or against a person or cause (or a combination of the above). Yesterday we witnessed people who are voting instead of taking up arms to impose their views, and that's a critical difference from other regimes in the region. Elsewhere, we've seen dictators and mullahs take up arms to keep their power.

The fact that we didn't see mass casualty attacks despite the terrorists knew the date and locations for polling places suggests that they didn't have the means to make those attacks take place. There were no simultaneous car bombs going off at multiple locations in Baghdad - just sporadic and random attacks. That too suggests that the terrorists were not able to coordinate their efforts. It is a testament to the Iraqi security forces and the coalition to stop other potential attacks from being launched.

Here's another thought. Our military without doubt stretched itself to the limit to ensure security for the day. The towns were locked down and terrorists werent able to operate. Heres a first hand soldiers account.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/Iraq/Story/0,2763,1402458,00.html

Now, imagine we had enough troops to have been doing this all along. Every day.

Mark, I believe that would be called a police state.

Just sayin'.

Shannon Love made a very insightful observation about the lack of violence during the Iraqi elections. It's worth reading.

Peggy, jinnderella has it right: many of the French didn't wind up being grateful to us, but I still think the Normandy invasion was in our best interest. Don't see that Iraq should be any different: they don't always agree with each other, if pictures of some of the pre-election debates are to be believed, and there is no reason for them to agree with us either.

Mark Beuhner,

In general I’d agree that the “we don’t have enough troops there” meme has some substantial merit. In particular I’m disappointed that steps to expand the military by at least a couple of divisions weren’t taken immediately after Sept 11, we’d surely be in better shape now. That this is still not understood among Rumsfeld et al is a continuing frustration.

That said, I have to agree with Mark Poling here – the degree to which Iraq was shut down was untenable for any length of time. In particular the curfew and ban on cars was probably responsible in large part for the (relative) lack of violence.

Which relates to another, more mainstream (bipartisan, really) talking point – phrased commonly as “we have to train and stand up large numbers of Iraqi security forces to fight the insurgency”. In my opinion, the insurgency must be undermined and co-opted, in addition to being fought. I think it is possible to split the Baathists from the jihadis, and win over enough of the population to eliminate support for both. I think Allawi understands this. We don’t have to win over the Sunni areas, but the assembly which is drafting the constitution does or that constitution won’t be ratified. By all means, let’s do a better job training more Iraqi security forces – but I don’t believe this will be a sufficient condition for stability.

Re Z-Man:

The film was Russ Meyer's "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls." (No relation.)

The great line, when one of Meyer's buxom stars discovers she's trying to seduce a cross-dresser: "Z-Man! You're a chick!"

And the author of that most excellent script: Roger Ebert! Thank heavens he's now writing about movies rather than writing movies.

Lewy it took 3 years before the first elections in former NAZI germany, the effort to de-nazify, pacify, and generally get them going again was more bloody costly and frought with setbacks than our effort has been in Iraq.

As for the love, we have seen directly we have friends there, all we need to do to keep them is to keep our promise to them.

The demand for perfection by the Left complainers seems to be equal and opposite in the extreme for them personally. They demand others do what they never will because they don't have what it takes: mentally, intelligently, emotionally, morally.

"Mark, I believe that would be called a police state. "

As opposed to a terrorist state. Could we at least make the omelet before we starve to death, then count up the eggs?

Sorry about taking so long, replies to all ...

Joe A:

In all fairness, the recent French detention of the GSPC recruiting ring in Paris was likely one of the reasons why the insurgency was able to mount an effective attack on the elections. While I'm more than happy to thumb my nose at Chirac, I think it's important to remember that this about the Iraqi people, not the Euros.

praktike:

The neo-Baathists like did attack separately - mortars, IEDs, etc. As I've noted before, while the majority of attacks are carried out by Iraqi Baathists, all of the mass casualty attacks seem to be spearheaded by Zarqawi and his ilk (Islamists, Iraqi or otherwise) using suicide bombers augmented by cars packed with explosives. However, I think that the Zarqawi and his ilk have had their capabilities depreciated so much from the recent losses in and around Fallujah and Mosul that they are now concentrating more on regrouping in and around places like Ramadi rather than carrying out major attacks. Couple that with the loss of al-Kurdi and the fact that the Baghdad cells apparently opted to expend their supply of suicide bombers earlier in the week in hopes of deterring voting and I think you'll understand the reason for their absence.

And I suppose it'd be too much to ask if you conveyed my apologies to Nadezhda?

Peggy:

We don't have accurate information to judge on that score, but it is important to note that those who did vote with the intention of getting the US out of Iraq chose to go to the ballot box, not the gun shed, to convey their political opinions.

I'd call that progress.

AMac:

Not all of the above-mentioned figures have been "jugged," a fair number of them have left the mortal coil. As far as who's interrogating them, that I cannot say in large part because I don't know, but I am hearing that we are receiving intelligence from these people. I know that the US has turned prisoners over to Kurdish authorities for interrogation on occasion, for example.

Norman Conquest:

Much obliged for finding the source of the reference.

I made a post in a portuguese blog 1 day after election about what will zarqawi do after this blow.

Essencially i said that Zarqawi & Co. will need to be made atractive again. I think they'll resort more to international terrorism and abandon partially the regional theatre of operation, deinvest from Iraq. Also think they'll realize the error of the kind of tactical operations in Iraq (killing policemen, roadside bombs etc) and resort to strategic operations (like killing Alawi)or international ones. I think that Europe is very vulnerable to a PSAM sa-7/14 near an airport.

I read Dan Darling's incredibly detailed account of Zarqawi's organisation, and Syria's involvement in the insurgency, with great interest. The article is a gold-mine of information, and will no-doubt be mined by the mainstream media. Which is, I imagine, partly the point. Who are you Dan ?

As someone who has been in Iraq, I would tend to agree that the elections may turn out to be America's most effective weapon against the insurgency - just as Zarqawi's declaration of war on democracy may turn out to be the cause of his eventual downfall.

It's ironic that the same salafist insurgents who opposed the elections, are in some ways responsible for bringing them about in the first place. Paul Bremmer and the White House were originally set against elections, fearing an Iranian Trojan horse. But turned to elections partly out of fear of the insurgency spreading amongst shias.

As someone who orginally feared the worst for Iraq, and America's counter-insurgency policies - I hope America pounces on the success of the elections, (which really did feel like a similar outpouring of the human spirit shown in the Prague Spring of 1968 and again in the '89 Velvet Revolution.)

Having witnessed America's use of Israeli-style military operations in Iraq, and how they failed to achieve their objectives - i.e the various sieges of Samarra, still an insurgent stronghold after all this time; perhaps America would have more success if it put more trust in its most potent weapons: freedom and democracy. And not merely raise them as flags of convenience as so often in the past.

But then as Winston Churchil once said: "America always takes the right course of action...but only after trying every other option first." Or words to that effect.

London 'liberal' eye.

all the best,

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