What Has Changed?
Meanwhile, events in Iraq continue to escalate at a rate far greater than one would expect from the prospect of the arrival of 21,000 troops. If this report from Iraq the Model is accurate, there has been a change of psychological atmosphere which is rippling through the capital. Iraq the Model quotes the Arabic online newspaper Azzaman as saying major operations will start February 5 against militant leaders as part of an even wider operation.
We talked earlier about insurgents and terrorists fleeing Baghdad to Diyala, and today there's another report about a similar migration, from al-Sabah:
Eyewitnesses in some volatile areas said that large numbers of militants have fled to Syria to avoid being trapped in the incoming security operations. According to those witnesses, residents and shopkeepers are no longer concerned about militants whose existence in public used to bring on clashes that put the lives of civilians in danger. A shopkeeper in al-Karkh [western Baghdad] said that many of them [militants] packed their stuff and headed to Syria to wait and see what the operations are going to be like. While experts consider this a failure in protecting the plan's secrecy which might lead to the loss of the surprise factor, they also say it indicates the seriousness and resolve in this plan that is already scaring away the militants. PM Maliki pointed out that seeing them run away is a good thing but he returned and said the security forces would chase them down everywhere after Baghdad is clear.
As we said in the last update, Maliki won unanimous support for his plan in the parliament and despite some opposition from the radical factions the major blocs are expressing their support and approval of the plan.
Meanwhile, President Bush warned that the US would "respond firmly" if Iran escalates its military action in Iraq. Whether that means Iran is home free if it keeps its interference at the current level remains to be seen. ABC Australia reported:
The United States has accused Iran of supporting terrorism in Iraq and supplying weapons - including roadside bombs - to kill American troops. Now Mr Bush has issued a stern warning to Iran's leaders. "If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly," he said. The US recently confirmed it has authorized its troops to kill or capture Iranian agents who are operating in Iraq.
Apparently America is being taken seriously again, despite the fact that significant reinforcement has not arrived. What changed if the level of forces remained relatively static? Possibly the perception of America's will to win, which has taken a self-beating all these past months, is back. But, as President Bush's recent mild statement against Iranian interference illustrates, this psychological ascendance will probably last for only as long as it takes for those determined to dilute it to succeed. There will be a time for conciliation and diplomacy. But it should come only after the enemy, including Iran, is decisively beaten. This does not necessarily have to happen on a kinetic battlefield or involve large scale fighting, but it must nevertheless occur. Only a meaningful victory can provide the diplomatic ground for peace. Defeat by definition is barren. Recent events suggest it is a race to see whether victory can be achieved before we once again assert our determination to lose.