Jewish World Review April 11, 2004 / 21 Nissan, 5764

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Iraq's insurgents can't win, unless we let them | The ranks of those who Thomas Paine described as "summer soldiers and sunshine patriots" have swollen since 1776. Many journalists and Democratic politicians are treating recent developments in Iraq as if they were a disaster, another Dunkirk.

A better analogy is with the Battle of the Bulge. In December 1944, it was plain that the Allies were going to win World War II. It was so plain that there was some overconfidence, some relaxing of our guard. But Hitler had a punch left, and he threw it at the Ardennes. The Nazis achieved tactical surprise, inflicted casualties and caused much concern until the 101st Airborne stopped them cold at Bastogne, and Patton's Third Army annihilated them. By throwing what remained of his best troops into a hopeless offensive, Hitler hastened the demise of the Third Reich.

Something like the Battle of the Bulge is being fought in Iraq today. In Fallujah, the Baathist remnant and the al-Qaida types are making a stand there -- a choice pretty much made for them by the Marines when they sealed off the city after the murder and mutilation of four civilian contractors there last week -- and are being ground down by the Marines.

The radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- who wants to create an Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq -- launched an abortive coup which has fizzled. Disdained by most Iraqi Shiite clerics and disliked by most rank-and-file Shiites, Sadr has so far been unable to attract much support beyond his Iranian-financed militia, the "Mahdi Army," whose strength has been estimated at between 3,000 and 10,000. That's a big mob if you can assemble it in one or two places, but a tiny fraction of 14 million to 17 million Shiites.

Most soldiers and former soldiers think the bad guys have made a big mistake. Guerrillas survive by running away to fight another day. By allowing themselves to be trapped in Fallujah, the Baathists and Sunni Muslim terrorists have sealed their doom.

It is unclear at this time how long it will take the Marines to conquer the city, how many casualties they'll suffer in the process, and how many civilians will be caught in the crossfire. But the end result is sure ... if we do not lose our nerve.

Sadr's revolt is the more worrisome, because it is the first time a Shiite group has taken up arms against the Coalition. The Shiites constitute more than 60 percent of Iraq's population. If a majority of the Shiites, or close to it, rebelled against the Coalition, the question isn't whether we'd have enough military force to suppress the rising (we probably would), but what would be the point? If a large proportion of the Shiites turn against what we are trying to do, our hopes of creating a stable democracy in Iraq would be doomed. Democracies can and must be defended by bayonets, but they cannot be established by bayonets.

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Fortunately, Sadr hasn't been much of a political threat, and is less of a military threat. A recent poll indicated that 78 percent of Iraq's Shiites disapprove of the violence Sadr triggered. The Iranian journalist Amir Taheri reminds us that moderates and secularists have won all 17 municipal elections that have been conducted so far in predominantly Shiite communities.

The "Mahdi Army" is more mob than army, and has so far shown little willingness to engage American forces, and less effectiveness when they have.

Sadr is a boil that had to be lanced sometime. Many wonder why the Coalition didn't move against him earlier. By launching his attacks, he's given the Coalition justification for destroying his militia. And by bunching up his militia in a couple of communities, he's provided the Coalition with a target-rich environment.

Last week was the bloodiest week in Iraq since last November. This week and next may be bloodier still. But even though they've been higher than they've been for months, our casualties are still low by historical terms, and if we stand firm, victory is all but certain. We must maintain faith in our cause, and keep faith with our fighting men and women. As the Web logger Tacitus put it, there are only two people in the world who can keep our soldiers and Marines from winning: you and me.

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JWR contributor Jack Kelly, a former Marine and Green Beret, was a deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration. Comment by clicking here.

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