Monday, January 07, 2008

End of the Beginning

A little over two years ago, I offered a 'benchmark' for our victory in Iraq. It wasn't mine. But it was one that made sense to me.

In the first battle for Fallujah -- the one al-Jazeera undermined and the Bush administration foolishly called off for political reasons -- the Iraqi troops sent in to aid the U.S. Marines either mutinied or fled without firing a shot. Seven months later, in November 2004, the Marines went back to finish the job after a summer of chaos in Iraq caused by the insurgent magnet in Fallujah. This time, the two Iraqi battalions sent into battle fought well, and won praise from the Americans.

But their U.S. advisers were chagrined to see that, after the battle was won, the Iraqi soldiers changed into civilian clothes before going home. The risk of wearing a government uniform off-duty was too great. The insurgents might have been driven from Fallujah, but they still had the ability to inspire fear, and to find a man's family if they wanted to.

Bing West, in his splendid account of the Fallujah battles ("No True Glory"), considered this and came up with a benchmark for victory in Iraq:

The insurgents would be finished when an Iraqi soldier in uniform boarded a bus, got off at his local market, and walked home.

It seemed a million miles away then. Well, based on this picture taken Sunday, it's come:

Except then you read the caption of the picture, which reads: "Iraqi men offer flowers to a soldier at a checkpoint in Baghdad on Army Day. A suicide attack in Baghdad that three Iraqi soldiers tried to prevent by flinging themselves on the bomber killed 14 people, government officials said on Monday, updating an earlier toll."

So the insurgents may be finished as a dynamic force in Iraq. But not as a destructive one. Victory still has a long haul. The killers are there to the last men. And they tend to take the bravest and best with them when they go.