Update on Iraq, Progress of Troops, Where Iraqi government stands
August 04, 2007
The New York Times' John Burn interview with Hugh Hewitt
Below are some excerpts from a recent interview with John Burns by radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. Emphasis added in bold.
I think there's no doubt that those extra 30,000 American troops are making a difference. They're definitely making a difference in Baghdad. Some of the crucial indicators of the war, metrics as the American command calls them, have moved in a positive direction from the American, and dare I say the Iraqi point of view, fewer car bombs, fewer bombs in general, lower levels of civilian casualties, quite remarkably lower levels of civilian casualties.
And add in what they call the Baghdad belts, that's to say the approaches to Baghdad, particularly in Diyala Province to the northeast, to in the area south of Baghdad in Babil Province, and to the west of Baghdad in Anbar Province, there's no doubt that al Qaeda has taken something of a beating.
The plan is that with the surge, aimed primarily at al Qaeda, who are responsible for most of the spectacular attacks, the major suicide bombings, for example, that have driven the sectarian warfare here, the belief is, or the hope is, that with the surge, they can knock al Qaeda back, they can clear areas which have been virtually sanctuaries for al Qaeda, northeast, south, west and northwest of Baghdad, and in Baghdad itself, and then have Iraqi troops move in behind them. The problem here is time. How much time does the U.S. military have now, according to the American political timetable, to accomplish this?
I think that they have a good plan now, at least if there is any plan that could save the situation here, any plan that could bring a reasonably successful end to the American enterprise here, it's probably the plan they have right now.
The more that the Democrats in the Congress lead the push for an early withdrawal, the more Iraqi political leaders, particularly the Shiite political leaders, but the Sunnis as well, and the Kurds, are inclined to think that this is going to be settled, eventually, in an outright civil war, in consequence of which they are very, very unlikely or reluctant, at present, to make major concessions. They're much more inclined to kind of hunker down. So in effect, the threats from Washington about a withdrawal, which we might have hoped would have brought about greater political cooperation in face of the threat that would ensue from that to the entire political establishment here, has had, as best we can gauge it, much more the opposite effect, of an effect that persuading people well, if the Americans are going, there's absolutely no and we're going to have to settle this by a civil war, why should we make concessions on that matter right now? This is not to reprove people in the Congress who think that the United States has spent enough blood and treasure here. It's just a reality that that's the way this debate seems to be being read by many Iraqi politicians.
Whatever we may make of the original intent of coming here, if the United States did not have a problem with Islamic extremism in Iraq before 2003, it certainly does now. You only have to look at the pronouncements of Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahiri, his deputy, to see that they regard Iraq now as being, if you will, the front line of the Islamic militant battle against the West. And so if American troops were withdrawn, I think that there would be a very serious risk that large parts of this country will fall under the sway of al Qaeda linked groups. it would mean that Islamic extremists who bear the worst intent towards the United States would have a base similar to the base they had in Afghanistan before 9/11 from which to operate, and I think it's very likely that they would then begin to want to expatriate their hatred of the United States in some way or another. In fact, it's already the case, that there are parts of Iraq which are under the sway of groups that swear allegiance to al Qaeda. So I don't think it's purely propaganda, political propaganda on the part of the Bush administration to say that there would be a major al Qaeda problem here. It seems to me it's absolutely self-evident that there would be.
Most Iraqis, most Iraqis, crave in their lives much of the same things that Americans do. They want to see economic progress. They want to see a degree of liberty. Of course they want also to preserve and protect their religion. But they do not want to live in a Taliban state.
What is Iran up to here? It looks very much as though their interest in striking back at the great Satan, the United States, humiliating if they can the United States in Iraq, matters more to them on balance than creating a stable Shiite led government in Baghdad.
The predominant opinion appears to be, at least amongst the middle to senior levels of the officer corps here, that we came here, we paid a very high price, 3,600 men killed, 26 or 27,000 men, women wounded, let's see if we can't accomplish something here. They certainly do not like the idea of, to put it in the pejorative, cutting and running. They think that they can still make a crucial difference, they think it's worth persisting here, they would just like a little bit more time.
Read the Full Interview