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What is Really Going On in Iraq?

We are told over and over by the media that Iraq is a failure and descending into civil war. And it is not only the overwhelmingly liberal MSM that runs with the standard “Iraq is a disaster” meme. Conservatives Bill Buckley and George Will have written highly critical columns in the last 10 days. Will suggests Iraq is more a threat today than when Saddam, Uday and Qusay controlled all of Iraq’s oil wealth. Buckley is even more direct: “One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed.”

Now Buckley and Will have always been more in the realist camp when it comes to the wisdom of the Iraq War, so this is more an evolution of their position rather than an about face, but they are certainly not part of the New York Times crew or other knee jerk critics on the left. However, to my knowledge neither Will nor Buckley have actually been in Iraq over the last year, so I was extremely interested to hear what the New York Post’s Ralph Peters was going to report back from Iraq on the situation on the ground. Here are some excerpts from his Sunday column.

I’m trying. I've been trying all week. The other day, I drove another 30 miles or so on the streets and alleys of Baghdad. I'm looking for the civil war that The New York Times declared. And I just can't find it.

Maybe actually being on the ground in Iraq prevents me from seeing it. Perhaps the view's clearer from Manhattan. It could be that my background as an intelligence officer didn't give me the right skills.
And riding around with the U.S. Army, looking at things first-hand, is certainly a technique to which The New York Times wouldn't stoop in such an hour of crisis.

Let me tell you what I saw anyway. Rolling with the "instant Infantry" gunners of the 1st Platoon of Bravo Battery, 4-320 Field Artillery, I saw children and teenagers in a Shia slum jumping up and down and cheering our troops as they drove by. Cheering our troops.

All day - and it was a long day - we drove through Shia and Sunni neighborhoods. Everywhere, the reception was warm. No violence. None.

And no hostility toward our troops. Iraqis went out of their way to tell us we were welcome.

I have always found Peters to be a straight-shooter and an honest broker of the facts. Maybe he is being played for a sucker by the U.S. military and those cheering Iraqis, but I doubt it.

And from his column today:

Among the many positive stories you aren't being told about Iraq, the media ignored another big one last week: In the wake of the terrorist bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, it was the Iraqi army that kept the peace in the streets.

It's routinely declared a failure by those who yearn for the new Iraq to fail. But an increasingly capable Iraqi military has been developing while reporters (who never really investigated the issue) wrote it off as hopeless.

* The Iraqi army deployed over 100,000 soldiers to maintain public order. U.S. Forces remained available as a backup, but Iraqi soldiers controlled the streets.

* Iraqi forces behaved with discipline and restraint - as the local sectarian outbreaks fizzled, not one civilian had been killed by an Iraqi soldier.

* Time and again, Iraqi military officers were able to defuse potential confrontations and frustrate terrorist hopes of igniting a religious war.

* Forty-seven battalions drawn from all 10 of Iraq's army divisions took part in an operation that, above all, aimed at reassuring the public. The effort worked - from the luxury districts to the slums, the Iraqis were proud of their army.

As a result of its nationwide success, the Iraqi army gained tremendously in confidence. Its morale soared. After all the lies and exaggerations splashed in your direction, the truth is that we're seeing a new, competent, patriotic military emerge. The media may cling to its image of earlier failures, but last week was a great Iraqi success…

As I head home after far too short a stay with our wonderful soldiers, I can only offer Post readers my honest assessment:

Serious problems remain. No question about it. We'll hear more bad news (some of it may even be true). But from my heart I believe that the odds are improving that, decades from now, we'll look back and see that our sacrifices were worth it. I found Baghdad a city of hope, its citizens determined not to be ruled by terrorists, fanatics, militias or thieves.

We are doing the right thing.

Nor do I say this lightly. I just learned that the son of an old friend was seriously wounded in Iraq and evacuated to a military hospital in Germany (the latest news I have is that the young man will make a complete recovery - let's pray that it's so).

This is a gigantic struggle for indescribably high stakes. We're trying to help a failing civilization rescue itself, to lift a vast region out of the grip of terror and fanaticism, and to make this troubled world safer for our own citizens. Don't let anyone tell you we're failing in Iraq.

I haven’t been to Iraq, though I regularly talk to people who have. My sixty-second analysis on the situation is that much of what you read in the mainstream press is spin and distortion from people and organizations hostile to President Bush and his Iraq policy. I suspect Peters' take is probably close to the mark. That said, I fear the Buckley and Will position that Iraq is simply not ready or capable for a democracy is a real possibility.

There is always a tendency to try and put an issue into a nice little box that we can understand, and at the end of the day Iraq is an extremely complicated and evolving situation that could tip in a multitude of different directions. I would just hope that all Americans are pulling for the good guys, and they have no doubt who the good guys are.