Mar 5, 2008

Update from Joel Rosenberg

By Joel C. Rosenberg

[Note: I have just returned from a nine-day trip inside Iraq with John Moser, executive director of The Joshua Fund. Here's a report I drafted inside.]

(Sulymania, Iraq, Monday, February 25, 2008) -- Are we making any progress in Iraq? Will the U.S. stay the course and help this country become secure and truly democratic? Or will we cut and run, and if we do, what will be the ramifications? What do the leaders of Iraq say? What do they really want from us? These are some of the questions that brought me to Iraq for a new non-fiction book and documentary film I'm working on. I came without an invitation from the U.S. military, without heavily armed guards, without armor-plated vehicles, without Blackhawk helicopters and Apache gunships. The answers I found both surprised and encouraged me.

I had, of course, heard the stories and the stats: 70% of combat operations are now led by Iraqi military and security forces, with U.S. assistance. Iraqis forces are increasingly battle-tested and successful. They are killing and capturing jihadists in impressive numbers. Iraqi civilians throughout the country are getting so disgusted by seeing so much Muslim-on-Muslim violence that they are turning against the jihadist leaders and demanding peace and quiet. They are calling the "tip lines," turning in radicals and helping U.S. and Iraqi forces capture key leaders and huge caches of weapons.
Moqtada al-Sadr, the 33 year old leader of the vicious Mahdi Army who is under enormous pressure from coalition forces, has just announced another six-month cease fire. Violence in Baghdad is down 80%. An estimated 85-90% of Iraqi territory is now safe. As violence drops, the economy is growing impressively -- up more than 7% this past year. And of course, the sooner Iraqi units are properly trained and equipped, the sooner U.S. forces can stand down and begin coming home. We are beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel, and it no longer appears to be the light of an on-coming train.

That said, seeing is believing and I had to see it for myself. So traveling in a beat up old Chevy Impala, my Joshua Fund colleague John Moser and I toured five provinces on a nine-day journey, meeting with 19 Iraqi evangelical Christian pastors and ministry leaders, speaking at a rapidly growing Iraqi evangelical church, interviewing former radical Islamic terrorists and jihadists,
doing humanitarian relief work, and sizing up the progress that has been made here. And the progress is real and palpable.

It will be hard for many of you to believe this, but we never once felt in danger. Nor did we ever see U.S. troops. Not once. We were welcomed so warmly both as Christians and as Americans. The economy, especially in the northern provinces, really is booming. Housing prices are soaring. Construction is underway everywhere. Cranes building new high rises are everywhere. Yes, there is still tremendous, heart-breaking poverty. Yes, there are occasional flashes of severe violence even in the "safe" regions. True, we didn't choose on this particular trip to go into the worst regions of Iraq, including Baghdad. And true, we didn't wander aimlessly around the country. We were with Iraqi leaders who knew the political and geographic terrain and could keep us out of harm's way. So don't misunderstand what I'm saying. The bad news you're hearing in the news media about the violence and trouble in Iraq is not inaccurate. But it is incomplete. There is lots of good news here. It's just barely reported.

But this goes back to the very real question of our own presidential campaign. Are the American people willing to see this heroic effort through, or are we going to turn our back on all the sacrifice our brave fighting men and women have made in Iraq so far. Senator John McCain, the father of the surge, seems to have locked up the Republican presidential nomination. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama, however, are locked in a dead heat for the Democratic presidential nomination, fiercely battling over how fast to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. [See
Hillary's original proposal -- no immediate withdrawal. See Hillary's updated proposal-- rapid withdrawal. See Obama's proposal. See Congressional Democrats' proposal.] The battle lines for the fall campaign are becoming increasingly clear, at least when it comes to U.S. foreign policy in the epicenter.

In that context, earlier today I had the privilege of conducting an 80-minute exclusive interview with Mr. Mala Bakhtyar, Spokesman for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Most of that interview I will save for "INSIDE THE REVOLUTION," due out from Tyndale in April 2009. But here are some excerpts worth noting in the current political climate:

"President Talabani is optimistic about the future of Iraq," said Bakhtyar. "He believes the forces of extremism will be defeated. He believes we will solve most of the problems Iraqis are suffering with and that democracy will go forward....We think Iraq will eventually emerge as the central democratic country in the region. Other countries will look to Iraq as the model." He puts the chances of Iraq becoming a true success story at about 80%.

But, he warned, the worst case scenario is a full-blown civil war engulfing the entire country, not just a series of sectarian skirmishes in certain cities and certain villages.

"If the U.S. was not here, the civil war would have already happened. And if civil war had broken out, 500,000 to one million people would have been killed."

If the U.S. now pulls its military forces out of Iraqi too fast and too recklessly, Talabani and his senior advisers fear that democracy could collapse and a true civil war could happen after all, leading to wholesale slaughter and chaos in the region. The Spokesman was careful not to appear in any way trying to meddle in internal U.S. politics. But the concerns inside the Iraqi government are very real. What happens in November in the U.S. will have a profound and lasting effect on their country and all the people of the epicenter.

"President Talabani thinks the relationship with the United States is strategic and related to Iraq's destiny," Bakhtyar said. But he added pointedly that "a part of American public opinion is mistaken. They they think Iraq is facing struggles because of the presence of American forces. On the contrary, 80% of those problems have been contained by U.S. and British forces."

"Look," said the Spokesman, a man who himself narrowly survived an assassination attempt in October of 2005, "Iraq has been around for 83 years. We have fought against Israel four times. We fought Iran for eight years. We occupied Kuwait. We were under international embargo for 13 years....There has been continual fighting throughout Kurdish history [in the north of Iraq]. From 1938 to 1945, there were three [armed] uprisings in the Barzan region. From 1961 to 1975, there was even more fighting in Kurdistan. From 1976 to 1991, there were many military operations and revolts. So what is Iraq? Is it a country, or a butcher house? No one has experienced peace or happiness here. It's a country of bloodshed. So why do we blame America for our troubles? Terrorists are fighting against the democratic process in Iraq....The terrorists are frightened of what will happen if democracy wins in Iraq. The age of terror and [radical Islamic] fundamentalism will be over....But I believe the democrats in the Middle East will win this war in the next ten to fifteen years."