Seeing Progress Back in Iraq

RAMADI, Iraq — In the months after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, President George W. Bush warned that the war on terror would be a long, multifaceted fight against a jihadist terrorist enemy. The commander in chief proceeded to dispatch the nation’s military to Afghanistan and, later, to Iraq. But the war on terror requires engagement on numerous fronts, including homeland security, international diplomacy, legal and financial.

Progress is being made, though not fast enough for the carping critics who will use any excuse to attack the president’s efforts. Earlier this week, Bush addressed employees at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where components of Libya’s nuclear weapons program are now stored. Strong diplomatic efforts have made it possible for Libya to begin dismantling its weapons of mass destruction.

Attorney General John Ashcroft just issued a report on the much-maligned Patriot Act, showing that the legislation has helped to track down 310 suspected terrorists, 179 of whom have already been convicted.

And, of course, on June 28, sovereignty was transferred to the Iraqis. While the American press corps and the liberal establishment began complaining when violence did not cease overnight, coalition forces are making real progress on the ground.

The Marines of 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines tell me that the Iraqis are beginning to get a better handle on the security situation in Iraq and are doing more for themselves. I had the chance to witness a bit of the new Iraqi justice system shortly after setting foot on the ground for this, my fourth trip to Iraq.

An Iraqi male suspected of hijacking vehicles to be used for car bombings was hauled into police headquarters in the al Anbar Province this week. We were granted unprecedented access to watch and listen while the chief of police — a man who is well respected here in Ramadi, in part because he himself spent 18 months in jail under Saddam Hussein — interrogated the suspect, who confessed to hijacking two cars and four trucks. Without coercion or humiliation, he also confessed to being “a soldier of god” and killing a police officer.

When he was caught by the military and turned over to the police, there were no signs he had been subjected to mistreatment or abuse, as would have been the case under Saddam. The good news for this man is that the interim Iraqi government is exercising their sovereignty in a responsible manner and he is going to go before a court and be tried instead being tortured, killed and thrown in a ditch.

It should be pointed out as well that what made his capture easier and what made his interrogation successful (he gave up the names of a number of his cohorts) was the fact that he was tired of seeing his buddies gunned down by U.S. Marines. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps inflicted casualties on his gang, and he didn’t want to meet the same fate as his friends. This demonstration of firepower, however, is only in response to the continuing terrorist attacks like one we faced earlier this week.

That day for Weapons Company began with a terrible explosion, an improvised explosive device (IED) that detonated on the street. Four hours later, another IED exploded, this time attacking the convoy of the brigade commander.

Staff Sgt. Michael Drake, platoon sergeant for Weapons Company, explained it this way: “We received a call while we were at the hospital with the battalion commander that the brigade commander had been hit by an IED and were taking fire, and they were forced to respond at that location. We hurried to their location, became engaged behind the mall, and took heavy fire for over four hours.”

In fact, it was an amazing demonstration of Marine firepower. They had Cobra gunships working for them and two fixed-wing aircraft overhead, which they ultimately didn’t need because Weapons Company was on scene.

When it was over, the Marines would kill 12 enemy combatants, wound four, and detain 15, while only two Marines suffered light wounds and slight dehydration. They also cleaned weapons and ammunition out of the building that used to house a political party — the so-called Coalition for Iraqi Unity.

That arm of the old Iraqi government now is no longer. A new interim Iraqi government — with continued help from soldiers and Marines — is taking steps to stabilize the country by cleaning up the streets and communities, and it is working. Lt. J.D. Stevens, with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines has been here since March. He told me that since April the security situation has improved. I asked him if democracy could work. “If given enough time, yes.”

That’s the key. Democracy in Iraq is taking root, but it won’t be built overnight, and we can’t allow the press and critics who will soon meet in Boston to insist that it can.