06 Jul 2008

Al Qaeda’s Last Stand in Iraq

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The London Times reports that the US has essentially won the war in Iraq.

American and Iraqi forces are driving Al-Qaeda in Iraq out of its last redoubt in the north of the country in the culmination of one of the most spectacular victories of the war on terror.

After being forced from its strongholds in the west and centre of Iraq in the past two years, Al-Qaeda’s dwindling band of fighters has made a defiant “last stand” in the northern city of Mosul.

A huge operation to crush the 1,200 fighters who remained from a terrorist force once estimated at more than 12,000 began on May 10.

Operation Lion’s Roar, in which the Iraqi army combined forces with the Americans’ 3rd Armoured Cavalry Regiment, has already resulted in the death of Abu Khalaf, the Al-Qaeda leader, and the capture of more than 1,000 suspects. …

uri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, who has also led a crackdown on the Shi’ite Mahdi Army in Basra and Baghdad in recent months, claimed yesterday that his government had “defeated” terrorism.

“They were intending to besiege Baghdad and control it,” Maliki said. “But thanks to the will of the tribes, security forces, army and all Iraqis, we defeated them.”

The number of foreign fighters coming over the border from Syria to bolster Al-Qaeda’s numbers is thought to have declined to as few as 20 a month, compared with 120 a month at its peak.

Brigadier General Abdullah Abdul, a senior Iraqi commander, said: “We’ve limited their movements with check-points. They are doing small attacks and trying big ones, but they’re mostly not succeeding.”

Major-General Mark Hertling, American commander in the north, said: “I think we’re at the irreversible point.”

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But Barack Obama insists that he’ll withdraw anyway.

Earlier in the day as he flew from Montana to Missouri, Obama told reporters he was surprised at how the media has “finely calibrated” his recent words on Iraq, and reaffirmed his commitment to ending the war if elected.

“I was a little puzzled by the frenzy that I set off by what I thought was a pretty innocuous statement,” he said. “I am absolutely committed to ending the war.”

On Thursday in North Dakota, Obama said that “I’ll … continue to refine my policy” on Iraq after an upcoming trip there. With a promise to end the war the central premise of his candidacy, the Obama campaign has struggled over the past two days to push back against Republicans and others who say his recent statement could be a softening or change in policy.

Obama has always said his promise to end the war would require consultations with military commanders and, possibly, flexibility.

“The tactics of how we ensure our troops are safe as we pull out, how we execute the withdrawal, those are things that are all based on facts and conditions,” he said. “I am not somebody — unlike George Bush — who is willing to ignore facts on the basis of my preconceived notions.”

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