According to Huthayfah Azzam, the son of Abdullah Azzam, al-Zarqawi’s former mentor, the notorious commander of al-Qaeda in Iraq was stripped of his political duties at a meeting two weeks ago.As many other commentators have noted, this is a clear sign that the insurgents are rethinking their strategy of indiscriminately murdering the populace. It has backfired rather spectacularly, leading their former supporters among the Sunnis to switch camps. If the events of the past few weeks are any guide, the insurgents are now trying to game the political system instead of opposing it entirely, by exacerbating tensions between the various political parties. This may end up backfiring as well, as it seems that the most lasting effect of the recent turmoil in Baghdad has been to force the United states and the Iraqi military to finally confront Moqtada as-Sadr's Mahdi Army. (For more on this, go to Belmont Club and just keep scrolling down.)
“The Iraqi resistance high command asked al-Zarqawi to give up his political role and replaced him with an Iraqi because of several mistakes,” said Mr Azzam in an interview with al-Arabiya, the Arabic news channel. “Al-Zarqawi’s role has been limited to military action,” he said.
Al-Zarqawi then faced a humiliating climbdown in December when he was forced to drop his opposition to general elections in a clear ideological split with the mainstream Sunni Arab population in Iraq, which participated in the polls. Certainly today al-Zarqawi is no longer regarded by the authorities in Baghdad as the main threat to the country’s stability.
Of course, this shouldn't be seen as a sign that we're actually winning in Iraq. Because, you know, everyone on TV says that it's a quagmire. And the LA Times even showed gruesome pictures of wounded soldiers on the front page! Things must be bad! Surely it's irrelevant that the highest daily casualties the US has suffered in months came from a single vehicle accident?
Perhaps a year or two after the invasion, I made an off-the-cuff prediction that the stabilization of Iraq would take no less than four years, and not too much more than that. This was based on nothing more than extrapolations based on what I knew about Arab politics in general, and the histories of previous stabilization efforts by the United States, particularly in the Carribbean and Philippines (read Max Boot on the subject). The person I was speaking to was shocked. He said words to the effect of, "The government never told us that we should expect the war to last four years!"
Perhaps I am atypical, given that I did a lot of reading in my youth about the Civil War, WWII, Korea, and other wars that tended to last a long time. My expectations are calibrated to those measurements; I do not consider four or five years to be a long time in which to rebuild a country from the ground up. And it seems from everything I can see that we are more or less on track to hit that goal. Yes, we have suffered temporary setbacks, but that's all they were: temporary. American casualties have dropped precipitously in the past several months. The Iraqi governing coalition continues to take shape. The Iraqi military has grown to more than 230,000 troops. The trend is still our friend.