New York Times
Two-Front Insurgency
By WILLIAM SAFIRE       OP-ED COLUMNIST       April 7, 2004

WASHINGTON — In light of about a dozen American combat deaths yesterday, we should keep in mind our historic bet: that given their freedom from a savage tyrant, the three groups that make up Iraq could, with our help, create a rudimentary democracy that would turn the tide against terror.

In the northern group, we can see success: rival Kurdish parties have come together to work within an Iraqi parliament when elections come. "Kirkuk is our Jerusalem," they say, and that oil-rich area — long the center of Iraqi Kurdistan, before Saddam's ethnic cleansing — should be their regional capital in unified Iraq. 

In the center group — the Sunnis, who profited most from Saddam's dictatorship — we see mostly a sullen population, its Baathist diehards allied with an affiliate of Al Qaeda longing for regime restoration.  There is where the atrocities of Falluja were committed in the fiercest Sunni challenge to liberation. 

In Baghdad and the South, long-oppressed Shiites — 60 percent of Iraq's population — have the most to gain from democracy and reconstruction.  But they are now split.  A minority of terrorists led by the firebrand Moktada al-Sadr, under Iran's influence, are challenging the quietist Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.  That ayatollah is keen to protect his following by complaining about the liberation and wrings his hands about Sadr, who has openly declared alliance with Hamas and Hezbollah and war on the West.

All this means that we are now fighting an active two-front insurgency.  That calls for a change in our strategy.  Up to now we have tried to hunker down and train Iraqis to handle security, lest we appear to be nasty "occupiers."   That only emboldened the Sunni terrorists and Shiite Iranists.  One anti-American confidently told another Iraqi with cool nonpartisanship about ousting U.S. presidents: "We'll do to Bush what we did to Carter."

But now that the Saddam restorationists and Islamic fundamentalists have made their terrorist move on both fronts, we can counterattack decisively.

"In war, resolution."  Having announced we would pacify rebellious Baathists in Falluja, we must pacify Falluja.   Having designated the Shiite Sadr an outlaw, we must answer his bloody-minded challenge with whatever military force is required and with fewer casualties in the long run. 

But we must impress on the minds of millions of Shiites that there is no free ride to freedom.  We should keep the heat on Shiite ditherers by holding fast to the June 30 deadline for the delivery of sovereignty to Iraq's three groups.  It's less about the U.S. election than demanding that Iraqi leaders and U.N. facilitators live up to their promises.

We should couple this with a temporary increase in troop strength, if necessary: we will pull alongside, not pull out or pull alone.  We should take up the Turks on their offer of 10,000 troops to fight on our side against two-front terror.  The Kurds, who have patched things up with Ankara and know which side of the two-front war they and we are on, would withdraw their ill-considered earlier objection. 

We should break the Iranian-Hezbollah-Sadr connection in ways that our special forces know how to do.  Plenty of Iraqi Shiites, who are Arab, distrust the Persian ayatollahs in Iran and can provide actionable intelligence about a Syrian transmission belt.

And we should coolly confront the quaking quagmirists here at home. 

Does Ted Kennedy speak for his Massachusetts junior senator, John Kerry, when he calls our effort to turn terror-supporting despotism into nascent liberty in Iraq "Bush's Vietnam"?

Do the apostles of retreat realize how their defeatism, magnified by Arab media, bolsters the morale of the insurgents and increases the nervousness of the waverers?

Does our coulda-woulda-shoulda crowd consider how it dismays the majority of Iraqis wondering if they can count on our continued presence as they feel their way toward freedom?

These are the times that try men's souls, and — as Tom Paine's enlightened acquaintance, Mary Wollstonecraft, would have added — women's, too.  This is the crisis; we'll come though it.