Donald Lambro

Their purpose is not to take over territory or control strategic cities or facilities, but to sow death and chaos and foment a Sunni-Shiite civil war that would turn Iraq into an unwinnable military nightmare.

Perhaps the most discouraging remark yet by any U.S. military leader in Iraq came earlier this month when Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee about the rising level of violence in Baghdad. During his testimony, Abizaid expressed the fear of a full-scale civil war, though he said we were not at that point so far.

Meanwhile, there have been encouraging glimpses of military progress, even in some Baghdad neighborhoods. "We are cautiously optimistic and encouraged by all the indicators that we are seeing," Army Gen. William Caldwell said at a news briefing in Baghdad last week to deliver an assessment of the military's raids on insurgents in key areas of the city. "What we're seeing in these areas is life coming back to some normalcy. We see women and children walking freely," he said. There were sections of the city where the violence rate had fallen from 30 incidents per day to none. "There in fact has been a downturn in the level of violence in Baghdad over the last three weeks," Caldwell said. I continue to believe that we cannot just give up on Iraq as Bush's war critics have proposed.

Clearly, we will have to change tactics, and there is a renewed effort in Bush's high command to seek out new and innovative ways to suppress the violence there and to initiate new economic ventures, too. As of now, 294,000 Iraqi troops have been trained, but that's short of the 325,000 that are needed -- at a minimum. And there is still a huge officer leadership gap in the Iraqi ranks.

But to give up now at a time when the terrorist offensive appears more emboldened than ever throughout the Middle East and the world (as we saw in the airline bombing plot in Great Britain), would be, as Bush said at his news conference, "a disaster."

This is a time for renewed confidence in a war that is part and parcel of the global war on terrorism. If we do not strike back at them there, we will have to eventually face them over here.


Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.