September 14, 2007 -- AS some politicians and pundits try to prove that America has lost the war in Iraq, a key question remains unasked: How is the enemy doing?
The facts on the ground are that the two chief enemies of the new Iraq - the groups wearing the al Qaeda label and the Iran-backed Shiite militias - are not doing well. Indeed, one might say that both have already lost their bids for power and, the continued killings notwithstanding, are in the process of marginalization. The only way they could make a comeback is if Congress decides to legislate a victory for them.
Al Qaeda's strategy had two parts. One was based on the assumption that, by killing enough Americans, it would enable the party of defeat in the United States to force President Bush to surrender. That failed when Bush decided to increase, rather than reduce, the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
The other part assumed that, by fomenting a sectarian war, al Qaeda would force Shiites, Iraq's majority, to run away - allowing Salafi Sunnis to seize power in Baghdad. That also failed: Not only did the Shiites not run away,but also many who had fled under Saddam Hussein decided to return to Iraq.
The new wave of refugees from Iraq consisted almost exclusively of Arab Sunnis - the very people that al Qaeda regarded as its potential popular base.
The Iran-sponsored Shiite militias and death squads also pursued a two-part strategy. One was to kill enough Arab Sunnis to force the community out of mainly Shiite areas, notably greater Baghdad. That sinister plan succeeded. But the areas thus "cleansed" of Sunnis did not fall into the hands of the Iran-sponsored militias: They were taken over by either the new Iraqi army and police or the various militias loyal to Prime Minister Nuri al-Mailki's government.
The second part aimed at defeating rival Shiite armed groups that (although maintaining close ties with Tehran) did not wish to serve as mere tools of the Iranian mullahs. In this, too, the Iran-sponsored militias failed.
Here are some other facts on how the enemy is doing right now:
* The main Arab Sunni armed groups (including the 1920 Brigade and the Islamic Army of Iraq) have switched sides, agreeing to work with the Iraqi government against foreign terrorists.
* The Sunni Arab tribal sheiks in once-unruly Anbar province have decided to come off the fence and take up arms against al Qaeda, even if this means collaborating with the Americans.
* On the Shiite side, Muqtada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army to lay down arms for six months. He made that decision after dozens of his commanders, former members of Saddam's Republican Guards, had switched to the government side.
* Sadr also saw the writing on the wall after his gunmen tried to seize power in Karbala, Najaf, Wassit, Misan, Dhiqar and Qaddisiyah - and failed.
* Another Iranian-controlled Shiite group, known as the Thar Allah (God's Revenge), has also been crippled, with dozens dead and scores captured by the new Iraqi army.
* The British withdrawal from Basra did not lead to a takeover by Tehran's agents, although both Mahdi Army and Thar Allah did test the waters. Instead, the Iraqi army and police, with support from nationalist Shiite groups such as Fadila (Virtue) and the Islamic Council of Iraq, control Iraq's second largest city. The Basra Bloodbath predicted by some pundits has not materialized.
* The various Sunni and Shiite blocs that had withdrawn from the Iraqi parliament during its summer recess have ended their boycott.
* Prime Minister Maliki's coalition has won a new mandate with the reaffirmation of support by three blocs of parties that account for 85 percent of the seats in the parliament. It is unveiling a full legislative program - tackling such key issues as sharing oil revenues, municipal elections and federalism - as the parliament prepares for a new session.
* Most Arab states have ended their boycott of new Iraq and dispatched diplomatic missions to Baghdad to open embassies. France has also ended its boycott and sent Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to Baghdad with a message of support.
* At a "National Reconciliation Conference" in Redwaniyah, religious leaders of Arab Sunni and Shiite communities denounced sectarianism and pledged support for new Iraq.
* Al Qaeda has had to postpone its promise of announcing the creation of the so-called Islamic Emirate of Iraq on three occasions. Last October, al Qaeda promised to issue a new currency for its putative "Islamic emirate" and name a "Governing Council." Those fantasies had to be shelved as it lost safe havens in Anbar, Diyala and Salahuddin provinces.
* Judging by the pro-terror buzz in cyberspace, al Qaeda is facing recruitment problems. One al Qaeda guru, using the nom de guerre of Sheikh Bassir al-Najdi, recently warned that the organization was unable to replace "lost martyrs" in Iraq.
The buzz in pro-terrorist circles is that a whole generation of jihadists has been wiped out. The funeral industry in the Arab countries where most jihadists originate is booming.
* The number of defectors from al Qaeda is rising. In Saudi Arabia alone, scores of former jihadists in Iraq have surrendered to the authorities and joined a rehabilitation program. Last month, three of them (Saleh al-Quayri, Ahmad Al-Shayi and Saddam al-Qassabi) kept TV audiences captive with accounts of how al Qaeda is losing in Iraq.
* Inside Iraq, al Qaeda has not been able to replace at least five key commanders killed or captured in the past six months.
As in any war, what counts in this war is the protagonists' states of mind. No war is won with a defeatist discourse.
The "surge" was a political signal that the United States did not intend to abandon its allies. That signal persuaded fence-sitters in Iraq - and, beyond it, in the broader Arab world - to take sides. Most chose the side of new Iraq against its internal and external foes.
America and its Iraqi allies can't be defeated in Iraq. But defeat could be manufactured in Washington, where part of the U.S. elite seeks it in order to win in the domestic political war.
Each time an American politician speaks of defeat, he encourages the terrorists, discourages allies, signals to fence sitters to look elsewhere - and thus prolongs the war.