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IRAN and Syria at war with the U.S. by Ralph Peters


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April 9, 2004 -- NORTHERN IRAQ

IRAN and Syria are at war with the United States. In Iraq. Now.

Washington refuses to admit it. The Bush administration claims that the struggle in Iraq is about the future of the entire Middle East, but won't concede publicly that other countries in the region are extensively involved. And the outcome they seek is exactly the opposite of what we hope to achieve.

The bloody combat throughout Iraq this past week didn't only involve Iraqi Ba'athist insurgents and al Qaeda. The Iranians vigorously prepared and supported killer-cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's "Mahdi" militia. Iranians are active agents in the widespread terrorism in southern Iraq. And, according to intelligence shared exclusively with The Post, approximately 30 al Qaeda executives have been allowed to operate from Teheran, feeding agents into Iraq with the collusion of the Iranian government.

To the West, Syria has been increasingly bold in its support of the Sunni-Arab insurgents in Fallujah and elsewhere in the Sunni triangle. Our Marines killed Syrians in Fallujah. They'll find and kill more. Syrian security services are deeply involved in this fight - and in murdering Americans.

The worst news is that, contrary to Washington's wishful thinking, the Iranians and Syrians - as well as various terrorist groups - are cooperating. In the Middle East, the enemy of my enemy truly is my friend. Political marriages of convenience are one of the region's oldest traditions.

Iran, Syria and al Qaeda share one common goal: Preventing the emergence of a free Iraq. They want to stop democracy and social liberty dead in their tracks. And they're willing to throw in all their reserves to do it.

They also want to strangle Kurdish freedom before it spreads. In addition to fighting for their liberty for generations, the Kurds have committed an unforgivable sin: They supported America, fighting beside our soldiers against Saddam.

We could use their help again now - but the Coalition Provisional Authority refuses to accept it. While young Americans die.

It's madness to turn down the help of capable allies just to make our enemies happy. And it's going to cost us still more American lives.

Intelligence shared with this paper indicates that the Coalition's enemies plan another wave of attacks over the Easter weekend, with a series of dramatic strikes on Sunday. At present, our forces are doing their best to block the terrorists, but it's a desperate struggle against time. If we're successful, Easter Sunday may be blessedly quiet. But our enemies are determined to cover Christianity's holiest day in blood.

It's a brutal indication of how low humanity can sink. While U.S. forces have over-indulged religious sensitivities (some much exaggerated or even imagined) in the Arab world, Islamic extremists want to drown our holy day in gore.

It's a great American strength that we respect all religions - we must never do less. But we have been fools to pretend that gangsters in clerical robes are men of faith. As this column has long maintained, killers only understand an overwhelmingly forceful response.

Still, there's good news, as well. Contrary to depictions in the broadcast media, our Marines and soldiers are performing superbly - as they always do when the diplomats and politicians allow them to do their jobs. We can only hope that our counter-offensive - so long overdue - isn't terminated before our enemies are so badly and so graphically crushed that they cannot recover.

Our troops are fighting hard. But they're winning. And most of the encounters do not rise to the level of battles - in military parlance, they're engagements. They're tough for the Marines or soldiers involved, but we can do this better than any other military on earth.

But we can't afford to stop too soon - as we did in Desert Storm and at the close of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Quitting before the enemy is finished has been a tragic American pattern. Don't worry about al-Jazeera's coverage or what the Saudis think. Just keep killing the enemy.

And we have allies. Some of the Iraqi security forces have given their best for their reborn country. In Iraq's north, the Kurds have done a superb job of watching our backs and keeping their region quiet.

One old soldier's maxim applies: In the heat of battle, things are rarely as bad as they look. The victory belongs to the side that has the greater strength of will. Just don't quit.

The current fighting pits us against a wide range of enemies, some of whom want to turn back the clock by centuries and others who hope time will stand still. We are fighting a great battle for human freedom. It's outcome may well shape this entire century. Every effort we make is well worthwhile.

And as for those who declared so fervently, before Congress and the American people, that deposing Saddam and liberating Iraq was a diversion from the War on Terror, just look at who we're fighting now: Al Qaeda. Extremist militias. The Iranians. And the Syrians.

The War on Terror is here and now. In Iraq.

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