Status report on US war goals

The US is making progress on several fronts.

The symbols of US victory in Iraq grow daily.

Gen. Tommy Franks has entered Baghdad as Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur did in Germany and Japan a generation earlier. Iraqi factions and would-be leaders met Tuesday in the scrappy beginnings of nation-building. And the alert level in the United States dropped from orange to yellow as Special Forces troops captured Palestinian terrorist Abu Abbas, who had been given sanctuary by Saddam Hussein.

Thursday, the second of three of Hussein's half-brothers - said to have extensive knowledge of the regime's workings - was nabbed as well. The two captives were the six of diamonds and the five of clubs in the 55-card deck with pictures of wanted Iraqi officials issued to US troops (and now going fast on eBay).

Do the symbols match the ground truth in Iraq today?

At the beginning of the war, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld laid out eight specific goals. A ninth - retrieving American POWs and accounting for missing troops - was added once the fighting had started.

The report card so far: A few checked off as "done." Some partially accomplished. Several of the most important goals still prominently on the "to do" list.

Saddam Hussein's regime is definitely history. Iraq's oil wells have been secured, although looting of equipment will mean delays in pipeline flows. And all American war prisoners have been rescued.

"That's impressive success," says military analyst Loren Thompson, head of security studies at the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.

The regime may be gone, but it's hardly been replaced by anything stable let alone democratic. Thousands of Shiites have been chanting "No Saddam! No United States!" Two days in a row, US marines found themselves in firefights with Iraqis in the northern city of Mosul, leaving several civilians dead. Ethnic tensions are evident as Kurds kick Iraqi Arabs out of the homes.

Threat of regional backlash

If anything, the goal of a region made more secure, more democratic, and less dangerous has been at least temporarily set back by the US invasion.

"There is an astounding level of animosity in the region towards the United States for what is perceived as an aggressive assault on an Arab and Muslim country, celebrating Iraqis notwithstanding," says Marcus Corbin of the Center for Defense Information in Washington.

While several of the 55 regime leaders pictured in the deck of cards have been apprehended, most remain unaccounted for - including the elusive Saddam Hussein himself, plus his sons and most other top officials. They may have been obliterated in the heavy bombing directed at them, but there remains the need to prove that.

"Already, this is beginning to look a lot like the initial search for Osama bin Laden and points out the problem of personalizing a war," says Charles Peña, director of defense policy studies at the Cato Institute in Washington.

The capture of Abu Abbas is a coup. But he had long since disavowed the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean Sea for which he had been sentenced to life in prison, has said the September 11 terrorist attacks were wrong, and has no apparent connection to Al Qaeda.

So far, there is no clear evidence of the "terrorist networks in Iraq and beyond" that Secretary Rumsfeld set out to prove.

Also unproven are what Rumsfeld called "Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, production capabilities, and distribution networks."

In his prewar speech at the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "Our conservative estimate is that Iraq has stockpiles of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent ... enough to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets."

"We have sources who tell us that he recently authorized his field commanders to use them," Mr. Powell continued. "He wouldn't be passing out orders if he didn't have weapons and intent to use them."

The chemical weapon issue

As it turned out, Iraqi forces did not use chemical or biological weapons - even when that might have been a last resort. Gas masks and other chemical weapons defensive gear have been found, but nothing to prove beyond doubt that such weapons were either part of Iraq's arsenal or being mass produced.

"I've studied chemical warfare and its impact on the battlefield for many years," says retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner, who teaches at the National Defense University. "As I read reports of what we were finding, it just never seemed as if this were an enemy that planned the massive use of chemical or biological weapons."

Some analysts think Iraq's chemical and biological weapons (or at least the knowledge and supplies necessary for production of such weapons) may have left the country.

Thursday, troops raided the home of Rihab Taha, the head of Iraq's secret biological lab. They found documents but not the notorious "Dr. Germ."

Could the capability for making chemical, biological, and radiological weapons have ended up in the hands of terrorists?

"Remember what the CIA said about the effects of a US invasion," says Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. "Instead of preventing the transmitting of weapons of mass destruction to terrorists, the US invasion may have prompted it."

In all, says Larry Seaquist, retired Navy captain and Pentagon strategist, "It is much, much too soon to declare victory."

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