terror-2 years on-are we getting anywhere.

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    Terror in a tailspin


    THIS will be news to you, but - two years on - the war on terror is going better than you're told.

    What you're told usually sounds something like the ABC World Today report last week that started:
    "It was meant to be a quick, surgical removal of Saddam Hussein . . . Today, it couldn't be worse. Another day, another coalition casualty." And so sneeringly on, with the usual alarmist reference to "comparisons with Vietnam".

    The truth is that in the past eight days the coalition forces have suffered only one more death.

    Moreover, American combat deaths in Iraq are astonishingly few - far fewer than the 243 soldiers lost in one terrorist attack on their barracks in Lebanon in 1983.

    But let's look at the big picture. Let's look in particular at how far we've come, from so far behind.

    This war on terror was forced on us two years ago today, when Islamic terrorists led by Osama bin Laden aimed four US planes filled with passengers at targets in two cities and destroyed almost 3000 people, including 10 Australians.

    How deeply we in the West had slept until that instant, while bin Laden and his allies plotted and killed.

    AFTER that 1983 bombing in Lebanon, for instance, then US president Ronald Reagan pulled out his peacekeepers in Lebanon, and the myth grew in the Middle East that the Americans were soft. As bin Laden said, you needed only to kill a few of them to make the rest run home.

    He proved his theory in 1993, when he helped the militias in Somalia to kill some US soldiers and spooked President Bill Clinton into pulling out the rest, who'd come only to guard supplies of food aid.

    The forces of Islam seemed unstoppable. Bin Laden, a Saudi millionaire, had already helped to train Muslim guerillas who drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan; and Sudan, Iran and Iraq were soon negotiating with him and offering help.

    In the mid-1990s, he shifted his camps from Sudan to Afghanistan, where they had the protection of the Taliban regime and were used to train as many as 100,000 terrorists, including at least 1200 Britons and some Australians.

    All this happened in the "peace" before this war on terror. And as al-Qaida's attacks grew bloodier.

    In 1993, al-Qaida operatives exploded a huge bomb in a car park beneath New York's World Trade Centre.

    Then more than 20 Americans were killed in attacks in Saudi Arabia in 1995 and 1996, and 224 people died in the twin bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. A suicide bombing on the USS Cole killed 27 sailors. American officials were assassinated, while al-Qaida-trained gunmen fought in Chechnya, Kashmir and the Philippines, and more besides.

    There were other plots that were somehow foiled: the car-bombing of Los Angeles airport, the simultaneous blowing up of 12 international airliners, the murder of the Pope in the Philippines, bombings in Rome and so much more.

    And all the while, al-Qaida's thousands of terrorists hid in dozens of countries, waiting for their chance to strike in the West, while their allies in the East, like Indonesia's Jemaah Islamiah, smuggled their own agents into target countries like our own.

    ALL this while we slept. But on September 11, 2001, we were woken from this sleep of the stupid. And 13 months later we learned how serious was this war, when 88 more Australians died in a Jemaah Islamiah attack in Bali that was run by al-Qaida's top contact in our region, Hambali.

    But it is a war that, thank God, is not being lost. Not yet, anyway, thanks to the Americans.

    Since September 11, Afghanistan's Taliban regime has been swept away in a war that lasted just weeks, not the months the critics predicted. Al-Qaida's training bases there are no more.

    Saddam Hussein's genocidal regime in Iraq has been toppled, too, and his terrorist training camp in Salman Pak, and the Ansar al-Islam terrorist base in Iraq's north destroyed.

    No longer do Iraqi diplomats give cash to the families of suicide bombers, or meet al-Qaida commanders as they did September 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta.

    Meanwhile, more than 3000 al-Qaida suspects have been arrested in 90 countries, along with two-thirds of al-Qaida's leaders, including Hambali, September 11 planner Ramzi Binalshibh and military chief Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Al-Qaida cells in the US, Britain, France, Spain, Italy and Germany have been smashed, and more than $200 million of suspected terrorist cash seized.

    Saudi Arabia, a big source of funds for al-Qaida, has at last started to get tough with the terrorists it was buying off, and has shot or caught dozens of them, and last month seized a truckload of anti-aircraft rockets.

    Under pressure from the US, even militant Iran claims it's put under house arrest al-Qaida's latest military chief, Saif Adel.

    Indonesia, too, has at last joined the war on terror, cracking open the Jemaah Islamiah group and jailing its spiritual head, while Pakistan, once a sponsor of al-Qaida, is now co-operating closely with the US.

    It all seems to be working - so far. Al-Qaida has for two years not managed to carry out one operation on Western soil, cross our fingers, and the number of attacks by terrorists around the world last year halved.

    HARRIED, al-Qaida and its allies have been forced instead to hit soft targets in Muslim countries like Morocco and Saudi Arabia, enraging locals. And now they are turning to Iraq, for a showdown.

    Al-Qaida cannot afford to let the US build a secular democracy in Iraq, and so show the Muslim world that there's a better way than Islamic fascism.

    It's as the US 1st Armoured Division's Brig-General Martin Dempsey said in Baghdad: Iraq is drawing in "international terrorists or extremists who see this as the Super Bowl".

    This is not bad news for the Americans. Far better that the terrorists take on armed troops waiting for them in Iraq, than unarmed civilians in New York.

    "Bring 'em on," taunted US President George W. Bush two months ago. And already US troops have captured 220 foreign fighters in Iraq, with Egypt last week saying it had arrested 23 more who were on their way.

    It's true the terrorists, along with thugs still loyal to Saddam, have had some "success". They've bombed UN headquarters in Baghdad, picked off US soldiers, cut oil pipelines, brought down power lines, and killed a leading Shiite cleric and his followers.

    But what you're rarely told is what a former human shield in Iraq, Assyrian priest Kenneth Joseph, found on a recent visit.

    He said he was "shocked at the difference between the Baghdad I found on my return and all the bad news from the city".

    "The stores are full of supplies," he marvelled. "The buses are working . . . at night, the streets are full of pedestrians . . . security has improved . . . telephones are starting to work . . . the stores are full of food . . . the schools are working . . . It is a wonderful time for the average Baghdadi."

    The Iraqi Governing Council is taking more control of its country, and 90 per cent of Iraqi towns are now run by local councils. The Iraqi police are back on the beat, sharp enough to arrest Saddam's cronies and terrorists with explosives.

    MORE than 150 newspapers have started up, universities are open and there's no sign of the civil war the experts warned of.

    Iraq could still turn bad, and the war on terror has only started. Too much of the fighting has been left to the Americans, and too many in the West -- from the reckless leaders of France and Germany to our own "intellectuals" -- seem much keener for the US to be humbled than for Iraq to gain its freedom, or the terrorists to be defeated.

    And, of course, there is Iran, whose ayatollahs are now frighteningly close to building an atomic bomb.

    This war is far from won. But think how our world would be if we were losing.

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