Monday, May 30, 2005

 

Iraq

The US and the Iraqi governments have launched a co-ordinated offensive against the terrorist insurgency. Following reports that Syrian soldiers have been found fighting in Iraq, the US has exerted new diplomatic pressure on Syria to crack down on insurgent activity within its borders; Syria seems to have responded positively. In Iraq itself, Omar observes:
What I see happening now is a big change in the strategy of fighting terrorism in Iraq; instead of waiting for the terrorists to build strongholds and then respond to their attacks (like the way Fallujah, Sadr city and Najaf were dealt with) now terrorists are being chased in almost simultaneous operations nationwide and this will make it much harder for the terrorists to reorganize their lines and regroup in new bases.
Wretchard posts on US military operations here and here and offers some analysis:
One goal of a high/low approach will be to split the rank and file from the insurgent leaders on whom they rely for handouts. If a normal army travels on its stomach, an terrorist insurgency travels on its wallet. It is no accident that insurgent leaders are nearly always captured with hundreds of thousands of dollars. By combining a police roundup with a targeted hunt for leadership, the coalition may hope to force a temporary dispersal until the enemy can rally and re-establish contacts, knowing this will create more opportunities to exploit. The insurgents are probably aware of what the coalition intends; and assaults on Iraqi police units are almost certainly spoiling attacks, launched to slow down the security operation and allow key assets to escape. After Fallujah and the battles along the Euphrates, the enemy knows better than to stand and hold ground. The enemy's best bet is to slip the punch and attack unprotected lines of communication, such as civilian targets, convoys supporting the security operation or targets highly visible to the press.

Each side is doggedly pursuing a chosen strategy. The insurgents are fighting their terror/media campaign while the coalition may be "tearing down the mountain", an approach described in Mark Bowden's Killing Pablo -- which described how the drug billionaire Pablo Escobar was finally caught when the US forces and civilian groups deconstructed the drug lord's network of lawyers and political backers until he was reduced to hiding in woodland sheds -- except that it is being applied to the Iraqi insurgency. It is a contest of will and methods being played for the highest of stakes.
Strategy Page reports:
The government’s promised “ring of steel” around Baghdad began on Sunday, and, as expected, the terrorist groups began trying to get out of town before that. Thus the weekend saw much violence, with some fifty people, mostly civilians, killed in attacks and fighting concentrated in and around Baghdad. There were several gun battles between gangs of terrorists and the police. Operation Thunder began with loud noises.

The terrorists are cornered and, increasingly, having their hideouts and workshops discovered and destroyed. While May has seen, so far, over 700 Iraqis (mostly civilians) killed by terrorist attacks, over three hundred terrorist suspects have been killed in May, and over a thousand arrested. This past weekend, over 500 terrorists suspects were taken into custody, and over a dozen terrorist locations raided. Hundreds of weapons, and much bomb making material was seized. A lot of cash is being found. Last week, one raid grabbed six million dollars in American currency. The cash is considered as important as the weapons and explosives. Most of the terrorists do it because they are paid. Even the suicide bombers themselves, who are nearly all foreign volunteers, require cash to keep them fed, hidden and attended by paid “minders” who make sure the “martyrs” don’t change their minds.
Omar has more. The NY Times offers a contrasting viewpoint of the situation here. Strategy Page also notes that "American troops are getting more tips, because after two years of operating in Sunni areas, the Americans have built personal relationships with locals." The US is also making progress in other ways:
For four days this month, U.S. Marines were onlookers at just the kind of fight they had hoped to see: a battle between suspected followers of Abu Musab Zarqawi, a foreign-born insurgent, and Iraqi Sunni tribal fighters at the western frontier town of Husaybah.

In clashes sparked by the assassination of a tribal sheik, which was commissioned by Zarqawi, the foreign insurgents and the Iraqi tribal fighters pounded one another with small weapons and mortars in the town's streets as the U.S. military watched from a distance, tribal members and the U.S. military said.
Via Captain Ed who notes:
Eventually the provocations became too much for the Sulaiman, which reacted with surprising force and vehemence. In this, they embodied the hope of American policy regarding the insurgents -- that the Iraqis themselves would rise up and fight them on their own, without American prompting. In fact, as the Post reports, both sides took care to avoid hitting Marine positions in order to keep them from entering the battle on behalf of the Sulaiman -- Zarqawi for obvious reasons, and the Sulaiman for reasons of honor. Once the Zarqawi terrorists went on the run, the Sulaiman provided intelligence to the Marines, who attacked them from the air.

This demonstrates the progress that America has made in Iraq, and how much damage that Zarqawi's indiscriminate killing of Iraqi civilians does to his cause. The Sunni have not remained monolithically opposed to Americans, and tribe by tribe may have started to realize that the collapse of the Ba'athists does not necessarily mean that they face slavery by the Shi'a. In fact, after Husaybah, they understand even more clearly that slavery comes from Zarqawi and his ilk -- and they're willing to fight to defeat it.
Though much progress has been made, the situation in Iraq seems to have reached a crucial, possibly decisive phase. The next several weeks will be interesting.

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