Sunday, September 11, 2005

 

Iraq

Very quietly, things are going reasonably well for the US of late. The political process seems to be working. Sunnis are participating, registering in large numbers to vote in the October 15 constitutional referendum. The current Tradesports market places the odds of electoral approval at 2 to 1 in favor. Also, terror attacks have diminished significantly. (As has media interest in Iraq. Even accounting for Hurricane Katrina, this is no coincidence.) Strategy Page (from September 8) reports:
Terrorists are spending more of their time running, and less time planting roadside bombs or attacking Iraqi police and government officials. In the last two weeks, attacks are down by about half. Some believe that the terrorists are massing their strength to try and disrupt next months voting. But on the ground, there are more and more towns are patrolled by Iraqi police, or pro-government tribal militia, and not al Qaeda or Sunni Arab terrorists. It's becoming more and more difficult for the terrorists to hold ground, much less build and use roadside or car bombs. The objective here is to turn central Iraq into an area where the terrorists are constantly on the run, and eventually run right into the ground and out of business.
In a superb series of posts, Bill Roggio has been covering the ongoing US/Iraqi Anbar campaign, outlining US strategy and placing individual operations into proper context. In the recent Tal Afar operation, Iraqi forces, for the first time, have taken the lead. Wretchard comments:
The insurgency is now in a position where it must choose between staying away from the Iraqi constitutional process, in the hopes that Syrian, Jihadi and international Leftist support will enable it to prevail against the new government; or concede its cause is lost and join the Iraqi government. Considering the physical oil deposits and seaports of Iraq are in areas the insurgency does not control, the largely Sunni insurgents face a declining power-curve relative to the Shi'ites and Kurds. Is it better to strike a deal now, while they have some leverage left or continue on with dwindling resources against increasingly powerful foes? Can the insurgency wait until the United States withdraws completely from Iraq?
In an update to his post, Wretchard refers to the Iraqi insurgency in the past tense:
The enemy has not been without successes, proving tactically adaptable and ruthless. Yet at heart his strategy was static: it was to inflict a low but continuous rate of casualty on US forces and broadcast that fact to the world. The enemy center of gravity was the US electorate. They attached video and camera crews to their striking units in the same way that US forces attached supporting weapons to theirs, creating the first combined media-military arms in history. Using these new type of formations they relentlessly projected the message, 'we are in charge'. And people believed them.

Those two competing strategies met each other head-on in Iraq. The US strategy was far superior in the conventional sense. The enemy strategy was arguably the more creative and daring; with a far larger "information" dimension than the American. Each approach had its strengths and weaknesses. The American approach emphasized changing reality and letting perception follow. It played to American strengths: logistics, training, advanced weapons, tactical speed. The enemy approach was to manage perception, both among its own base and in the field of public opinion, while striving to inflict as much damage as it could on US forces. Although it was America that first used the term, it was the insurgents who truly perfected the process of "shock and awe": the mind-altering application of battlefield force. But shock and awe are evanescent while dying tended to be permanent. My own guess is that the issue is no longer in the balance. While some combination of political or military blunders could still save the insurgency the fundamentals are against them.

In retrospect, the insurgency's greatest failing was its inability to create a "national united front" against United States "occupation". To the end it remained a sectarian movement; and the narrowness of this focus was probably the price of its alliance with Syrian intelligence and Al Qaeda, whose tent was never large enough to admit the Shia or the Kurds. The moment of greatest danger to OIF probably came in April of 2004, when the towns west of Baghdad -- Falluja in particular -- erupted along with Moqtada Al Sadr's Mahdi Army in the south. Then, if ever, was the time to realize a "national united front".
It seems premature to declare the insurgency history. But Wretchard's prognostication record in this area is pretty good. Let's hope he's right again.

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