Iraq insurgency: getting better or worse?
Something that I have been very curious to know, is whether the insurgency in Iraq is getting better or worse. In my opinion the best sources of information in trying to evaluate the situation is to rely on straight forward factual reports in the mainstream media, as opposed to opinion pieces and analysts who may be batting for the left or the conservatives, and more importantly straight from the horses mouth, US military press briefings.
According to the NYT in April 2005 - "Attacks on allied forces have dropped to 30 to 40 a day, down from an average daily peak of 140 in the prelude to the Jan. 30 elections but still roughly at the levels of a year ago. Only about half the attacks cause casualties or damage, but on average one or more Americans die in Iraq every day, often from roadside bombs. Thirty-six American troops died there in March, the lowest monthly death toll since 21 died in February 2004."
Towards the end of April 2005 AFP reported General Richard Myers, the most senior US military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the Iraqi insurgency wasjust as strong then as it has been a year ago. Myers said the number of attacks had increased slightly recently but maintained that was a poor measure of the insurgency, noting that half the attacks were thwarted. He also acknowledged that insurgents were capable of surging to higher levels of violence as they did before the January 30 elections.
From a press briefing transcript on 15 July 2005 by Major General Joseph Taluto, commander of the Multinational North-Central Division. Areas under his command include Balad, Kirkuk , Tikrit and Samarra:
“I would say that the insurgency in North-Central Iraq is at about a similar level to pre-election, but it has changed in its complexion. Our assessment is that many of the former regime or Sunni Arabs that were opposed to the new government and the new political process have fallen away. I think that has reduced. I think the religious extremists, while they have not, in our view, in North-Central Iraq, grown, they have coalesced a little bit more with national religious extremists like Ansar al-Sunnah, getting involved with QJBR(long acronym-basically an Al Quaida group on Iraq) activities, and they are responsible for the spike in suicide bomb attacks in North-Central Iraq. Our attacks in direct fire and indirect fire have reduced over time. And going back to last year to this year, those types and forms of attack have been reduced significantly.
There [is]more cooperation or passing of information between a variety of [insurgent] groups. While direct fire and indirect fire have been reduced in North-Central, we're seeing more suicide vehicle- borne IEDs (improvised explosive devices) of late. So there's some trade-off there. Of course the suicide vehicle-borne IEDs are mostly against innocent civilians, against soft targets, Iraqi security forces, police and army soldiers in static positions. And so therefore, they're still trying to disrupt the process, they're still trying to intimidate people; they're trying to intimidate Iraqi security forces. I just think that we maintain pressure on the insurgency. I don't think it has grown. I don't know that I could say that it has been reduced significantly, because we still see these level of suicide attacks, but it doesn't mean it's done by a lot of people.”
From a press briefing on 14 July 2005 by Brigadier General Donald Alston, Director, Strategic Communications, Multinational Forces in Iraq:
“Last week throughout Iraq , there were 23 VBIEDs (Vehicle borne improvised explosive devices). Of those 23 VBIEDs, six were suicide VBIEDs. And that number reflects the lowest number of suicide VBIEDs in 11 weeks.”
It looks like the best that we can say, give or take, is that the insurgency is roughly the same as it was a year ago. On the downside, the insurgency does seem capable of spiking at particular times such as during the January elections. From what I’ve been monitoring over the past 3-4 weeks or so, it also seems like activity seems to increase over the week-ends. This week-end for example has been pretty bad. Reuters reports that today, a fuel truck bomb killed 70 people south of Baghdad.
“15 suicide bombers have struck within just over 48 hours in the capital and along the highway heading south in what al Qaeda's Iraq wing has declared is a new campaign to seize control of Baghdad. Iraq has often experienced several suicide attacks per day since the government took power in April. But U.S. generals have said the situation was improving, with just six suicide car bombs countrywide last week, the fewest in nearly three months. The sudden upsurge began on Friday, when 11 suicide car bombers struck U.S. and Iraqi military targets throughout the capital and on the highway heading south. Those attacks killed more than 32 people and wounded more than 100. On Saturday, apart from the Musayyib blast, strikes throughout Iraq killed at least 16 people, including three British soldiers in Amara in the south and one American soldier near Kirkuk in the north.”
According to an article in the New York Times: “It was unclear why the insurgents decided to carry out the flurry of attacks this week, but many Iraqis had been anticipating a spike in violence tied to Sunday, the anniversary of the 1968 Baathist revolution that ushered Saddam Hussein's political party into power. Officials believe many of the leaders of the insurgency are Baathists.”
On the upside, military press briefings say that ordinary Iraqi’s are increasingly helping to fight the insurgency by tipping off a telephone hotline. “In the month of June, we saw more than 4,000 Iraqi citizens calling their coordination centers with information…. For example, they point out caches, almost eight out of the 10 caches we find now are pointed out to us by Iraqis.” Additionally, it seems that multinational forces are able to thwart at least half of all terrorist attacks. Also the Americans are making increasing if slow progress in better training and equipping the Iraqi Security Forces. About 20 percent of all counter-insurgency operations are being carried out by the Iraqi’s. However a great deal more needs to be done, and the US is unable to predict when the forces will be able to operate completely independently.
In conclusion, I have to say it is not easy to say for certain whether the US is winning the war or not. What does seem clear is that they are, give or take some spikes in insurgent activity, managing to contain the insurgency within certain parameters. Does this mean they are winning? From other articles that I have read, it seems that when the US troops go into certain hotspot areas on big operations they manage to quell the insurgency in those areas. But disturbingly, I have also read that insurgents are starting to operate again in Fallujah where they had managed to destroy the uprising their after their big operation. One solution would be to bring more troops into Iraq, but politically this might have even worse repercussions, I don’t know? Anyway this is not something the US is considering at this point. Their main mission now seems to be to get the Iraqi Forces strong enough so that they can eventually pull out.
At best US and Iraqi forces will succeed in completely wiping out the insurgency. As things stand now this is not yet something we can realistically hope for, for the time being. At worst we could end up with another Israeli/Palestinian situation, whereby even though one side has much greater military strength, the two sides are perpetually engaged in medium grade intensity warfare. My concern would be if the US buggered off at some point and left the Iraqi’s to deal with the mess on their own. They must finish what they started and bring lasting stability and democracy to the country.