Analysis: Iraq's dark realities
By MARTIN SIEFF
UPI Senior News Analyst
01/07/05 -- -- WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- The intense wave of
killings and bombings that have swept Iraq this week comes as a
shock awakening, or hangover, following the unrealistically high
expectations and self-congratulations in the administration that
surrounded the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections and their immediate
The decision of the Sunni Muslim insurgents in central Iraq to
largely restrain their forces during the election campaign and the
voting period could easily be misconstrued as a weakening of will or
loss of morale on their part. But, as was clear even at the time, it
was no such thing. Like the Irish Republican Army of two decades
ago, the insurgents had not forsaken the bullet for the ballot box.
Instead, in the manner of sophisticated -- and all too often,
successful -- insurgencies throughout the 20th century, they were
following a sophisticated strategy of bullets and ballots.
Nor did the ballot box fail them. On the contrary, it was the
failure of the dominant "5-5'5" Shiite coalition that now dominates
Iraq with U.S. support, backed by its Kurdish allies in the north of
the country, to seek to include the Sunnis in political power that
played into the hands of the insurgents.
As Michael Eisenstadt of the Washington Institute for Near East
Policy warned last year, the very success of the Dec. 15 elections
now threatens to backfire by dramatically boosting the popularity
and recruitment potential for the insurgents. Its outcome was like
pouring gasoline on a burning fire. And this week the fire exploded.
Some 11 U.S. soldiers were killed in a single day in Iraq this week.
That meant that in a single 24-hour period the encouraging
incremental, but previously consistent, pattern of falling rates of
U.S. military deaths in Iraq was dramatically reversed.
Even worse was the slaughter inflicted by two well-placed car bomb
blasts. Only two days ago, in our regular weekly UPI Iraq Benchmarks
analysis, we noted that the number of multiple bomb fatality (MFB)
attacks and the casualties inflicted by them had fallen in December
to their lowest level in almost half a year.
But it is now clear that those improvements did not reflect tactical
success by U.S. and allied Iraqi forces in inflicting attrition on
the insurgents and their capabilities. Nor did it stem from a
weakening of support for the insurgents within their Sunni home base
in central Iraq.
While the insurgents were motivated to play the political game and
stay on their best behavior, violence around Iraq abated somewhat.
However, once they had concluded that they were going to be given
nothing worthwhile by the new Shiite masters of the country and
their Kurdish allies, they felt free to unleash all their
undiminished capabilities again.
The Conventional Wisdom being propagated by the Bush administration
is that the creation of a new, broadly based coalition government in
Baghdad enjoying a clear democratic popular mandate will isolate the
insurgents and their supporters and give the new government the
freedom to crack down far more effectively on them than its
Also, the relentless drive to mobilize 220,000 Iraqi troops and
police in support of the new government is still seen by the
president and his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as the ace in
the hole that will defeat the insurgents while enabling U.S. forces
to be steadily reduced.
But there is no sign yet that the new Iraqi forces, even when they
can operate independently, have any capability of defeating the
insurgency or developing adequate intelligence to penetrate it.
As for U.S. military intelligence on the insurgency, it is as good
as it possibly can be from the outside and its tactical and
political assessments are second to none. But it is very clear from
published reports and official Department of Defense figures that
the U.S. military is still almost totally shut out of the insurgency
and has failed to penetrate it.
Beyond fleeting and limited tactical successes, U.S. forces still
have no idea how many insurgents they are actually killing or
capturing per month, despite all the energy and scale of their own
military operations. From August through November, the Department fo
defense blandly announced that 3,000 insurgents per month were being
captured or killed -- neither more nor less. This is not even a
rounding off of roughly reliable figures, it has all the hallmarks
of a wild guess made on no serious reliable statistical data
And even all these problems beg the most important questions of all
that are never asked in all the Babel of mainstream U.S. media
discussion of the insurgency.
Are the new Iraqi forces reliable? Can they be counted upon on a
large scale to risk their own lives and incur heavy casualties in
order to capture and hold significant insurgency leaders? There is
no real evidence yet that this is the case.
Can the new Iraqi forces even be trusted not to leak key
intelligence about the movements and operations of U.S. forces to
the insurgents? There have been worrying signs that they leak like
sieves. There is growing concern in Ohio, not yet picked up by the
national media, that the deaths of 20 troops from an Ohio force in
two attacks in the same week back in August were caused by such
While the Sunni insurgency is now threatening to metastasize and
grow worse than ever as Eisenstadt warned, Bush administration and
U.S. media attention have been distracted from the growing
organization and radicalization of Shiite militias throughout
southern Iraq, astride the key land communication routes to Baghdad
and to the U.S. forces fighting the insurgency in the western and
central provinces. The fiercely anti-American Moqtada al-Sadr and
his Mahdi army are developing close organizational ties with other
Shiite militias, all backed by Iran, quietly but intensively. And it
is by no means clear whether their fellow Shiites controlling the
new army and police forces would be willing to confront, let alone
crush them if America insisted on it.
Most important of all, with predominantly Shiite forces being
recruited and run by Shiite-controlled Defense and Interior
Ministries in Baghdad, will the United States be able to count on
the loyalty and reliability of these forces if U.S. forces bomb
Iranian nuclear facilities, as there are widespread fears and
expectations throughout Europe and the Middle East might happen any
time in the next month or two.
Thus, not only is the Sunni insurgency now getting far worse,
defying every U.S. political initiative and tactical military
innovation over the past half year, but it is also making the United
States ever more dependent on the goodwill and cooperation of the
Shiite masters of the new military forces being raised at the very
time when the reliability and effectiveness of those forces is
becoming more problematic than ever.
This week has been a harsh awakening for the American people from
the illusory good cheer on Iraq of the Christmas season: But it is
all too likely that there will be far worse to come.
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