Endgame: Iraqi Insurgents Press For Final Blow
Adam Elkus, Electronic Iraq, 16 April 2007
By all indicators, America’s Iraqi expedition has failed miserably. One by one, American allies draw down their forces or resist increasing public pressure to do so. The central Iraqi government exercises little control–its main means of exercising power is negative–the use of Shiite death squads. A bloody civil war has created a feedback loop of ethnic violence that cannot be stopped. In the north, the Kurds lie in wait for the perfect opportunity to break away. And Iran is quietly grooming the Iraqi government to act as a client state.
Although President Bush’s handling of the war has become extremely unpopular and the majority of the public seeks a form of withdrawal or drawdown, the public does not want immediate withdrawal. This can be explained as a defensive psychological reaction: few want to admit that so many were sacrificed for so little. In addition, Americans fear for the lives of the U.S. troops currently engaged in battle with the various ethnic factions and terrorist groups in the Iraqi maelstrom. While the public generally accepts the necessity of withdrawal, they blanch at the instability that could result. Proposals for withdrawal focus on a year-long redeployment rather than the quick withdrawal many anti-war advocates like.
Iraq’s Sunni insurgency is not going to patiently wait for American will to collapse. They can sense that public support is fading and that the end of American involvement is near. They know that they can strike a fatal blow at public support for the war and possibly shorten the conflict, preserving their strength for the inevitable internecine feuding that will result after an American withdrawal. Such feuding has already begun, as Sunni insurgents have openly broken with Al Qaeda in Iraq.
While the public generally accepts the necessity of withdrawal, they blanch at the instability that could result. Proposals for withdrawal focus on a year-long redeployment rather than the quick withdrawal many anti-war advocates like.
To do so, however, they must go beyond merely bleeding the Americans to death, as such a war of attrition is inevitably slow and painful for them as well. They are looking for a shocking, media-worthy incident or series of incidents that will finally destroy American will. The recent attacks with chlorine bombs, though flashy, have failed to do the trick, as they are not lethal enough to inflict lasting damage. Thus, elements within the insurgency are trying two different approaches: overrunning an American unit and striking within the Green Zone.
Counter-terrorism consultant John Robb noted in a blog post that “As the [insurgency] continues to improve its methods and the US counter-insurgency effort becomes more of a police force to bolster street level security, the potential for successful assaults and overruns of small US outposts becomes a major threat.” General Petraeus’ strategy for the “surge” hinges on moving American troops from their fortress-like bases into small outposts within Iraqi cities, enabling them to police volatile insurgent strongholds in a manner reminiscent of big-city “community policing” in the continental United States.
These outposts are the urban equivalents of Vietnamese firebases, small islands of American power vulnerable to being overrun by “swarming” attacks. They also are dangerously dependent on Iraqi units infiltrated by factional fighters. Iraq’s insurgent factions are keen to exploit this vulnerability. In the last few months, insurgents have mounted a number of attacks against these bases, employing a mixture of car bombings, chlorine bombs, and small arms attacks.
Insurgents understand that the spectacle of Americans losing a pitched battle — something that hasn’t happened since the Vietnam war — would attract massive media attention, crush the morale of the American people, and make the American military forces look weak, emboldening other insurgents for similar attacks. So far, they have been repulsed. Yet with each day the violence worsens, the chance that insurgents will overrun an American base grows. Given the growing power of the insurgency, Robb believes that it is only a matter of time before this event occurs.
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