January 23, 2004

Iraq: Insurgency Watch

The Washington Post has an excellent article on the state of the Iraq insurgency today.

On the positive side of the ledger:

"Commanders are heartened by a sharp reduction in the number of attacks on U.S. forces and say that an overhaul of intelligence operations has produced a series of successes that have weakened the anti-occupation insurgency.

"Things have gone well both in Afghanistan and Iraq in terms of our military's ability to get the job done," Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East, said in a interview at his headquarters in Qatar after a weeklong tour of the region and consultations with his commanders and the leaders of Pakistan, Jordan and Afghanistan."

Casualty figures bear Abizaid's analysis out:

"Defense Department statistics show a drop in U.S. troops killed in action since November, when the insurgency was at its peak. After sustaining 70 such deaths that month, the U.S. military withstood 25 in December -- the month in which former president Saddam Hussein was captured -- and 22 so far in January.

Commanders credit a number of sources for recent military advances. Three-fourths of roadside bombs are now being detected before they explode, Army officials in Iraq said. After a shaky summer marked by finger-pointing among intelligence officials about a raft of failures, especially in the coordination of data, the U.S. intelligence effort in Iraq was revamped in October and November. The overhaul has made operations much more effective, officials said."

Still, there are cautionary notes. Abidzaid again:

"I stay away from the 'turning the corner, light at the end of the tunnel' sort of thing," he said. "There are an awful lot of political movements and activities that will take place between now and moving toward some sort of Iraqi sovereign entity, and that will put an awful lot of pressure on the system within Iraq, and that could change the security situation in dramatic ways."

Regardless, it appears we are at a key juncture:

"Military leaders believe that their operations in Iraq are entering a critical phase. One of the biggest troop rotations in U.S. history is getting underway, creating new vulnerabilities as 130,000 seasoned soldiers depart and 105,000 fresh ones come in to replace them. Also, the planned U.S. handover of power to the Iraqi people looms in less than six months, intensifying the already volatile politics of the country.

Some military experts, including officers fighting in Iraq, continue to worry about the Iraqi insurgency, which they regard as surprisingly resilient and adaptive.

Some fear that the resistance could be regrouping and planning new attacks, and is quiescent now only because it is studying the changes in the U.S. force structure and searching for new vulnerabilities. Some point out that attacks on Iraqi security forces have increased in recent months."

A major concern, according to some of these interviews with U.S. military personnel, is that large-scale Shi'a protests, stemming from disaffection with electoral modalities, might degenerate into riots.

On that note, it is obviously critical to try to broach a compromise solution with Ayatollah Sistani.

Adnan Pachachi, chairman of the Iraqi Governing Council, is suggesting a sensible compromise.

He has proposed expanding the governing council "as a compromise between the American insistence on selecting a new government through a complex caucus system and the demand for direct elections by Iraq's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani."

Sounds almost like a loya jirga, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, efforts are being made to bring the U.N. on board to argue to Sistani that full, direct elections at this stage would not be feasible.

But Annan has concerns that simply telling Sistani voter rolls aren't good to go and the like isn't going to cut it:

"Mr. Annan is said to feel that it will not be enough to tell the ayatollah that his desire for an election is not feasible. The ayatollah needs to hear, diplomats said, when an election can be held and what arrangements can be made before it occurs."

Annan is probabably right given comments like these from Sistani:

"In his remarks Thursday, Musawi said Sistani would drop his demand for elections if U.N. and Iraqi experts determined they were not feasible. But he said that shift would be possible only if another plan were adopted. He called the current plan "extremely dangerous."

"If neutral experts come and say that elections are not possible, I will retreat from my position, but on one condition," Musawi quoted Sistani as saying. "Foreign experts and Iraqi specialists should find an alternative."

Also an important factor doubtless driving Shi'a machinations, a feeling of continued Shi'a vulnerability vis-a-vis the Sunnis given the brutalities visited upon them during recent Iraqi history (note too that Hoagland suggests that U.S. policymakers not fight the power shifting underway as between coalition authorities and the Shi'a).

Finally, there is an increasing consensus that the initially proposed caucus style elections would be too unwieldy regardless:

"The American-backed plan for caucuses is increasingly derided within diplomatic circles as cumbersome and confusing. Under it, caucuses to choose a new interim legislature would take place in each of Iraq's 18 provinces. But before that happens, organizing committees in each province would be established.

These committees would choose "selection caucuses," which would choose members of the new Iraqi legislature, which would then choose a prime minister and provisional government all by June 30. Several diplomats say the process must be radically streamlined, if not scrapped."

Developing, as they say.

Posted by Gregory at January 23, 2004 09:46 AM
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