10 years, 1 month ago
It has been reported that American and Iraqi forces posted north of Baghdad are preparing checkpoints to net any insurgents who flee Iraq’s capital city to avoid an expected anti-terrorist dragnet there. But this action might be late, since much insurgent relocation activity has already been reported. AQI was previously reported to have been leaving Baghdad on orders directly from Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who wanted the fighters to avoid a direct house-to-house battle with U.S. forces.
The Sadrists have been ordered to “lay low” and avoid direct confrontation with the U.S., and reportedly there have been a “large” number of militants who have fled to Syria to avoid being trapped and to await the outcome of the upcoming U.S. operations. Relying on the people who are affected most deeply to know the situation on the ground, since Diyala politicians, tribal and religious figures have demanded that their province be included in Baghdad security plan, it appears conclusive that there has been a comprehensive enemy reaction to the security plan, this reaction primarily being relocation.
Just yesterday, the Islamic State of Iraq issued a press release, one purpose of which was to communicate the desire to “consolidate … the Mujahideen under one banner.” This might be more than a little wishful thinking. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admitted that four wars are taking place in Iraq:  a Shi’a-Shi’a war in the south,  a sectarian war in Baghdad,  an insurgency against U.S. troops, and  a war with AQI.
This is a gratuitous estimation of the complexity of the situation. There are no less that eight significant wars occurring within the borders of Iraq at the present. First, there is the sectarian violence in and around Baghdad (locations where there is mixed religious tradition living together), and the Sunnis are losing that battle to the Shi’a. Second, there is the war that AQI is waging against the U.S. and Iraqi security forces. Third, there is the war that AAS is waging against the same, but there is the added complexity that AQI and AAS are warring with each other – especially in the Anbar province – with each group fighting for supremacy. Fourth, there is the war of terrorism being waged by foreign fighters. This war knows almost no boundaries, and most of the foreign fighters are purchased by the aforementioned groups to wage war on not only the U.S. and Iraqi security forces, but each other. According to one well-placed source, most of these fighters are jihadists who will end their lives as suicide bombers (as opposed to snipers or IED-makers), and they are purchased from and through Syrian elements just across the border, elements that operate primarily as a money-making operation. Fifth, there is the Sunni insurgency in Anbar, coupled with the tribal fight to deny them safe haven.
In Hope and Brutality in Anbar, I discussed the factious nature of the tribal elements and the fact that there is a criminal element to their policing of the region. The Sunni insurgency is still dominated by Sunni diehards, Sadaam Fedayeen, and other Baathists who cannot accept that they are no longer in power in Iraq. Some of these fighters are loyal to AQI or AAS, and some are not. There is internecine warfare among the tribes, Sunni insurgents and other elements of the population in Anbar. Sixth, there is the war between the Shi’a and Kurds for control of Kirkuk and its copious oil supply. Seventh, there are ongoing operations between the Turkish forces and the Kurds, and finally, there is the larger, more macroscopic support system for all of the above in Syria and Iran. In other words, Iran and Syria are at war with the U.S. through proxy fighters.
One of the detriments of living in an open society such as America is that because political support is necessary for war-making, even strategic decisions such as the Baghdad security plan become splattered across the front page of newspapers the world over. This gives the enemy time to react and flee the coming crackdown. On the other hand, it might be a better option to take the enemy on in Syria than in central Baghdad. Accidentally (i.e., through no planning by the U.S.), there is a unparalleled opportunity that presents itself for incorporation into U.S. strategy for the coming security campaign.
I have gone on record suggesting that without border control with Syria and Iran, the counterinsurgency in Iraq cannot be won. I have also gone on record saying that there aren’t enough U.S. troops to effect this border security (while I have also questioned the size of the so-called “surge”). The answer (if there is one), I have suggested, is incursions across the border to destroy both the insurgents and their safe haven. This is true now in the superlative degree with them congregating in collected locations. Assuming that the U.S. has reliable human intelligence, the use of sensor fuzed weapons and other cluster munitions can be used to destroy entire encampments of terrorists. This action would rely on air power, thus freeing ground forces to perform interdiction operations (and other border incursions that are necessary). For these other, non-air asset border incursions, significant use can be made of the U.S. Marines, a significant portion of which is located in the Anbar Province, within hours of the Syrian border.
The terrorist and jihadist elements are also said to be coming across the border from Saudi Arabia and Jordan into Iraq. However, these means of ingress are small compared to Syria. Moreover, both of these regimes have a fundamentalist Islamic element within their borders that could easily be set off against their respective regimes. Border incursions into Saudi Arabia and Jordan could undermine the current regimes which, while duplicitous at times towards the U.S., are friendlier than potential replacement regimes.
The situation we face with these two countries is not unlike the situation with Moqtada al Sadr. My intelligence source indicates to me that the U.S. should have taken on al Sadr before the anti-Iranian forces inside Iraq had taken him on as their “poster child.” Taking out al Sadr at the present would mean, paradoxically, removing one of the last Shi’a anti-Iranian influences in Iraq (and probably the most powerful).
This doesn’t mean that al Sadr, the supporter of Hezballah during the recent Isreal-Lebanon war, should not be taken on directly. In fact, General Casey has indicated that U.S. forces will be stationed in Sadr City (although providing security is far different than taking out the leadership of the Sadrists, an action which I have advocated). But to accomplish the above, i.e., border security with Saudi Arabia and Jordan, suppression of the Sadrists, will require more troops than are currently deployed to Iraq. And hence the focus comes back to the force size.
Without the troops to effect the mission, the only option left to win OIF is extremely aggressive offensive operations against the insurgency, beginning with border incursions into Syria. The next steps (e.g., the politically costly moves of border incursions into Jordan and Saudi Arabia, border incursions into Iran) will have to be decided based on exigencies on the ground. Operations against the insurgents inside Syria might have such a strategical (in terms of numbers) and demoralizing affect that operations in Jordan become unnecessary. With AQI and AAS denied access to jihadists and suicide bombers, continued operations by them becomes more dangerous. They must then fight rather than hire someone to do it for them.
But without the first step of “closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver” in Anbar and inside the Syrian borders, we aren’t taking the required steps in winning OIF, and therefore all other exigencies and potentialities become moot. Without aggressive offensive operations, the enemy will wait out “the surge,” rendering it inconsequential.
Ultimately, the problem of Iran must be dealt with, and the notions discussed above are considered to be only a temporary amelioration of the problem.