10 years ago
There appears to be a paradigm shift in the counterinsurgency strategy being employed by the U.S. forces in Iraq. This shift goes further than the changes associated with the security plan of which many observers are aware (e.g., deployment out of Forward Operating Bases into the cities to combat operation posts). The changes point to a fundamental shift in the way the U.S. sees the battle for Iraq.
The schema until now seems to have been focused on the notion that the Iraqi people, separated from the rogue elements in their midst, long for freedom and self-determination, with al Qaeda in Iraq, Ansar al Sunna, and foreign suicide bombers standing in their way. Defeating the insurgents has primarily been seen as defeating AQI. One need only to go back through the Multi-National force press releases to see how many references there are to AQI. But it is becoming increasingly clear that this schema bears little resemblance to the realities on the ground in Iraq.
With AQI and AAS standing only at several thousand, for a country the size of Iraq, there simply aren’t enough to pull off destabilization of a country. There are more gang members in most medium size American cities than there are al Qaeda in Iraq. Until recently, the Sunni militants were seen in the role of assisting AQI, but the view seems to be changing to one of the disaffected Sunnis (i.e., Fedayeen Saddam, former Iraq security police, former senior Iraqi army leadership and hard line Baathists) being primarily in the lead with AQI and AAS being secondary in their affect and power.
There are reports that the security situation in Ramadi might be improving. Once again, AQI is mentioned as of paramount importance regarding the security situation in Ramadi, but the NewsDay article ends with an interesting admission concerning the Anbar province and other areas of Iraq.
The U.S. military has struggled for nearly four years to secure this city, which had become a magnet for Sunni insurgents and a lawless haven for al-Qaida militants.
Now – slowly, and in halting steps – something appears to have given way. At least by its own tortured standards, Ramadi seems to be calming.
“It’s much safer than it was, but is it perfectly safe? No,” said Army Col. John Charlton, the commander responsible for the city 75 miles west of the capital.
“As long as al-Qaida is operating in Iraq, it’s not going to be.”
Ramadi offers a snapshot of the Pentagon’s latest strategies to quell violence in Iraq. Neighborhoods are being walled off to keep insurgents out. Military units are moving off major bases and setting up smaller U.S.-Iraqi posts in violent areas downtown.
Alliances are being struck with influential Sunni sheiks once arrayed against the Americans, and tribal leaders have provided people for a police force …
While the U.S. military claims progress, Ramadi remains a place where fear shadows even commonplace acts. Shoppers and school children carry white flags in desperate attempts to show neutrality.
“A lot of people are still scared in their hearts,” said Mahmoud, an elderly man who gave only his first name.
“Jihadists were all around … killing everybody. They could come back anytime.”
In large part to allay those fears, Charlton said 70 percent of U.S. forces live downtown.
“We used to go on patrols and get shot at, then go back to base, eat chow and do it all again,” said Army 1st Sgt. Michael Jusino, also in Ramadi two years ago.
“But we realized … you have to go into the city and stay there.” Suicide bombers still strike, the most recent one on April 6.
But troops show off graphs indicating a recent turnaround in violence. Compared to 20 to 30 daily attacks a year ago, now there often are just a few bursts of small-arms fire in a day.
Marine Brig. Gen. Charles Gurganus, commander of U.S. ground forces in Anbar, said insurgents who fled Ramadi are still in Anbar.
“They’re going to places we aren’t. They regroup … but wherever they go, we’re going to go with them.”
As I have discussed before, Fallujah is currently a hot spot of insurgent activity, so some of the Sunni fighters have fled from Ramadi only a few kilometers East. Another hot spot is Baqouba, in the Diyala Province.
They maneuver in squads, like the U.S. infantrymen they try to kill. One squad fires furiously so another can attack from a better position. They operate in bad weather, knowing U.S. helicopters and surveillance drones are grounded. Some carry GPS receivers so mortar teams can calculate the coordinates of U.S. armored vehicles. They kidnap and massacre police officers.
The Sunni guerrillas and extremists who now dominate this city demonstrate a sophistication and lethality born of years of confronting U.S. military tactics. While the “surge” plays out in Baghdad just 35 miles to the south, Baqouba has emerged as a magnet for insurgents from around the country and, perhaps, the next major headache for the U.S. military.
Some insurgents have moved into Baqouba to escape the escalation in Baghdad. But the city has been attracting insurgents for years, and particularly after U.S. officials in Baghdad proclaimed it and surrounding Diyala province relatively pacified more than a year ago and drew down their troop presence.
When 70 insurgents broke out of a Mosul jail last month, for example, escapees from Chad, Yemen, Syria and Afghanistan were apprehended here, the Iraqi police said. And Sunni fighters continue to heed calls by insurgent leaders to converge here.
It is impossible to say how many insurgents there are in Baqouba now. Some military officials put the number around at least 2,000, a nasty stew that includes former members of Saddam Hussein’s army and paramilitary forces, the Fedayeen; angry and impoverished Sunni men; criminal gangs; Wahhabi Islamists; and foreigners. That is similar to the number of insurgents in Fallujah in 2004, before a bloody Marine offensive to retake the city, said Lt. Col. Scott Jackson, deputy head of the provincial reconstruction team in Diyala, who fought in Fallujah.
As the insurgent ranks have swelled, attacks on U.S. troops have soared. The 5,000-strong brigade that patrols Diyala province has had 44 soldiers killed in five months, more than twice the number who died in the preceding year.
This account more clearly summarizes the current state of the insurgency than merely calling them al Qaeda. U.S. forces are reponding to the increased insurgent activity in Baqouba, even if senior leadership still points to AQI as being the primary enemy. “Soldiers with 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment continued their systematic attack on terrorist forces in Baqouba with another clearing operation in the city April 10. In this latest effort, Soldiers of 5-20 Inf. Regt., 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, from Fort Lewis, Wash., spent three days clearing the neighborhood of Buhriz, described by Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Bruce Antonia as “al-Qaida’s battleground.”
The much-heralded tribal split with al Qaeda is a positive sign in the Anbar Province, but it must be remembered that even if AQI loses in this showdown, the insurgency is not defeated. One side of the insurgency has merely gained supremacy over the other. This modified schema of seeing the insurgency as being primarily borne on the shoulders of disaffected Sunnis is supported in this informative and interesting report by Michael Totten from Kirkuk (Patrick Laswell has an equally interesting report from Kirkuk).
“Most, if not all, the terrorists are the old Baath Party members,