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The strategy of Iraq's insurgents

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"We are not talking about ragtag insurgents with castoff weapons and a minimum of military training taking on established militaries, which was often the case in the past," he says. "The former regime elements were highly trained.... Their harassment is more than harassment. It has strategic weight to it because [their] attacks eat away at the heart and fiber of Iraqi security and unity."

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A second error of the coalition forces, analysts say, is the lack of resolve in dealing with the insurgency. Two key examples came in April with the offensive against militants in Fallujah and the crackdown against the maverick Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. In response to the killing and mutilation of four American private security contractors, US Marines fought a bloody two-week battle against the insurgents, causing heavy casualties among civilians and rebels. One former resistance fighter told the Monitor that his entire group was wiped out during the clashes.

But despite vows to crush the rebels, the coalition forces ended up striking a compromise that saw the Marines pulling back, leaving the policing of the town to a battalion of Iraqi soldiers. Since then, Fallujah has become a pan-Arab symbol of anti-US resistance, a no-go area for foreigners where Islamic militants impose a Taliban-style rule and the Iraqi battalion remains confined to its barracks.

"The Fallujah resistance sparked the emotions and touched the hearts of people throughout the Arab world because it was one of the few recent instances of Arabs making a stand on their home ground and fighting to defend their community in the face of almost certain death," says Rami Khouri, executive editor of Beirut's Daily Star newspaper.

Mr. Sadr launched his uprising after the coalition authorities shut down his newspaper and arrested a senior aide. The rebellion ignited the Shiite towns of Najaf, Kerbala, and Kufa and saw heavy fighting in the Sadr City slum in Baghdad. The coalition said it would "capture or kill" Sadr, but did neither. Again, the fighting ended with a series of fragile cease-fires. The rebellion has elevated the youthful cleric to a role of powerful opposition figure.

"Our indecision and our hesitancy breathed life into the insurgency and also sent a very worrying message about our resolve," Hoffman says.

Analysts expect the insurgency to continue and possibly intensify during the fraught seven-month mandate of the new Iraqi government. Mr. Allawi has vowed to crush the militants, warning of possible martial law and delaying elections slated for January. But his government lacks the means to confront the militants and will have to rely initially on the MNF while Iraq's security forces are trained and organized. That risks reinforcing the impression that the new government is little more than an American surrogate.

Most Iraqis say they are prepared to give the new government a chance, although that conditional support may not last if the violence continues. US military officials hope that sympathy for the insurgents will decline as the new government takes charge, particularly if the attacks continue to be directed against Iraqi civilians.

Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who is overseeing the creation of the new Iraqi army, says that the nationalist element among the insurgents already is "diminishing."

"That motivation has to lose its appeal over time," he says.

However, it is the Sunni extremists that pose the greater long-term threat. But eradicating the Sunni diehards will not prove simple. "The Sunni Islamic resistance are not accepting what has been handed to Iraq by the Americans," says Nizar Hamzeh, professor of politics at the American University of Beirut. "Whatever means you use here [against the insurgents] is not going to work and the only outcome is a clash."