US strategy in Iraq: Is it working?
Major sweeps show results in western Iraq. But insurgents keep adapting and attacking.
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The situation is creating increasing restlessness within President Bush's own party. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) of Nebraska told US News & World Report magazine last week, "Things aren't getting better, they're getting worse.... The White House is completely disconnected from reality."Skip to next paragraph
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On NBC's "Meet the Press" over the weekend, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona said: "Too often we've been told ... that we're at a turning point. What the American people should have been told and should be told ... [is] it's long; it's hard; it's tough."
Professor Cole says that Secretary Rice was correct to point out over the weekend that the key goal is to drain popular support for the insurgency within the Sunni Arab communities in the center of the country, but he disagrees that there's evidence this is happening. "If people decide ... that these guys are dirty rotten rats, and they start turning them in, then the insurgents are toast,'' he says. "But their support is not only deeper now, it's wider, too, and there's opinion polling to back this up."
The attacks of the past few days maintain the insurgent trend of the past half-year or so of targeting lightly armed and less well-protected Iraqi security officers instead of Americans. Through Sunday, 1,095 Iraqi soldiers and police have been killed this year, and that compares with 1,300 Iraqi military and police casualties in the previous 21 months, according to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count (www.icasualties.org/oif/), a nongovernmental organization that tracks civilian and military casualties. Car bombings surged from 65 in February to 135 in April, and major attacks per day rose from around 40 in February and March to 70 in April and May.
US commanders and soldiers in Iraq frequently complain they don't have the manpower to deal anything resembling a decisive blow. Soldiers operating in tough Iraqi provinces like Anbar say they feel as if they're watering the desert: They can win any neighborhood or mid-sized city they care to and make it "bloom" for as long as they're present in strength, but their efforts wither when they inevitably leave and move on to the next engagement.
"We've won every fight they've given us, but there always seem to be just as many people fighting us as when we got here,'' says one career Marine officer, who recently finished a tour in Iraq.
Anthony Cordesman, a former director of intelligence for the Office of the Secretary of Defense who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and has produced a series of detailed studies on the war in Iraq, quotes a Marine counterinsurgency expert in Iraq in a recent paper as saying "seizing the components of suicide bombs [is] like making drug seizures: comforting, but ultimately pointless.... Both sides are still escalating to nowhere."
In cities like Fallujah, once thought to be decisively won by the US, engagements are on the rise, with three firefights on Sunday ending with 15 insurgents killed. In the city of Tal Afar in the north, violence still rages, despite three major US offensives there in the past two years; and while the once notorious Haifa Street in central Baghdad was pacified by joint US and Iraqi military efforts this spring, suicide attacks continue in other parts of the city.
"The Iraqi Government and US can scarcely claim that they are clearly moving towards victory,'' Mr. Cordesman wrote at the end of May in "Iraq's Evolving Insurgency,'' a 70-page analysis of the situation (www.csis.org/ features/050512_IraqInsurg.pdf). While Cordesman acknowledges large weapons seizures made by "tireless" US operations in the country, he doubts the supply of weapons and bombmaking materials is going to dry up soon.
"Few experts - if any - feel that the insurgents face any near-term supply problems given the numbers of weapons looted from Iraq's vast arms depots during and after the fighting that brought down Saddam,'' he writes.