2006 January 15 Sunday
Anthony Cordesman Sees Signs Iraqi Insurgents Still Potent Force

Anthony Cordesman argues that the Sunni rebellion strategy is to discredit the new Iraqi government and to widen rifts within that government.

If one "red teams" insurgent motives, there are also reasons for insurgents to be more optimistic about what they can accomplish during the coming year:

—They still can mount large numbers of attacks. The Coalition forces stress that the number of attacks has risen, but that successes have dropped. It is far from clear this is true about success if one considers the impact of the attacks, and the key point is that the insurgents are still strong enough for the number of attacks to increase.

It is also worth noting that the ability of the insurgents to cause casualties is undiminished.

—Some key aspects of the fracture lines between Sunni and Shi'ite are growing. The Arab Sunni vs. Arab Shi'ite and Kurd tensions in the security forces are more serious, although the US and UK have made major efforts to control and ease them. Sectarian divisions within the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior continue to grow. The new army is becoming steadily more Shi'ite and there are growing problems in promoting Sunni officers. The police remains divided along sectarian and ethnic lines. These problems are being increased by rushing new Iraqi units into the field, many in areas where they create sectarian friction. (There seems to have been some manipulation of readiness data to get the number of battalions with level 3 and level 2 readiness up to 50. Low quality units may have been added somewhat prematurely to the level 3 readiness total in spite of poor quality and experience.)

The Kurds in the Iraqi Army aren't really in the Iraqi Army. Effectively they are Kurdish Army units getting paid by the Iraqi government. They might serve that government to hunt down Sunni rebels, especially in areas where populations are a mix of Sunni Arabs and Kurds. But their larger purpose will be to serve the de facto semi-independent Kurdish government. The Iraqi Arab Army is going to be dominated by Shias. The Sunnis are going to increasingly see the Shia Army as having the primary purpose of putting down the Sunni rebellion.

I do not see that a continued US military presence will help reduce the problems flowing from inter-group rivalries. The US occupation forces would have to morph into a protective force for the Sunnis against the Shias in order to change Sunni attitudes toward the US military. But even if that happened the Sunnis would resent their protectors and the Shias would see the US forces as enemies.

I think the death tolls say a lot about how the war is progressing. Check out the Iraq Coalition Casualties web page. The daily average death rate for coalition (mostly US and UK) forces has not been trending downward. Though Iraqi civilian casualties have gone down a lot from the summer of 2005 peak.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 January 15 07:49 PM  Mideast Iraq Insurgency

Sean Pelette said at January 16, 2006 3:33 PM:

The coalition death toll says a lot less when considered in combination with the toll of wounded. The number of US wounded dropped by 26% in 2005; 5939 vs 7990 in 2004.


Stephen said at January 16, 2006 5:01 PM:

How many civilian deaths? Surely that is the key indicator in terms of stopping any insurgency. If we keep killing indiscriminately (which I suspect we are in order to limit soldier casualties), then we are merely increasing the number of recruits available to the insurgents.

What irritates me is that we always seem to be playing into the hands of the insurgents.

Why aren't we smart any more?

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