Iraq: December 16, 2004

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With the equivalent of four divisions in Iraq, what are all these American combat troops doing? There are one to three dozen troop casualties a day, so there is fighting going on. But theres a lot more scouting and patrolling, where a lot of the casualties take place. Lots of raids are launched, including those where American troops just provide back up for Iraqi police or troops. The raids are acting on intelligence (electronic, from informants and patrol reports) to pick up suspects or look for weapons, bombs and documents. Many troops are also assigned to escort convoys through dangerous areas. 

Thousands of combat troops just stand by, ready to roll, as quick reaction forces for convoys, patrols and raiding parties in their area. About half the troops are tied up guarding American bases. The security at dozens of U.S. bases has been so good that the anti-government forces have not been able to get in. Indeed, the bases are dangerous places for hostile gunmen to even be around, for American snipers and electronic security systems are quick to detect unfriendly groups moving in the area. Even the mortar and rocket fire that regularly hits these bases is subject to counterattacks that make life dangerous for those firing the mortars and rockets. 

American troops are concentrated in areas where there are a lot of Sunni Arabs, and resistance to the government. Most of the country is occupied by a smaller force of non-American troops. Here, the patrols rarely encounter any hostility, much less gunfire or bombs. The 17 American combat brigades are dealing with the Iraqi minority, the Sunni Arabs, who want no part of democracy, and are fighting to restore a dictatorship. This effort is portrayed, throughout the Moslem world, and in Europe, as a struggle by Iraqi nationalists to expel foreign invaders. The 80 percent majority of Iraqis who want democracy and support the fight against the Sunni Arabs are similarly portrayed as traitors and collaborators. It's a strange world. 

Another media driven event is the recent decision to spend an additional four billion dollars on armoring trucks for service in Iraq. Much of this is just putting out buzz to counter the recent media commotion over an old problem, troops in trucks getting shot at. Up to a third of the casualties each month are from attacks on truck traffic. The best way to deal with these attacks is to go after the attackers. But the dozens of Sunni Arab gangs use the attacks on traffic as a way to maintaining control of their neighborhoods. There are dozens of little wars going on in Iraq, as the cops and robbers struggle for control of towns and neighborhoods. The gangs terrorize the locals into keeping their mouths shut, and often coerce local men into planting bombs (by holding some of the kinfolk hostage). If the gang has enough of the Baath Party money, they will pay men to plant the bombs. Other specialists make the bombs, but also take care of the money end of gang operations. This includes smuggling, extortion, drugs and prostitution. Al Qaeda, which is basically a religious organization, tolerates these less savory activities for the moment. But even if the Sunni Arab opposition won, there would then have to be another battle between the secular, and rather sinful, Baath Party crowd, and the religious conservatives led by al Qaeda. Iraqis are aware of this, although this item is glossed over by most foreign observers, and reporters. 

An unmentioned aspect of the armored truck issue is what happens to the armor after Iraq? The army is facing billions in additional charges to remove the armor. If this is not done, there will be billions of dollars in additional expenses for fuel and maintenance. The armored trucks burn more fuel and break down more often. The army is changing the design of its trucks to make it easier to add, and remove, armor. 

Another angle on the armor issue is the argument of the intelligence troops that they could cut the casualties more than armor would if they got the extra billions. More UAVs, more translators (who don't have to be in Iraq, they are needed for translating documents, which can be faxed anywhere), more field agents and more computer resources would portray the opposition more clearly, and allow for more accurate attacks. This particular debate will be discovered in due time and take possession of the headlines for a week or so. 


 

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