Iraq: April 27, 2005

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In their April 2nd attack on the Abu Ghraib prison, the attackers demonstrated a surprising degree of tactical skill, which appeared to have been the result of careful planning and training. Not only were the tactics well-thought out and executed, but the gunmen arranged for possible ambushes along likely routes of reinforcement. Some officers who specialized in studying the Iraqi Army believe the attack reflected pre-war Iraqi doctrine and staff work. To some students of insurgency this suggests that the anti-government forces have been able to establish base camps or "liberated zones," where they can spend time and resources training troops. If this is true, then the war may have entered a more ominous phase. Other analysts, however, believe that attack may have been a desperate attempt to use the best available insurgent manpower; Iraqi Army and Republican Guard personnel, to secure a spectacular success. If this is the case, then the Sunni Arabs suffered a serious defeat and the loss of critical manpower that ought to have been used to provide cadres to help turn volunteers into more effective fighters. The attack failed because of superior training and skill on the part of the defenders, who demonstrated considerable initiative down to the lowest levels. This advantage is likely to continue.

Economic reconstruction is suffering from the diversion of funds to bolster the development of the security forces, on the assumption that security is more important than reconstruction. This may be a false premise. In many areas public services and business have not yet returned to the levels that prevailed shortly before the Coalition invasion in early 2003. Historically, one of the best weapons against this kind of unrest has been to deliver noticeable improvements in services to the people, which is also why, historically, the enemy have targeted aid workers, doctors, and merchants. Rather than shifting funds from reconstruction to security forces, more resources should be provided for both; saving a few dollars now might cost a lot more dollars -- and lives -- later. It is apparent that most Sunni Arabs are not enthusiastic about continued fighting, and given half a chance (away from Baath Party and al Qaeda thugs), will support the new government.

Apparently, some of the Baath Party and al Qaeda leaders are trying to forge a "national front" in order to better organize and coordinate the fight against the new Iraqi government and its Western backers. From an Sunni Arab perspective, this would be a very good thing, and probably result in ratcheting up the tempo of operations. But it seems unlikely to come about any time soon. Although both Baathists and Islamists are strongly opposed to the new government and its American and other foreign backers, they are also very hostile to each other. In addition, both groups are themselves split into many factions. 

Some Baathists are apparently thinking about abandoning armed resistance, to take up the fight in the political arena, which they believe they can win, given their likely domination of the Sunni bloc, their long experience in wielding power in the country, and their access to funds thoughtfully stashed in other countries while Saddam was in power. Similarly, it's not clear that the Islamist groups share a common vision of what an Islamist Iraq should look like, or who should lead it. 

While there does not seem to have been any bloodshed among the various factions, such a development cannot be ruled out, and would indicate that the anti-government activity has reached a critical juncture; a little civil war among the factions could lead to the emergence of one as the [grudgingly] acknowledged leader of a "national liberation front" or could indicate the final disintegration of the Sunni Arab resistance.

Car bombs seem to have become the weapon of choice in anti-government attacks, and their number has been slowly increasing while other forms of attack have been in decline. About half of car bomb attacks have been suicide attacks, It's not clear if the proportion of suicide attacks has been increasing or decreasing.

There's an across-the-board experience problem in the new government and enterprise leadership. The government and the Coalition authority have been able to draw -- belatedly -- upon experienced personnel from the Saddam-era in reforming the army and security forces, since the old army and police were never completely staffed by Baath Party die-hards. But there's a major experience gap when it comes to running government agencies and the national infrastructure, since these posts were formerly controlled very tightly by Saddam's close relatives and political allies. Most of the new government and public enterprise officials spent the Saddam-era in exile or keeping a low profile, with the result that they don't necessarily have the administrative skills and experience to run the things they've been put in charge of. The nation's oil industry in particular is desperately in need of strong, visionary leadership.

 

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