More Unpleasant Surprises In Iraq
"We feel right now that we have, as I mentioned,
broken the back of the insurgency." - Marine Lt. Gen.
John Sattler, Nov. 18, 2004, after the U.S.-led offensive against
be that we've misclassified the insurgency in Iraq -- that it's
an invertebrate, able to absorb bone-crushing blows because it
has no bones to crush? It seems to be more like a dandelion, which,
when smashed, only spreads more seeds. Seven months after U.S.
forces leveled the enemy stronghold, the insurgents are causing
as much trouble as ever.
in violence that followed the January elections was taken to mean
the rebels were in disarray. If so, they've regrouped, and Iraq
has reverted to chaos. Nearly twice as many Iraqi security personnel
died in attacks in March as in January. April was almost as bad
as March. May looks worse still.
couple of weeks have been among the bloodiest since the U.S. invasion,
with more than 420 people killed in assorted violence. The insurgents
have been mounting an average of 70 attacks a day, compared to
30 or 40 in February and March.
was supposed to make a difference, and so is the recent U.S. offensive
in western Iraq. But someone forgot to tell the insurgents. American
commanders were surprised at the strength and sophistication of
the resistance in this latest campaign.
war has been full of surprises, none of them pleasant. In April,
even before the latest expansion of violence, the head of the
Defense Intelligence Agency testified, "The insurgency has
grown in size and complexity over the last year." Grown in
size? We are spawning terrorists faster than we can kill them.
may illustrate why. On Thursday, the Associated Press reported
that residents of Qaim were angry at American forces for hitting
the town with air strikes and artillery. "They destroyed
our city, killed our children, destroyed our houses," one
says New York University law professor Noah Feldman, a former
official of the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq, "are getting
stronger every passing day." Contrary to assumptions in this
country, he told Newsday, "there is no evidence whatsoever
that they cannot win."
was supposed to have the opposite result. It was billed as giving
the Iraqi people the chance to defy threats of bloodshed, express
their belief in democracy, create a government enjoying broad-based
legitimacy and drain support from the insurgency. Instead, the
election led to months of squabbling among different factions,
creating uncertainty and disenchantment among ordinary Iraqis.
The difficulties in this process bode ill for the bigger job ahead
-- writing a constitution that will unite the country's bitterly
divided factions behind a new Iraq.
faced by the United States persist. We see no choice but to carry
out military missions to kill insurgents -- but those missions
produce collateral damage that alienates the people we are trying
to help. We can't improve the security environment until we rebuild
the infrastructure and revive its economy -- which we can't do
until security improves. Of the $18.4 billion in economic aid
the U.S. promised, Iraq has gotten only $4.8 billion.
government has spent huge amounts, though, on the war. The total
tab now exceeds $200 billion, with the meter still running.
can't solve some problems. The military is showing the effects
of the stresses placed on it, with recruiters consistently unable
to meet their quotas, and some of them breaking the rules to find
warm bodies. The Army has missed its recruiting goals for the
last three months, including a gaping 42 percent shortfall in
April. One undermanned Marine unit put up cardboard cutouts bedecked
with camouflage shirts to try to fool the enemy.
of Staff Chairman Richard Myers warns that insurgencies commonly
"last from three, four years to nine years." But successful
counter-insurgency wars are rare. We may not have the means to
win this one -- even if Americans are willing to stay for years
to come, and even if the military can withstand the debilitating
demands on its people.
to find grounds for optimism. Brookings Institution scholar Ivo
Daalder notes something ominous about our experience: "We
have had one bright spot in Iraq in two years -- the elections."
assume that if we stay the course, things will get better. But
it's worth pondering the question Jack Nicholson asked in one
of his movies: "What if this is as good as it gets?"
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