Iraq: Measuring Victory and Defeat

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January 9, 2006: The terrorists know how to play the media, grouping their suicide bombing attacks together and aiming them at spectacular targets (women and children, mosques and funerals). Between these clusters of attacks, there is often nothing. In the last week, this clustering has made the violence in Iraq front page news throughout Iraq, and the Moslem world. These attacks have horrified most Moslems. You have to be a pretty strange bird to be encouraged by the sight of dead children or blood splattered mosques. These attacks are made deliberately, and it's difficult to be sure what the purpose is. Captured terrorists indicate the idea is to cause a civil war between Sunni Arabs and the Shia Arabs. But this makes no sense, as there are three times as many Shia Arabs, and there are as many Kurds as there are Sunni Arabs. Such a civil war would lead to catastrophe for the Sunni Arabs. But captured terrorists, most of them Sunni Arab zealots, believe that Sunni Arabs are actually the majority in the country, or that the Sunni Arabs are just such superior people that they would prevail if all Sunni Arabs could be motivated to join the battle against the Shia Arabs, the Kurds and the Americans.

More thoughtful Sunni Arabs believe that the violence can be used as a bargaining chip, to get concessions from the Shia Arab/Kurd coalition that controls the government, and the ever-growing army and police force. It's the growth of these security forces that scares the Sunni Arabs the most. When Saddam fell nearly three years ago, the Sunni Arabs were still the most powerful Iraqi armed force in the country. There were millions of assault rifles, RPGs and mortars in the hands of civilians, and the Sunni Arabs were best prepared to use their guns to regain control of the country. Most of Saddam's secret policemen and military leaders were still alive. They still knew how to organize violence and terror. But in the past three years, the Shia Arabs have been armed and trained. It's no longer a sure thing that the Sunni Arabs would win a civil war. Actually, with the better trained Kurds joining the Shia Arabs, the Sunni Arab situation becomes hopeless. But only if you believe in logic and rational thought. The terrorists are on a mission from God, or are living out cherished myths. There's also the money angle, as many of those involved in the terrorist violence are doing it for cash. Such pointless behavior is, alas, a common pattern in Arab history.

Many of the terrorist leaders have painted themselves into a corner. They have assured their followers that their fanaticism and sacrifice would bring victory. As the body count increases, and victory becomes less likely, some of the followers look for scapegoats. This has led to assassinations and gun battles involving terrorists. Some of the disgraced terrorist leaders have deftly shifted from terror to crime. While the hundreds of criminal gangs in Iraq are not united, they do realize that continued unrest is in their interests. Kidnapping is a big business, and made possible by the inability of the police to control the entire country. As long as their are towns and neighborhoods relatively free of police presence, kidnapping victims can be safely stashed while the ransom is taken care of. Even when the cops do move in, the gangsters are finding that, as in the past, some police are willing to work both sides of the law. In this way, over two dozen foreign kidnapping victims are still held.

The "war" in Iraq is being fought in hundreds of small campaigns. At this point, over 90 percent of the dead are Iraqis. It's really an Iraq war, with American troops taking less and less of a role. Towns and neighborhoods, stretches of road and border areas change hands from day to day. The American military staffs keep track of all this, with greater and greater accuracy. The information doesn't get released to the public, because it would show the enemy how much is known about them. The number of reliable informants within the Sunni Arab community has grown enormously in the past year, and made it easier to get an accurate idea of who has the power, and how they use it, in Sunni Arab areas. The American intelligence troops, the "geeks with guns" have developed whole new ways of measuring combat activity, especially when it involves a lot of terrorism and media operations. All of this won't become widely known until long after the war is over. Right now, those techniques are considered weapons, that would be compromised if their inner workings were public knowledge. But in general, the score card covers dozens of different measures. These range from the familiar accounting of weapons and fighting men, to public opinion and economic activity. Beyond that are more complex measures of who is doing what. This stuff, even if it were made public, would not make for exciting headlines. But it has accurately predicted the progress of the war, even if it has not been reported much at all.

 

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