Tuesday, August 28, 2007

And they left bloody footprints in the snow

A writer who wrote a book called the Three Georges or something like that, compared the current Iraqi insurgency to George Washington's forces. That is an analogy that is superficial on many, many levels. Sunni insurgents at the very least cannot be termed freedom fighters, even if US occupation is regarded as a lack of independence, since they aren't simply aiming at removing US troops, rather they want complete removal of any Shi'ite led government, which given the fact that Shi'ites are a majority in Iraq and the fact that Sunnis no longer have the establishment or establishment-backed advantage, would require an external push.

The Shi'ite militias might fit the comparison somewhat better, but again their vision is more focused on establishing a strongly Islamist, more certainly Shi'ite state, than simply getting US troops out. George Washington's focus during the Revolutionary War was simple, get the British out. It was only after several years of the weak government of the Articles of Confederation did he try to influence the ultimate political outcome, and even there he did not really dictate the facts.

But these comparisons are largely irrelevant. If you pick and choose characteristics a lot of things can seem similiar. What they do encourage though is thought, and while a sloppy comparison such as this one, I might try to pick it apart further but I'd rather not waste time on it, does encourage sloppy thought, it occassionally brings to the surface some interesting thoughts.

Such as a memory of a fact read long ago, of when in the deep winter George Washington's forces were forced to march down long cold roads, and his poorly stocked army often had bad or even no footware, so they left bloody footprints in the snow.

Not that this image has much to do with anything, it is just an interesting one, perhaps thought-provoking (hopefully not but possibly sloppy thought provoking), and it minces nicely with the image of troops or rebels moving, even when the rebels are on the side of forces I would never endorse.

The news shows now that Iraqi insurgents are on the move, or at least that's what the statistics show, moving to areas outside of Anbar province and Bagdhad to escape in the first case the changing political environment and in the second case the US troop surge. Overall violence, has not gone down this year however. That is not to say that violence since the troop surge has not gone down, I don't know the statistics for that, but violence for Jan. to Aug. 2007 compared to the entire year of 2006 has gone up significantly.

There are reasons for why this could have happened. A large degree of the increase in violence I think has to do with the fact the insurgents moved from areas that had gotten used to them to areas largely spared, also in the case of Anbar province they've gone from an area where they largely concentrated on US troops to one where they now find civilians as targets, and civilians are easier to kill. Overall the focus has gone from US troop and Iraqi police and army targeting to targeting civilians. I hesitate to say this is desperation, it could be, but it might simply be that bombings on civilians are easier and get higher body counts. Thus the change in focus might also explain the higher death toll as well.

It could also be that the insurgency is getting better at its end, for internal or external reasons, or it could be that the US and Iraqi army are getting worse on their end, again for internal or external reason. Maybe the insurgency is getting larger, or maybe more civilians are supporting it (although that is questionable since they lost a lot of local support in Anbar province). It could simply be that matters are getting much, much worse.

Even if we use reasons that lessen the significance of the increase in violence, it makes it hard to see progress in Iraq. But the fact that insurgents are moving away from Bagdhad and the Anbar province are I think, in the long term good, even if that might be the reason for this spike in violence, which has been so monsterously deadly.

Insurgents rely on civilian support, it is one of the most important equalizing factors for insurgents who are unequal in terms of weaponry and troop numbers, it allows them to blend into the population, live off the land, establish secret logistic chains, etc. And for the Sunni insurgents this has largely been Sunni Arab support. It could have been different, if the targets had been focused on US and Iraqi army and Iraqi infrastructure, the Sunni insurgents might have been able to make an easy alliance with those who were focused on anti-Americanism in the Shi'ite community. But because of the horrific civilian bombings and especially the attacks on the Shi'ite religious community, alliance with Shi'ites is probably rare among the Sunni insurgents. So they rely on Sunni Arab civilian support. But the two largest concentrations of this have been Anbar and Bagdhad. If the insurgents are leaving those areas they are leaving the base of their strength and moving into territory less sympathetic to them, more likely to reveal their presence, less likely to give them supplies, etc.

So the Sunni insurgents have moved into areas with more targets but less support. It is possible that this could strongly weaken the long-term viability of the Sunni insurgency. However, steps must be taken to help this along. Security measures must be improved elsewhere in Iraq, that would be less difficult given a population in the Kurdish areas less antagonistic to the US, and in the Shi'ite areas less antagonistic to the Iraqi army. However, it might leave Baghdad open for the insurgents to come back. Chasing them out did disrupt their bases but unless more civilians in Bagdhad are won over to the Iraqi government, which is possible if the lull in violence is used to improve infrastructure, the insurgent bases could be re-established. So that's a tough one. It should also be made sure that the civilians in the North and the South remain with the Iraqi government. Efforts should be made to reach out to Turkamen and Assyrians in the North, and Shi'ites in the south must be charmed as well, perhaps by offering federalism but supporting non-Sadr parties.

All this said, matters are still more complex. Insurgents don't get defeated they die down slowly with spurts of blood, and Sadr still remains as a threat to his country. Most of all, even if things might get better in the long term, they are still horrible in the short term. They are very, very bloody. And that's just horrible, and I don't know if anything can be done to stop it immediately, I don't think a sudden stop is possible. So blood will come, and it will be awful. And so utterly sad.

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