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3 The surge: Don't hold your
breath By Mahan Abedin
The announcement of a new US strategy in
Iraq came as a surprise to many Iraq observers,
not least because it willfully ignored many of the
recommendations by the much-anticipated
Baker-Hamilton report from the so-called Iraq
It remains to be seen whether
"surging" 17,500 troops into Baghdad can have any
positive impact on the instability in the Iraqi
capital, but judging by previous campaigns and the
sheer complexity of the current security
situation, no one is holding his
its military and counterinsurgency components, the
new strategy also rests on depicting Iran as the
primary source of instability in Iraq. This has
started in earnest with a new and more muscular
approach toward the structures and personalities
that drive Iranian influence in Iraq.
the new, more aggressive attitude toward Iran in
Iraq is unlikely to be anything but half-hearted.
Iran's influence is too deep and widespread to be
effectively challenged in a short time frame.
Moreover, challenging Iran in Iraq would bring the
United States into direct conflict with many of
the structures and personalities that dominate
post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
strategy In theory the new US strategy for
Baghdad sounds smart and workable. An even more
aggressive drive against insurgent and militia
strongholds and holding areas once they have been
cleared is a sound military policy. But it
requires deep and long commitment, which is
probably lacking, especially in light of the
looming election cycle in the United States.
In the first instance, US casualties in
the Baghdad area are likely to soar as experienced
and determined Sunni insurgents in western and
southern neighborhoods put up stiff resistance.
Moreover, the Arab Sunni guerrilla movement will
likely dramatically increase car bombings - its
favored method of creating fear and instability
across the Iraqi capital.
In fact there
are already signs of this, with a devastating
attack on Mustansiriya University and a double
car-bombing at the Haraj market. The attacks on
the market (which claimed close to 100 lives)
prompted Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to issue
his customary threats against the Baghdad-based
insurgents, vowing that the capital would no
longer be a safe haven for them.
threats have been repeatedly made before - only
for the Sunni guerrilla movement to grow stronger.
Two years ago the insurgents relied primarily on
support and logistical networks in the eastern
fringes of al-Anbar province to carry out bombings
and assassinations in the capital. But the growing
popularity of the Sunni guerrilla movement -
coupled with the emergence of serious sectarian
conflict - enabled the Sunni insurgents to develop
impressive bases in Baghdad.
Sunni insurgents are firmly entrenched in a string
of western and southern Baghdad neighborhoods,
enabling them to grow on an unprecedented scale by
absorbing local residents. The residents widely
welcome the presence of the guerrillas as vital
protection against Shi'ite paramilitaries (often
operating as Iraqi security forces) which control
most of the areas in eastern and northern Baghdad.
In Baghdad's Sunni communities the insurgents are
now widely seen as the last line of defense
against the insidious encroachment of the Shi'ite
America the 'guarantor'? While the US military in Iraq likes to present
itself as the only effective barrier to widespread
sectarian conflict in Baghdad and beyond, there
are strong suspicions that they have been less
then concerned about the worsening sectarian
strife in Baghdad.
Shi'ite-Sunni conflict has consumed much of the
energies of the Sunni guerrilla movement in the
capital and thus lowered American casualties. In
many insurgent circles in Baghdad and beyond, the
primary jihad is now against the Shi'ites, not
against the US-led multinational coalition in
In any case, US casualty rates in
Baghdad are likely to start rising again as the
Americans push deep into Arab Sunni neighborhoods
and attempt to stay there for prolonged periods.
It is not surprising that Ayman al-Zawahiri has
issued a new message urging al-Qaeda loyalists in
Baghdad to exploit the opportunity and inflict
punishing casualties on US forces.
is also sending 4,000 extra marines to Anbar
province, the heartland of the Sunni guerrilla
movement. The province has been a battleground
between US marines and Iraqi guerrillas for the
past three years. Various US offensives (all
dubbed "new strategies" at the time) have failed
to weaken the hold of local Sunni insurgents and a
significant number of foreign Arab fighters
absorbed by al-Qaeda in Iraq and other
The Americans and
the Iraqi government have tried repeatedly to turn
local tribal elders against the combined rebel
force in Anbar, particularly against the
jihadi-Salafis. While these efforts have had
ambiguous results, the addition of 4,000 marines
can only boost US counterinsurgency efforts in
this vitally strategic region, which serves as a
gateway to Jordan and Syria. While the Americans
cannot hope to deal a decisive blow to Anbar's
insurgents, any success there (however modest)
would have an appreciable impact on the morale of
US forces in Iraq.
'Shi'ite militias' The new US strategy also
involves cracking down decisively on the Shi'ite
militias at the same time.
whether this is possible, we first have to answer
the question as to what constitutes a Shi'ite
militia. The term is used