Vernon Loeb and Tom Ricks suggest in Thursday's Washington Post that the Iraqi plan all along might have been to fade away in the face of the American-led onslaught, and to launch a 4th generation guerilla offensive with Iraqi troops and weapons not used to fight the Americans on the open field of battle. If true, the Iraqis are running a classic play from the insurgency playbook. As Mao wrote more than 50 years ago, the reed should bend with the wind and then snap back up again. In this case, the Iraqi reeds bent down low while American armored vehicles swept through the country, and have now begun to snap up as guerillas where they can inflict the maximum potential damage on America's efforts to build a new Iraq.
Knowing from the 1991 Persian Gulf War that they could not take on the U.S. military with conventional forces, these officers believe, the Baath Party government cached weapons before the Americans invaded this spring and planned to employ guerrilla tactics.Analysis: I think this article is dead on. The longer the Iraqi insurgency goes on, the more sophistication it demonstrates, and the more and more it looks like a concerted, planned, resourced effort to fight the U.S. with asymmetric means. This is no ad hoc insurgency thrown together by amateurs. Recent operations against the UN compound, the American "green zone", and other locations have shown that we are facing a well-led and well-resourced enemy with substantial intelligence and a relatively coherent operational plan.
"I believe Saddam Hussein always intended to fight an insurgency should Iraq fall," said Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack Jr., commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division and the man responsible for combat operations in the lower Sunni Triangle, the most unstable part of Iraq. "That's why you see so many of these arms caches out there in significant numbers all over the country. They were planning to go ahead and fight an insurgency, should Iraq fall."
In an interview Wednesday at his headquarters northwest of the capital, Swannack said the speed of the fall of Baghdad in April probably caught Hussein and his followers by surprise and prevented them from launching the insurgence for a few months. That would explain why anti-U.S. violence dropped off noticeably in July and early August but then began to trend upward.
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Lt. Col. Oscar Mirabile, a brigade commander credited with running a sophisticated and largely successful security operation in the Sunni Triangle town of Ramadi, agreed that the Baathist attacks were long planned.
"He released criminals out onto the streets," said Mirabile, a Miami police official and former homicide detective who commands the 1st Brigade, 124th Infantry Regiment of the Florida National Guard, which has been operating in Ramadi since May. "Why would anybody do that? Saddam knew he couldn't win a war head to head against coalition forces. He was setting the stage for what you're looking at right now."
However, it does not look like we face a hierarchical, centrally-planned and controlled enemy force. Instead, it looks like the Iraqis issued mission-style guidance to their subordinates sometime back in March or April. At a certain decision point -- the "tipping point" of American success -- the Iraqi command probably decided to activate this branch plan and fade away to fight asymmetrically. The Iraqi army cached war materiel and established a network of insurgent cells around the country -- possibly mirroring the former Iraqi Army command structure. The result is a highly decentralized, cellular, insular network of enemies that cannot be decapitated or stopped by the excision of a single cell. Indeed, this type of enemy presents itself much like the Hydra of mythological lore -- when you cut off one head, another grows in its place.
This type of Iraqi insurgency does not preclude the possibility of foreign terrorists operating inside Iraq. Indeed, this operational construct would embrace such a possibility. In the threat doctrine promulgated by the Army's intelligence community, the enemy almost always embraces some sort of terrorist or paramilitary organization to do its "wet work", and to conduct sensitive or political operations beyond the capability of its conventional forces. In the instant case, it appears that the Iraqi insurgent networks have incorporated at least some aspects of Ansar Al-Islam or Al Qaeda -- if only by embracing those groups operational doctrine and expertise. (See this LAT piece by Esther Schrader on that threat) The recent simultaneous suicide bombings, mortar and RPG attacks illustrate these common tactics, techniques and procedures. But the jury's still out as to whether Al Qaeda or Ansar Al-Islam is actually conducting operations inside Iraq.
Bottom Line: If the intel picture painted by Loeb and Ricks is shared by CFLCC and CENTCOM, it could explain the recent statements by LTG Sanchez and GEN Abizaid that they plan to resume offensive operations in Iraq. Last night, the 1st Armored Division (among other units) launched a new operation in Iraq directed at destroying this nascent insurgency. It could also explain Paul Bremer's visit to the White House this week. Fred Kaplan and Josh Marshall both seem to think that nation-building operations are about to take a back seat to a new phase of combat operations. If it's true that we're facing a planned Iraqi insurgency of this magnitude, that may be the right thing to do.
Update I: The insurgency may be working in at least one sense: it's isolating America from our allies and keeping a number of nations from sending troops to Iraq. Korea has stalled its deployment of a brigade to support the American-led occupation of Iraq, and now Japan has balked too. The deteriorating security situation in Iraq continues to deter nations who are interested in nation building -- but unwilling to incur casualties -- from joining our effort in Iraq. At this rate, the Iraqi insurgency may succeed simply by exhausting the American military's force structure (we can't occupy Iraq indefinitely with our current force structure) and preventing our allies from helping out. Of course, a political change in the U.S. could change this calculus, particularly if a committed multilateralist like Wes Clark were elected. But this appears to be the Iraqi end game: inflict casualties and cause chaos for as long as it takes to exhaust America.
Update II: GEN Abizaid, the CENTCOM commander, estimates that America faces roughly 5,000 insurgents in Iraq, according to the LA Times. The CENTCOM commander also paints this fight in terms very similar to those in the Ricks & Loeb piece quoted above:
"The goal of the enemy is not to defeat us militarily," Gen. John Abizaid said at a news conference in Baghdad today. "The goal of the enemy is to break the will of the United States of America, to make us leave."Right. The question presented by this latest escalation in violence is whether tactical actions by the Iraqi insurgents will inflict such losses so as to diminish the American public's "patience, perseverance and courage". This, in turn, will create political pressure to minimize casualties at the cost of mission accomplishment, placing the imperative of force protection over mission accomplishment. Over time, this will translate into political pressure to withdraw from Iraq entirely. The only way to forestall that strategy is for the White House to justify these sacrifices to the American public. In Churchillian fashion, we must let our enemies know that we will pursue victory at any cost. Only then will the Iraqi insurgency's strategy fail.
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"People will say, 'Well, that's a very small number," Abizaid said. "But when you understand that they're organized in cellular structure, that they have a brutal and determined cadre, that they know how to operate covertly, they have access to a lot of money and a lot of ammunition, you'll understand how dangerous they are."
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In order to defeat the guerrillas, the general said the key is gathering information so U.S. forces can preempt their plans to "split the coalition." But Abizaid said he agrees that U.S. plans in Iraq ultimately will succeed.
"There is no doubt in my mind that with patience, perseverance and courage," he said, "we will see this thing through."
Update III: Another tea leaf has been uncovered today that points toward the resumption of major combat operations in Iraq. According to ABC News, GEN John Abizaid has directed CENTCOM to deploy a major headquarters element to Doha, Qatar, where GEN Tommy Franks operated during the war earlier this year.
By moving his headquarters back to Doha, Qatar, Abizaid will be able to move in and out of the war zone, making it easier for him to keep track of the situation, the sources said. He will also be in the same time zone, allowing him and his staff to act more quickly on intelligence, the sources added.
Since taking command of U.S. Central Command, which covers the Middle East, in July, Abizaid has run the Iraq war from CENTCOM's permanent base in Tampa, Fla.
Abizaid has made frequent trips to the region — a grueling 7,000-mile commute across the Atlantic Ocean. The arrangement will allow U.S. officials more planning and operation capabilities.
Although Abizaid's predecessor, Gen. Tommy Franks, left Qatar on May 1, the day after Bush declared that major combat in Iraq was over, Doha never officially closed as a headquarters. It is considered a "split headquarters," along with Tampa.
The move to Qatar will involve about 400 people on the CENCTOM staff, and they are expected to be there at least two months.
Update IV: The Washington Post reports that the Army has uncovered a large Iraqi weapons cache in Tikrit and captured or killed a number of Iraqi guerillas in its renewed offensive. This appears to be a tactical success, and will certainly help the coalition reverse the deteriorating security situation.