Tuesday, April 10, 2007

No "Island of Stability"

There many small indicators that the "surge" is enjoying success, including statistics for the number of tortured bodies found, but as this NY Times article makes clear, there's still no indication that the surge is achieving it's central purpose:
Even as officials have sought to dampen the insurgency by trying to deal with Sunni Arab factions, those groups have become increasingly fractured. There are now at least a dozen major Sunni insurgent groups — many fighting other Sunnis as well as the Americans and the Shiite-led government. A deal made with any one or two would be unlikely to be acceptable to the others.

While Shiite militias appear to have quieted in Baghdad so far, elements of them have been fighting pitched battles outside the city, sometimes against one another, sometimes against Sunni Arabs. They are pushing Sunnis out of their homes and attacking their mosques.

And in a new tactic, both Shiite and Sunni militants have been burning down homes and shops in the provinces in recent months.
American soldiers are dying at largely the same rate; as the death rate has increased in Baghdad, it's slowed down in other parts of the country. There's really no surprise that as more soldiers have taken to streets, more have been killed in the process. The real failure thus far has been to prevent the massive killings of civilians that are the hall-mark of this war:
Over the past seven weeks, American commanders say that the security push has had some success so far in cutting down the number of sectarian execution-style killings — tracked by counting the number of bodies found with gunshot or knife wounds. Military officials say that such killings have dropped 26 percent nationwide and even more in Baghdad.

But other kinds of attacks, like car bombings, have kept the overall civilian death rate high, and in recent days there are anecdotal reports that sectarian executions may be on the rise again.

The American military believes that much of the drop in executions has come because of decreased activity by Shiite militias and death squads, especially the powerful Mahdi Army militia that claims allegiance to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr.

Many militia leaders have been detained in raids by the American military, according to the Iraqi government, and despite some major car bomb attacks on Shiite areas, the militias appear to have decided to refrain from carrying out revenge killings.
However, it appears that Sadr is now beginning to push back against the increased presence of American soldiers on the streets, and fierce battles have been raging between U.S. forces and elements of the Mahdi Army in Diwaniya in Southern Iraq. The relationship between U.S. forces and the Mahdi Army in Sadr City (which really controls the streets) can be described as tense at the best of times, and hostile at the worst, and this in the midst of the Mahdi Army "laying low."

More soldiers are on the way to Iraq, but it's hard to imagine they'll make much of a difference. The weeks following the surge will not be remembered as anything but a temporary lull in the violence. I'm afraid we've already seen the best of times, and indications are that Iraq is already resuming it's backward slide to full-on civil war.

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