Don't Panic

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click to enlarge Don't Panic - Andisheh Nouraee
Andisheh Nouraee
Don't Panic

Was the Iraqi election a turning point in the fight against the insurgency?

You may have heard, seen and read that the Iraqi insurgency has been dying out since Iraq's successful elections Jan. 30.

The TV and talk-radio news narrative about Iraq since the elections has gone something like this: The elections were a success and a major setback for insurgents, therefore the insurgency has become demoralized, therefore the number of attacks has dropped steeply, therefore democracy has started spreading throughout the Arab world, therefore la-la-la, everybody's happy.

How happy? So happy that the broadcast herd saw fit to take time away from covering the 150,000 American soldiers risking their asses on our behalf so that it could concentrate on easy-to-cover, easier-to-sensationalize minor stories.

Talk among yourselves. I'll give you a topic: Terri Schiavo and Jose Canseco are to spring 2005 what shark attacks and Chandra Levy were to the summer of 2001. Discuss.

So is the insurgency dying out? Was the election a turning point? Unfortunately not. Though the number of American soldiers who've died in Iraq in the three months since the election (about 135) is a lot lower than the number who died in the three months leading up to the election (316), military officials say that insurgents are not slowing down. Instead, they're adjusting their tactics, shifting energy away from small-scale engagements with U.S. forces and directing it toward Iraqi military and civilian targets, as well as larger scale coordinated attacks against U.S. forces.

Citing unnamed military sources, the Boston Globe reported April 24 that insurgent attacks against Iraqi military and civilian targets are up sharply and that insurgent attacks in general are increasingly sophisticated.

"Well, Mr. Andisheh, that's just the sort of thing that those pansy, America-hatin' liberals at the New York Times-owned Boston Globe would say."

Perhaps, but the pansy conservatives at the Wall Street Journal said the same thing three days earlier, citing an Army document used to prepare U.S. soldiers for the challenges they'll face in Iraq. According to the WSJ, the Army document noted an increase in the number of ambush-type attacks where insurgents stop convoys with remote-controlled roadside bombs, followed by a small-arms attack as people from the convoy get out of their vehicles to investigate the explosion.

One of the most disturbing trends in Iraq is the seemingly sudden increase in the number of incidents where insurgents have felt bold enough to confront American forces head-on, instead of with hit-and-run guerilla tactics. In March, an American convoy near Baghdad was assaulted by a group of 40 to 50 insurgents. On April 2, a group believed to be loyal to Abu Musab Zarqawi launched an assault on the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, wounding 44 U.S. soldiers. On April 11, insurgents attacked a Marine base in western Iraq.

The Globe and Journal reports about an insurgency still going strong are echoed in the comments of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers. Speaking to reporters recently, he characterizes the fighting capacity of the insurgency as "about the same" as it was a year ago. Translation: The election has, thus far, not really materialized as a turning point in the Iraq War.

If you're keeping score, that makes the January election the fifth consecutive "turning point" in the Iraq War that wasn't actually a turning point at all. The others were the killing of Saddam's sons, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the handover of power to an interim Iraqi government and crushing the uprising in Fallujah. This is clearly not a war that's going to be won via symbolic "turning points." However, don't expect that to keep politicians and talking heads from predicting that the next turning point (e.g. the capture of Zarqawi, a new Iraqi constitution, next year's elections) will be the real thing.

Sorry there weren't a lot of jokes in this column, but it's a really depressing topic.

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