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  xFriday, June 27, 2003

iraq roundup


Athough I opposed the war in Iraq, I never had any doubt that Bush was going to invade regardless. That being the case, you'd have thought his administration would at least have had some sort of a plan for not screwing up the aftermath. Today's WaPo has a triple-dip headline, though, indicating that things are not going all that well.

Experts Question Depth of Victory
The wave of more sophisticated attacks on U.S. troops and civilian occupation forces in Iraq is raising new worries among military experts that the 21-day war that ended in April was an incomplete victory that defeated Saddam Hussein's military but not his Baath political party.

Neutralizing Baathist resistance is proving to be a more difficult job than the Pentagon calculated, and the continuing violence is becoming an embarrassment, one U.S. official in Baghdad said.

A Special Operations soldier was killed by hostile fire in the southwest part of Baghdad yesterday. In another ambush, a Chevrolet Suburban belonging to the U.S. civilian occupation authority was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade while en route to the Baghdad airport. Army Humvees have been attacked on that road before, but this apparently was the first time a civilian vehicle had been hit, indicating a new form of targeting in anti-American attacks.

Two U.S. soldiers also may have been abducted in Baghdad. In addition, Iraqis cooperating with the U.S. authorities, such as two electrical workers who were killed by a bomb yesterday, are now being attacked following weeks of threats by Iraqi opposition groups that they would be targets.

Those actions came on top of Wednesday's mob violence that killed six British troops in southern Iraq, the Shiite-dominated area that until this week generally had been considered quiet and portrayed by Pentagon officials as a success story.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said the trend in Iraq is still good and should not be seen through the lens of one day's events. "The direction is pretty clear," he said in a telephone interview. "It is toward a more secure Iraq," in which the Baathist position is weakening and basic services are being restored.

Wolfowitz did not foresee any major changes in the U.S. military posture in response to the attacks. "I think that the basic approach that the military is using is a sound approach," Wolfowitz said.

But experts on Iraq responded to the attacks with new concern about the trend of events.

"I thought we were holding our own until this week, and now I'm not sure," said retired Air Force Col. Richard M. Atchison, a former intelligence officer for the Central Command, the U.S. military headquarters for the Middle East. "If we don't get this operation moving soon, the opposition will continue to grow, and we will have a much larger problem."

Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency expert on Arab military issues, said, "There are a lot of worrisome aspects about the current situation. Resistance is spreading geographically, resistance groups seem to be proliferating in Sunni areas, resistance elements appear to be tactically adaptive, resistance elements appear to be drawn from multiple elements of Sunni society, our operations inevitably create animosity by inflicting civilian casualties, disrupting lives, humiliating people and damaging property."

Because the war was so narrowly focused on Hussein's government in Baghdad, a large part of the Iraqi population does not feel as if it was defeated, said retired Army Col. Scott R. Feil. "As I heard one Iraqi say, the Americans defeated Saddam, but not the Iraqi people, so the psychology of the loser is not present," he said.

Wolfowitz agreed with that view, saying, "Almost because the regime failed so quickly, the major remnants of the regime were around."

Making the situation more worrisome, military analysts said, is that Iraqi fighters appear to be adapting their tactics to make them more effective. For example, during the war, Iraqis frequently died while attacking tanks with automatic weapons and other small arms. But this month's attacks have been directed at more vulnerable targets, such as Jeep-like Army Humvees and foot soldiers, said retired Army Col. Andrew J. Bacevich.

In addition, some analysts said, the relatively small size of the U.S. invasion force may be a source of some of the postwar chaos, because it has proven inadequate to the task of occupying the country. "We're winning, I think, but it has taken longer than it might have because the occupation force really wasn't large enough," said Thomas Donnelly, a defense expert at the American Enterprise Institute who is now in Baghdad. "I don't think the outcome will be much different, but still it's taken longer and introduces an element of doubt."

U.S. casualties are likely to be a frequent occurrence for months to come, said another U.S. official in Iraq. "I suspect we will see limited violence for six months or so," the official said earlier this week. The problem, he said, is that to be effective, U.S. troops have to be out conducting patrols and searches, manning checkpoints, detaining suspects. All that is necessary to boost stability in Iraq, he said, but also makes them vulnerable.


(continued in the next post)





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