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Shifting Tactics in Iraq

Prepared by: Eben Kaplan
April 7, 2006


Good news from Iraq seems hard to come by these days. Growing militia violence (TIME) and the lack of progress in forming a government paint a bleak picture. Thus, it might be easy to overlook the fact that fewer U.S. troops have been dying (NPR) in recent months. This is partly because insurgents have begun to concentrate on non-U.S. targets, and partly because U.S. forces have become less exposed. Writing in the Sacramento Bee, conservative columnist William F. Buckley says reduced exposure "can be seen as the military voting with their feet to begin withdrawal."

In fact, the slowing U.S. casualty rate may well be the result of shifting strategies among both U.S. and insurgent forces. For its part, the insurgency appears to be attacking Iraqi targets with more frequency (NYT). With more than 2,300 U.S. soldiers already dead, inflicting more casualties on the increasingly secure American forces is not likely to chase out the "occupiers." On the other hand, as AEI's Reuel Marc Gerecht writes in the Wall Street Journal, the fault lines among Iraq's leadership appear to be growing. If the insurgency can continue to fuel the recent rise in sectarian violence, which was highlighted by an April 7 mosque bombing in Baghdad (BBC), it may well succeed in driving Iraq into chaos. Speaking to's Bernard Gwertzman, New York Times chief military correspondent Michael Gordon says the prospect of civil war can't be ruled out. In the midst of all of this are reports that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, may have been demoted (CSMonitor).

In the meantime, U.S. troops are increasingly relying on Iraqi forces (Stars & Stripes) to do much of the work Americans once did. U.S. soldiers continue to train Iraqis (CSMonitor) to play an even greater role. Writing in Foreign Affairs, CFR Senior Fellow Stephen Biddle says this "Iraqization," is likely to make matters worse. In the process of propping up Iraqi forces, Americans are reportedly sticking more and more to the relative comfort and security of their forward operating bases (Army War College).

In searching for a solution in Iraq, CFR Fellow Steven Cook say hoping for help from the Arab neighbors is "pointless at best" (New Republic). Middle East expert Anthony Cordesman tells the best hope for the United States to draw down its forces, "is to have an inclusive Iraqi government." Though this is one of the aims set forth in the White House's National Strategy for Victory in Iraq, it seems an elusive goal. Perhaps this is why U.S. military engineers have begun building fourteen "enduring bases" in Iraq (ChiTrib). A CFR Background Q&A examines prospects for a long-term U.S. presence in the region.

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