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al-Qaeda Counteroffensive

al-Qaeda and the insurgency began the New Year with an anemic offensive of thirteen car bombs in Baghdad and northern Iraq which resulted in only twenty casualties, no deaths. The past two days have seen a dramatically increased level of effectiveness in the employment of suicide bombers and attacks on infrastructure. Over 160 Iraqis have been killed and hundreds wounded in over eight suicide and car bomb attacks in Baghdad, Ramadi, Najaf, Kerbala and Muqdadiyah. Oil production and gasoline distribution in northern has been disrupted by effective attacks.

There are three main foci to these attacks: Shiites, Sunnis willing to cooperate with the Iraqi government, and Iraq’s oil infrastructure.

Recent threats on workers and attacks on the oil infrastructure in the town of Baiji, which hosts a large refinery, have disrupted gasoline shipments throughout the country. The tanker drivers have been threatened with violence, and yesterday a large convoy of 60 tankers was ambushed on the road to Baghdad. Four people were killed and 20 tankers have been reported to have been destroyed or damaged. A gas pipeline was “damaged in a mortar attack on Wednesday night” and “on Thursday morning the same pipeline was attacked by explosives, causing a huge fire.”

al-Qaeda attacks Shiites in order to attempt to stir up sectarian violence and a civil war between the Shiite majority and Sunni Arabs. In Kerbala, a suicide bomber wearing “a vest stuffed with about 18 pounds of explosives and several hand grenades… [with] small steel balls that had been packed into the suicide vest” blew himself up just thirty yards from the shrine the Imam Hussein, the most revered site in Shia Islam. Over 50 were killed and 70 wounded. In Muqdadiyah, a suicide bomber wearing a vest killed 36 and wounded over 40 during a funeral. Several smaller bombings in Baghdad and Najaf targeted Shiites and have killed and wounded scores of Iraqis.

Sunnis cooperating with the Iraqi government are widely targeted, as their involvement with the security forces would have serious negative implications for the Sunni-led insurgency. In Baquba, the head of criminal intelligence in Diyala province was targeted for assassination, he and three of his bodyguards were seriously wounded. The latest attack in Ramadi highlights the fear of Sunnis cooperating with the Iraqi Security Forces, as a massive amount of Sunnis are now volunteering to join Ramadi’s police force. Per CENTCOM; “A suicide bomb exploded at 10:55 a.m. near the Ramadi Glass and Ceramics Works where screening for Iraqi Police Officers was taking place… The four-day Iraqi Police recruitment and screening drive in Ramadi started Jan. 2 and has produced 600 qualified applicants during the first three days of screening. At 10:30 a.m. approximately 1,000 prospective candidates were waiting in line to apply for a position for the new Iraqi Police Force currently being reconstituted in Al Anbar.”

The CENTCOM report indicates 30 were killed in the attack. A doctor at Ramadi’s main hospital indicated more than 70 were killed and 65 wounded in the attack. Despite the carnage, CENTCOM reports the Sunnis who lined up to volunteer earlier in the day “returned and continued the screening process.”

al-Qaeda and the insurgency can still dispense death and disrupt services in Iraq. These attacks increasingly come in spurts as al-Qaeda does not seem to have the capacity to maintain a long term bombing offensive. The attacks are grouped together and designed for media shock effect, and directed at the morale of the American people and government. But the terror attacks have little real effect on the Iraqi people. The terror attacks have not provoked the Shiites into a civil war, and have not intimidated the Iraqi people. The will of the Sunnis in Ramadi to return to the site of horror and join the police demonstrates this.

The secular and religious Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish parties continue to negotiate the terms for an inclusive government, despite the insurgency’s attempts to divide the Iraqi people. After negotiations in Kirkuk that included the Sunni Iraq Accordance Front, the body of negotiators are set to move to Baghdad.

Feedback

Good analysis points Bill. And a great story about the Sunni's - MSM says nothing about that to grasp the point. I wonder about the origins of the bombers. Are they Arab infiltrators or Iraqi's? I suspect the former.

I think these types of attacks result from a nexus of three things--money, weapons, and people. Obviously, the Coalition and Iraqi forces are going after all three.

What's frustrating to me is how hard it is to measure progress in terms of how much we have degraded each part of this nexus. I'm sure it is just as frustrating for the commanders on our side trying to establish metrics, targets, trend lines, and patterns.

In a way this reminds me of those old video games where you start out investigating a castle or dungeon in complete darkness and as you go each section is lighted and revealed. The further you go along, the more of a bigger picture or pattern can be established towards accomplishing your mission. At the same time, you never know how much you need to "light up" to maximize your mission, or what lurks around the corner to send your mission into FUBAR mode.

Fortunately, we have the best people on the ground and an Iraqi people that seem to be coming around to the right side more and more.

Zarqawi can keep sending in the suicide bombers until the cows come home.

That is the bad news.

The good news is that in order to win in Iraq we just have to train enough Iraqi troops and police. And, they will grind the insurgency down over time.

The real problem is the political situation and according to Iraq the Model that problem is quite dire right now.

Justin,

After reading your post I hopped over to Iraq the Model to see the update. Indeed, the political situation seems to have reached a relative low point. But it is at low points where opportunities exist to show the ultimate in leadership (Washington in Revolutionary War, Giuliani in 9/11). Does Iraq have someone like this? I guess we will find out...


Again and again it appears that Bush got it right. Al Qaeda is fighting and losing in Iraq despite their deadly suicide killers. It is the courage of the troops and the Iraqis that is winning this war. No thanks I might add to the NY Times.

Bill,
It was interesting to hear the take of an NPR reporter yesterday commenting on the Ramadi bombing. She called the recruits returning after the bombing "an act of economic desperation" instead of an act of bravery and defiance. I found this to be sadly emblematic of most western reporters presuppositions.