Major Combat Operations, Phase II

It’s a bit difficult to assess what precisely is happening in Iraq from press accounts, as they’re rather varied. Still, it’s clear that the current wave of fighting is the biggest since the initial combat phase last year.

WaPo paints the scariest picture of the major outlets: Muslim Rivals Unite In Baghdad Uprising

On the streets of Baghdad neighborhoods long defined by differences of faith and politics, signs are emerging that resistance to the U.S. occupation may be growing from a sporadic, underground effort to a broader insurrection by militiamen who claim to be fighting in the name of their common faith, Islam.

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“We lost faith in the Americans,” said Asaam Al Jarah, principal of a Kadhimiya high school. “Everybody was waiting for the transition, waiting and waiting. Then we saw the law was rubbish.

CNN: Coalition forces under fire in Ramadi

As many as a dozen U.S. Marines were killed Tuesday in heavy fighting in the western Iraq town of Ramadi, the latest in a series of clashes with anti-coalition elements, Pentagon officials said.

The large-scale attack was mounted by suspected remnants of ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, officials said.

A high-ranking military source said initial reports indicated several government buildings had been seized by fewer than 100 insurgents.

It also contains this seeming non-sequitur:

Despite the widespread unrest, L. Paul Bremer, the top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, said there was no question coalition forces were in control of the country.

“I know if you just report on those few places, it does look chaotic,” Bremer said.

“But if you travel around the country … what you find is a bustling economy, people opening businesses right and left, unemployment has dropped.”

While probably true, it hardly seems the point at the moment.

NYT: Fierce Fighting With Sunnis and Shiites Spreads to 6 Iraqi Cities

The attack in Ramadi was on an American base at the governor’s palace, and involved several dozen insurgents with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, a Defense Department official said.

“The indications are they were well-trained,” the official said. The official said the insurgents had suffered large numbers of casualties, but cautioned that reports from Iraq were still early and sketchy.

Meanwhile, Moktada al-Sadr, a rebel Shiite cleric who is wanted by American forces in connection with a killing last year, continued to stir up his followers. In a statement issued Tuesday from Najaf, he urged disciples to keep up the fight.

“America has shown its evil intentions,” Mr. Sadr said, “and the proud Iraqi people cannot accept it. They must defend their rights by any means they see fit.”

He also aligned himself with Iraq’s most influential religious figure, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. “I proclaim my solidarity with Ali Sistani, and he should know that I am his military wing in Iraq,” he said.

Mr. Sadr, whose followers on Sunday began the most serious insurrection of the post-invasion period, said, “I will put the city with the golden dish between Ali Sistani’s hands after liberation.”

The golden dish refers to the golden shrines of Najaf, some of the holiest sites in Shia Islam. Najaf, south of Baghdad, is the home of Ayatollah Sistani, who is considered much more moderate than Mr. Sadr. On Sunday, Ayatollah Sistani issued a religious decree urging Iraq’s Shiites to stay calm.

So far, though, followers of Mr. Sadr have not been heeding it. His black-clad militiamen have rolled over Iraqi security forces in a number of cities, including Kufa, Najaf, Nasiriya, Basra and Baghdad, and taken over government offices.

My guess, based only on experience with the media rather than any special knowledge of what’s happening “on the ground,” is that the situation is somewhere between these extremes–neither a full scale Shi’a uprising nor simply a few reasonably well-trained yahoos. The only good news here is that our military has proven much more adept at war-fighting than stability operations, so this at least puts us in a mode where we have the advantage. But things are clearly going to get messier before they get better.

See Command Post for more news and analysis as things develop.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Norbizness says:

    Bremer = post-modern Lt. Frank Drebin in front of the exploding fireworks factory.

    I think Juan Cole called it “shockingly inept, even as propaganda.”

  2. Jim Henley says:

    Maybe our real inspiration all along wasn’t Leo Strauss but those old Silver Surfer comics from the late 60s. The alien Surfer, anguished over mankind’s inability to live in peace, would launch attacks on Earth for show, hoping they would inspire humanity to unite against him.

    This is presumably what government spokesmen meant when they said the US was “committed to the territorial integrity of Iraq.”