SADDAM SUPPORTERS IN SLUMP?

StrategyPage thinks so:

American combat divisions have developed new tactics for dealing with the pro-Saddam fighters and al Qaeda terrorists. The methods involve some police techniques, as well as some things cops cannot do. For example, information from interrogations and other investigative work is entered into computer databases. This allows searches for patterns and connections and often identifies particular neighborhoods, villages, individuals or families and clans that are involved with the violence. The troops can then concentrate their raids and patrols on areas where the bad actors are known to hang out. In some cases, heavily pro-Saddam villages are surrounded with barbed wire and access carefully controlled. Such villages and neighborhoods are subject to a lot more searches, and a lot more weapons, documents and suspects are being found as a result. There is considerable overlap between criminal gangs and pro-Saddam groups. This is not unexpected, as Saddam’s secret police developed working relationships with some criminal groups. This was either to get a cut of some criminal operation (smuggling and the black market were favorites), or information on Iraqis who were anti-Saddam.

Attacks against coalition troops are down to about 20 a day, from a peak of 50 a day last month. Criminal activity in general is also down. The latter is largely the result of more Iraqi police and security forces (now over 140,000) entering service. With more Iraqis taking care of police work, American troops have more time for raids on suspected pro-Saddam targets. Leads continue to come in on the location of Saddam and those senior aids of his who are still at large. The information obtained from interrogations, tips, message intercepts and captured documents indicates that American efforts have come close to grabbing senior pro-Saddam people, and possible Saddam himself. But none of this really counts until you actually grab these people. Many Iraqis still live in fear of Saddam, and fear that he could make a comeback. A large segment of the Sunni Arab population is still openly pro-Saddam, and this is one reason why American forces got tough with this group after the attacks on coalition troops went up last month. While the increasing number of raids and restrictions on Sunni Arabs will make that group more anti-American, it’s also true that in the next year it will be Iraqi police and troops that will be dealing with the pro-Saddam Sunni Arabs. So for now, the main idea is to reduce the violence against foreigners and those who oppose Saddam.

European police report that they have uncovered much al Qaeda recruiting activity, to obtain young men willing to go and fight coalition troops in Iraq. Syria appears to be the most commonly used transit point. Al Qaeda is also directing more money to Iraq operations, and less to supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The pro-Saddam forces have not yet taken much public credit for their attacks. The reason for this is simple; most Iraqis hate Saddam and want to hold war crimes trials for Saddam and his supporters. While the pro-Saddam groups like to portray themselves as Iraqi nationalists, no one is fooled (except for some foreign journalists who have ignored Iraqi history.) The al Qaeda attacks are different, but al Qaeda is both admired and loathed in this part of the world. The al Qaeda attacks have killed more Iraqis than foreigners, just as have the al Qaeda attacks in Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda has had to do most of its recruiting outside of Iraq.

Interesting. I’ll want to see more than a one month trend before pronouncing the insurgency on the run. Still, a hopeful sign.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Iraq War
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. I’d risk saying the corner has probably been turned. It’s a poor time for Newt Gingrich to get jitters. His complaints are all over the net today. Some boomers of both parties just can’t get over Vietnam.

    The lesson of Vietnam isn’t that it’s impossible for an outside force to crush an insurgency. The lesson is that such a force must fight intelligently and learn from mistakes. I get the impression our post-Vietnam military is a lot more adaptable. I expect it will pacify the Sunni triangle before the war loses so much support it becomes politically untenable at home.

    I don’t think we’re looking at a situation like the one that pertains on the West Bank of the Jordan. It would take many years and much abuse for post-Saddam Iraqis to start feeling that sour about the U.S.

  2. James Joyner says:

    The nature of insurgency is that it ebbs and flows; we’ll see if they regroup.

    Newt is probably right in the big picture sense–we need to get it turned over to the Iraqis, or at least put an Iraqi face on it, soon–but overreacting in the micro sense.

  3. Paul says:

    It is interesting. Everyone is “taking credit” for the conditions in Iraq no matter up or down. (for example…) Insta-expert Reynolds declared yesterday that attacks were up because the street money the Army had dried up. He argued street money was what was needed to bring the numbers down. Now these folks say strong-arming a few folks is bringing the numbers down.

    Everyone points to their pet project as being the source of all good (/evil) and say the facts on the ground back them up. As if one single thing is the magic bullet that will fix all ills.

    I have no clue how the solve the problems in Iraq. (no one person does) But I’m willing to go out on a limb and say there is more then one metric that changes the whole dynamic.

    All we can ask of this administration is that they try to minimize the things that don’t work and maximize the things that do.

    (putting on my rummy voice) I think to the extent the administration is able to do this they have. The only things that we know will solve the problems are persistence and time.

    I wish all these learned folks on both sides of the isle would admit that fact and shut the hell up.

    My take.

    P

  4. Agreed, James, the terror-tide may flow again after the ebb. But Bush means to stand down and yield security functions to Iraqis before that happens. They will probably be principal victims next time around. And that may weaken rather than strengthen the Baathist and Islamist movements.