A Tenuous Situation

The early returns from the Iraq escalation strategy that went into effect last month indicate that the increased troop presence is altering the tempo in violence.

The early returns from the escalation strategy that went into effect last month indicate that the increased troop presence is altering the tempo in violence. Many have noted a slight drop-off in the daily carnage, in part due to the negotiated advance of U.S. forces into Sadr City. The military reported that “there had been no resistance, no violence, no illegal weapons found, and no arrests” in the operation. Yet, “mass bomb attacks, which the U.S. views as largely the work of Sunni insurgents, continue to occur almost daily, and thus far the enhanced forces have been largely powerless to stop them.” The Pentagon has cautioned against drawing any early conclusions from the escalation plan. Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England said, “It’s too early to draw any conclusions, because this is still in the early stages.” Yet that admonition didn’t stop Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) from speaking euphorically about the escalation, saying “early indications are that it’s working.” McConnell’s assessment came on the same day that Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly called “very traumatic” for U.S. troops in Iraq, noting that nine soldiers were killed in two separate IED (improvised explosive devices) attacks.

  • Despite the escalation, violence continues in the heart of Baghdad. At least 38 people died and 105 were injured yesterday after a suicide car bomber “turned a venerable book market into a deadly inferno.” The bomb “shattered an area once known for liberal ideas, an intellectual haven that in the heady days after the U.S.-led invasion pulsed with the promise of freedom.” But yesterday, it was the scene of the “bloodiest day in more than a week.” The Washington Post reported, “For many victims, the attack brought questions about the effectiveness of a new security crackdown that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has already declared a success.”

  • It’s too soon to be drawing any sort of conclusions from the escalation strategy. There has been an eagerness of some in the media to declare instant success from sporadic reporting, despite the fact that the militants’ capacity and desire for large-scale attacks continues. Reporting from Iraq, NBC’s Brian Williams noted signs of success from the escalation, calling Ramadi an area that has become “more peaceful.” But just last weekend, “a car bomb apparently targeting an Iraqi police checkpoint exploded about noon near Anbar University” in Ramadi. At least 12 people were killed, including two police officers, and 15 were injured, police said. In a sign of much-needed good news for troops on the ground, recent reports have noted greater lulls between violence and decreases in individual acts of terrorism. In response to the escalation, insurgents have employed “a variety of tactics — from an unprecedented string of helicopter shoot-downs to unusual chlorine bomb attacks and direct assaults on U.S. military bases — that American commanders say are intended to create chaos and undermine the U.S. and Iraqi military push to quell violence in Baghdad.”

  • The calm situation in Sadr City is tenuous, and comes only on the heels of political negotiations. U.S. forces swept through Shiite stronghold of Sadr City with “barely a sign of opposition.” The Mahdi Army militia, blamed for much of the sectarian killing in the Iraqi capital, is based in the area. The U.S. expansion into Sadr City came following negotiations with political leaders in the neighborhood. ABC News (3/4) reported that “some had thought that Sadr’s men would fight the Americans, but it now appears the militias have been told to lie low during the American surge.” The Mahdi Army has been “operating under strict orders to remain low profile,” said loyalists of Moqtada al-Sadr. Underneath the peaceful current occupation of Sadr City is cause for longer term concern. One representative for al-Sadr said, “We hope there is a day when Iraqis are the master and not under the American shoes.” Meanwhile, on the U.S. side, there has been talk of establishing “a permanent presence.” Al-Sadr has rejected U.S. statements “that negotiations had cleared the way for the establishment of the joint security station in Sadr City.” Echoing the concerns about a long-term U.S. presence, resident Sattar Jabbar Sharhan asked, “Why Americans? Even if they are with Iraqi troops, why? What is the reason?”

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