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Troop Surge and Terrorist Violence


Another great article by Reuel Marc Gerecht, writing this time for the editors of the Weekly Standard. It gives a valuable panorama of the current situation in Iraq and of the most likely outcomes for the current strategy. He also notes what has become increasingly clear in recent weeks—that the decision of Democratic leaders to push a strategy for withdrawal rather than an alternative for victory has aligned their political interests with the goals of our enemies in Iraq, principally the Sunni terrorists led by Al Qaeda and Saddamist holdouts. This is not a criticism, it is simply a fact. Iraq is a losing issue for the Republicans, but that doesn’t automatically make it a winning issue for the Democrats. As Harry Reid discovered last week when he accidentally self-immolated two days in a row, they need to be a lot more careful in how they define their position.

Anyway, I would focus some attention—and skepticism—on another point in Gerecht’s article. He writes that

The surge needs to show real progress in providing security by the beginning of 2008. American and Iraqi forces in Baghdad will have to figure out a way to diminish significantly the number and lethality of Sunni suicide bombers. Given the topography of Baghdad, the possible routes of attack against the capital’s Shiite denizens, and the common traits of Iraq’s Arabs, this will be difficult. If we and the Iraqis cannot do this, then the radicalization of the Shiites will continue, and it will be only a question of time before the Shiite community collectively decides that the Sunnis as a group are beyond the pale, and a countrywide war of religious cleansing will become likely.
What I’ve heard from several sources is that the surge has had differential success in curbing violence. The greater security presence has done a lot to dampen the spontaneous revenge killings typically carried out by Shiite death squads—a kind of violence that marries a high number of attacks to a relatively low number of casualties per attack. You would expect this sort of violence to be sensitive to increased security presence. But unfortunately, as you might also expect, the surge has had little effect on the well-planned Sunni terrorist suicide bombings by Al Qaeda and their allies. The latter are tactically nettlesome from a security point of view to say the least—they involve very few attackers, and relatively few attacks—but the often horrific number of casualties per attack make them a very effective tool in the effort to plunge Iraq into all-out civil war.

I am optimistic about the surge, but I was always skeptical that it would have any appreciable effect on civilian casualties. Civilian casualty rates are the wrong metric by which to measure success or failure in Iraq—especially in terms of small-cell/high-casualty terrorist bombings.

A lot can happen in the next year. But if the surge succeeds in enhancing the perception that the new democratic government of Iraq is permanent, and that its authority cannot be defeated, the surge will succeed. And we will have won, no matter how many suicide bombings accompany the inevitable departure of American troops.


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